Free-Range Kids

New York Wants to Ban Sex Offenders from Playing Pokemon Go

Call it Fear-Pokemongering.


Screenshot via Pokemon / Youtube

New York state officials think PokemonGo might be a great tool for sex offenders to kidnap children—gotta catch 'em all!—and now the governor himself, Andrew Cuomo, is calling for legislation. He might as well have said, Parents, please go out of your minds with fear about an extremely remote danger we are exploiting to get your love and votes.

The legislation proposed by the governor today would prevent sex offenders on parole from playing the game in which animated creatures—from Nintendo's Pokemon universe—appear on your phone screen while you walk around. The legislation proposed Friday by Sen. Jeff Klein (D) and Diane Savino (D) also calls upon the game's creators to eliminate any Pokemon within 100 feet of a registered sex offender's home.

These might sound like ideas that will keep children out of the clutches of dangerous criminals. But in fact, they are based on two discredited ideas. One is "stranger danger" itself. The other is the notion that knowing where sex offenders live (and avoiding those places) actually makes kids safer.

Stranger danger is the mistaken belief that strangers are the people most likely to hurt our children, leaping out from behind bushes to snatch them off the street. While this fear resonates for many people—including and especially politicians—the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has labeled stranger danger an idea it is time to "retire." This is the group that put the missing kids' pictures on the milk cartons, so it's not like some bleeding heart soft-on-crime organization.

The organization simply understands that the vast majority of crimes against children—more than 90 percent—occurs at the hands of someone in the child's life, usually a trusted family member or family friend.

Meanwhile, actual registered sex offenders have a recidivism rate that is, contrary to popular belief, shockingly low. In fact, there's less recidivism among sex offenders than any other group of criminals (other than murderers).

So even if children pass right by a sex offender's home, they aren't really more likely to be molested or raped than if they pass by any other home. A study in The Journal of Law and Economics compared the sex crime rates on blocks in Washington D.C. with and without sex offenders on them. There was no difference in the number of sex crimes committed.

This means that when Cuomo declares that his actions will keep kids safer, he is inventing this claim out of thin air. It appears to be based on nothing more than fear without research. Similarly, when Klein says, "We know that pedophiles always seek new ways to lure victims," we must wonder if he read the most recent study by the Deparment of Justice, which studied crime stats from 2011 and found only one instance of a child-kidnapping victim who was lured to the scene of the crime via technological means.

The idea that any new technology automatically spells danger is as old as the fear that telegraph lines would change the world's weather patterns—and just as misguided.

In fact, the technology behind Pokemon Go is getting kids to actually leave the couch and enjoy the summer. Some politicians seem to be so unsettled by that idea—kids! outside! playing!—that their brains are working overtime to imagine new child-safety concerns.

Call it Fear-Pokemongering.

Related: Pokemon Go Is Already Making Authority Figures Freak Out About Danger