Sex offender Web registry serves purpose

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It is becoming apparent that the gunman who shot two former sex offenders in their homes Sunday found their names and addresses on the state’s Sex Offender Registry Web site.

That raises an obvious question: Should the state discontinue the site?

That, we think, would be a mistake, at least without a great deal more deliberation.

The gunman, Stephen A. Marshall, a 20-year-old from Canada, tracked down the two convicted sex offenders after opening information about 34 violators on the state’s site. He later committed suicide on a bus in Boston.

Investigators may never know what was going through Marshall’s head on the day of the slayings, and we may never know why he selected the two men.

We do know that the Web site, http://sor.informe.org/sor/, gets 200,000 hits per month, and it was disabled by police for about a day as police searched for Marshall. The site has since been restored.

The Sex Offender Registry site is maintained by the Maine State Police, State Bureau of Identification, and provides a photo of and information about sex offenders living in Maine.

The registry doesn’t contain information on all sex offenders, only those required to be posted by law who committed offenses prior to January, 1982.

The site represents a very awkward balancing act. We would all like to see sex offenders rehabilitated and returned to productive lives. At the same time, however, we know that rehabilitation services in prison are spotty and the recidivism rate for this crime is very high.

We also know that sex offenders can cause lifelong psychological harm to their victims, who often suffer in painful silence for years or live with crippling psychological difficulties.

The public purpose of the sex offender registry isn’t to punish but to inform. It exists because there is a public purpose served by letting parents and neighbors know the identities of sex offenders in their neighborhoods.

In the coming debate, we will have to confront the fact that the registry causes pain and hardship for those who must register. And, we must acknowledge that two men may have lost their lives because of information found there.

On the other hand, we will never know how many crimes have been prevented because neighbors and parents were aware of the offenders living in their midst.

Sexual crimes are an ugly problem, and the Web site is an imperfect solution. Yet, until proven otherwise, we believe the sex offender registry serves an important public purpose.

What do you think?

Should the state of Maine discontinue its sex offender registry Web site? To respond:

• visit www.sunjournal.com and click “Editorials” under the blog menu, or

• send us an e-mail at editor@sunjournal.com, or

• write to Editor, Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, ME, 04243.

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