Back in the day, couples would meet at family gatherings, parties, bars or church outings. Today, in an age of electronic connectivity, old-fashioned courtship can seem quaint. Like so much else, dating has gone digital, and more and more people are turning to online dating sites to find love - often successfully.
Of course, the Web contains dangers as well as opportunities. Internet crimes are not an urban myth. But excessive concern about so-called predators should not lead to excessive infringement of the right to free speech and association, either.
In one recent case, a woman was sexually harassed by a man she met on Match.com. It was later established that the man who was granted membership to the dating site had a long history of sexual assault crimes against women met on the Internet, crimes easily apparent with a simple search.
The woman aimed to hold Match.com accountable for not checking subscribers to the site against the national sex offender registry. The woman settled the case after the company agreed to screen members against both state and federal sex offender registries.
Match.com is not alone. Other online dating sites including eHarmony have agreed to increase their efforts to remove sexual predators, financial scammers and identity thieves from their sites.
Dating sites are not the only ones facing scrutiny. Online gaming, Facebook and similar social networking sites are also being called to increase the security and safety of their sites with similar measures.
The desire to protect members from the risk of violent crime is understandable. But using the sexual offender registry may cast too broad a net. This registry includes many offenses that would not hinder a dating pool or result in much concern about children joining a gaming session, like public urination or consensual sex with a minor girlfriend when the offender was 16 and the girlfriend 15.
In addition, civil rights advocates are against use of the registry. The groups argue many of these measures unduly violate the rights of those found guilty of committing sex crimes.
Debate Over Banning Sex Offenders From Using Websites
Advocates for restricting access to social networking, virtual gaming and online dating sites for registered sex offenders paint a grim picture. They speculate that children are at risk for developing online relationships with convicted child molester by playing Xbox Live or forming Facebook friendships. Although the need to protect children is understandable, simply banning sex offenders from social media sites is a simplistic, flawed attempt to solve a more complex problem.
The truth is, children are far more likely to be abused by a family member or other acquaintance than by a stranger met online. To be sure, it may still be wise to provide some level of protection against those with a history of abusing the Internet.
Instead of implementing this broadly sweeping piece of legislation, though, it may be more effective to apply Internet restrictions on an individual basis, reviewing each case and taking into consideration past abuses of Internet resources. Legislation tailored in this manner would continue to encourage those without a history of abuse using the Internet to continue to use it for support groups and job searches.
Banning Internet Access Violates Sex Offenders' Rights
Many take issue with the expansive reach of prohibitions against sex offenders. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of a state law in Louisiana aimed at protecting children. The law limited sex offender's use of the Internet by prohibiting "using or accessing social networking websites, chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks."
Even though the law included a stipulation narrowing the scope of registered sex offenders to those connected with crimes involving children, the language of the law was overly broad and infringed upon the sex offenders' constitutional rights.
Essentially, ACLU argued the law made it illegal for sex offenders to access the Internet. Even sites like CNN and ESPN allow communication between users in a commentary section, thus potentially falling under either the peer-to-peer or social networking categories of restricted areas.
The ACLU supports attempts to protect children from those who would do harm, but believes this type of law is unreasonable. In addition to potentially violating constitutional rights, such laws may have an unintended side effect: increased recidivism.
Research supports that rehabilitation is most successful when sex offenders are integrated into the community. Instead, these laws may isolate these individuals and increase the risk for repeat offenses.
The Louisiana legislation outlines just one of the many social stigmas tied to registration as a sex offender. If you or a loved one is charged with a sex crime, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced sexual assault defense lawyer to protect your legal rights.