Wollongong petition for sex offender registry

A petition created by a Wollongong woman to have the names of sex offenders placed on a publicly available register has attracted more than 400 signatures in under 24 hours.

Kimberly Gillen, 19, started the petition at midday on Monday. She said the story of the Morcombe family had inspired her.

 ‘‘After watching the shocking Daniel Morcombe story and others on television, I was appalled to know that we do not have an open registry for sex offenders and paedophiles,’’ she said.

‘‘I believe all Australians have the right to know when purchasing a house or raising a child if there’s a sex offender or paedophile living down the street.’’

Ms Gillen said the support for the petition hadn’t been surprising. ‘‘I didn’t expect to get so many signatures but I understand it’s such a worthwhile thing,’’ she said. 

To sign the petition, go here.

Paedophile publicity fear

While Daniel Morcombe's mother wants all sex offenders tracked on a public register, the idea has yet to gain traction outside Western Australia.

Civil libertarians, academics and child protection advocates say a register could push paedophiles underground or lead to vigilantism.

In NSW, a sex offenders' register exists but it is not made public.

Wollongong-based lawyer Aaron Kernaghan said the prospect of "naming and shaming paedophiles" created a number of problems, and could actually lead to victims being less willing to report abuse.

"The difficulty is you can't always name paedophiles because that may identify victims who may be family members," he said.

"We don't want to make it any more difficult for victims of sex crime to come forward and report it.

"Where there are no risks, a child sex offender can be identified and they are shamed to that extent - we have the criminal justice system that does that."

Debate about a register was reignited after serial paedophile and child rapist Brett Peter Cowan, 44, was sentenced last week to at least 20 years' jail for the December 2003 murder and indecent treatment of Daniel.

Following Cowan's sentencing, Daniel's mother Denise called for a child sex offenders' register.

In WA, more than 100,000 hits have been logged on the sex offender register website since its launch in 2012.

West Australian Police Minister Liza Harvey said there had been no vigilante action.

The site only gives out limited information on local sex offenders when members of the public supply driver's licence details.

But a criminology lecturer at West Australia's Murdoch University, Jaimie Zander, said publicly available registers did little to reduce repeat offending and might actually increase the chance of repeat offending.

"Actually most of the literature looks at the collateral damage, such as offenders losing their jobs, being denied a place to live, loss of family and friends," she said.

"All of these things contribute toward an increase in stress levels, something that appears to be related to offending behaviour for certain groups of offenders."

Broadcaster Derryn Hinch is campaigning for a public name-and-shame list. In coming months he will finalise a draft with the former head of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris, QC.

Hetty Johnston, the founder of child protection group Bravehearts, said the continued detention of dangerous sex offenders is better than a register, which she says could lead to innocent people being targeted.

"Most sex offenders aren't known to police, so most of them wouldn't be on the register anyway," she said.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said naming and shaming would lead to vigilantism.

"Look at Dennis Ferguson - he was hounded from town to town," he said.

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