Creative New Ways To Stigmatize Sex Offenders

Apparently some crafty Ohioans have come up with a fresh new way to alert the community – any community – that a convicted sexual offender is in its midst: the fluorescent green license plate. When you see one of those eco-friendly tags on a car, you’ll know to pass carefully and quickly. These tags would supplement the state’s ongoing use of yellow plates to identify convicted drunk drivers. One of the odder aspects of the story is that a proposal to issue convicted sex offenders pink plates died in 2005 due to opposition from, among others, Mary Kay Cosmetics. (Someone needed to protect traditional femininity from the stigma of sexual transgression!) The story is here

I wonder whether Ohio will allow dirivers to combine these trendy affinity plates. For example, could a sex offender who is also a fan of Tulane football get fluorescent green plates that say Go Green Wave?

I’m not saying the proposal is total nonsense (although I am verging on saying that) but at some point this madness and paranoia simply has to stop. Until then, let’s all think of new ways to swiftly identify sex offenders in our midst. Can I propose that they all wear hats that say I ♥ The Axis of Evil? That way even the most car-tag-ignorant citizens will be able to pick out the bad guys.

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6 Responses

  1. md says:

    Yes, heaven forbid that people try to defend themselves and their families against convicted sex offenders in ways that, at least arguably and for now, don’t violate their rights. Those poor convicted sex offenders need all the social charity they can get. It’s much better for all involved that no one believe that there are any convicted sex offenders in their communities, even though there are. We wouldn’t want to stigmatize anyone, not even if (especially not if?) the stigma is well deserved.

  2. Mark says:


    I don’t think the real objection is stigmatization–it’s making convicted sex offenders targets for violence. Whether sex offenders are subjected to mere stigmatization should be irrelevant, but by forcing them to broadcast their identities wherever they go, they and their property will be subject to anonymous attacks. It amounts to a scarlet letter they can’t shake. Whether or not you think that’s deserved in some cases, the definition of “sex offender” sweeps broadly enough to catch some people convicted of crimes that rank low on whatever scale we use to grade the moral reprehensibility of sex crimes.

    If people want to “defend themselves” against convicted sex offenders and we’re worried that they pose a huge danger to society, I don’t see why we don’t increase criminal penalties for those convicted of sex crimes.

  3. md says:

    Mark, with all due respect, that is not the argument that Professor Filler was making in the initial posting. If there is evidence that the kind of indentification represented by this legislation increases the likelihood that sex offenders will be the targets of violence, then I would agree that that’s relevant to the wisdom of the policy. But the initial argument had to do with the “paranoia” of people who think that the policy is a good idea in the first place, not the resulting likelihood of violence.

  4. Dan Filler says:

    By framing Ohio’s proposal as a stigma program, I think I am telegraphing my view that specialty license plates are unlikely to produce social improvement in the form of reduced sex offenses. In my estimation, this failure will flow both from the fact that serious sex offenders are already subject to fairly aggressive local community notification in Ohio – and thus the new policy will provide minimal marginal benefit – and because there are actually fairly few stranger child abductions and molestations (the sort that this sort of notice is designed to address.) Most of these cases involve people known to the victim – often, if not primarily, family members.

    Thus, it appears that this program is either a poorly conceived public safety program or, just as likely, an opportunity to stigmatize sex offenders and win easy votes at election time.

  5. Anon says:

    Strangest is all, the bill’s sponsor claims “78 percent were convicted of new sex-related offenses within five years of their release from prison,” he said, citing statistics compiled by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.”

    Not true.

    “Only 8% of the offenders returned to prison for a new sex crime.” And that is twice the time, 10 years rather than five. Source:

    Ten-Year Recidivism Follow-Up Of 1989 Sex Offender Releases