CO SOMB changes ‘sex offender’ to ‘adults who commit sex offenses,’ but not without dissention

By Sandy . . . The Colorado Sex Offender Management Board has taken a bold move. After barely having sufficient margin in a vote taken earlier this year to even consider the issue, they passed a motion in a November 19th meeting to replace the term “sex offender” with “adults who commit sexual offenses.”

While this change is binding only to the Management Board and the treatment programs it oversees, it is, as far as we are aware, the first formalization of what has come to be known as person-first language into its vocabulary and usage.

Person-first language does away with labels. It recognizes that, while the person committed an offense – or at least was convicted of an offense – he or she is still a person and that people can and should change and move beyond their pasts.

The change in terminology is not without its detractors, of course. The board itself was not in agreement, with the vote being 10 – 6. At least one media outlet could not overcome its bias against the move, letting it seep into its reporting with the denigrating phrase, “. . . so-called ‘person-first’ language.”

Prosecutors, former victims, and victim advocate groups were the most vocally opposed, and their expressed opposition is shown in the statements that the new terminology isn’t “victim-centered” and that “victims live with their label for life.” This exemplifies exactly why this move is so urgently needed.

This practice of creating life-long victims, of creating a class of permanent victim-hood, is as dangerous and debilitating as is creating the class of permanent offenders. Neither allows those involved in the criminal act, whether as perpetrator or victim, to move beyond that status and establish a healthy lifestyle that offers any personal satisfaction or contribution to society.

Virtually all opposition is centered around the implied but erroneous belief that those who commit sexual crime are beyond redemption, cannot be rehabilitated, will reoffend if given the opportunity, and deserve to be punished for a lifetime. The very existence of a public sexual offense register assures that this belief is perpetuated and disseminated.

This change in terminology is a tiny response to what a vast body of research shows about those who have sexually offended: Virtually everything done in common and legal practice, from the registry and all that it has spawned to putting labels on people, prevent former offenders from being seen as people capable of change, inhibit self-worth, impede rehabilitation, and work to the detriment of society as a whole rather than the betterment.

Anything that can be done to start removing that stigma is a step toward allowing those who bear this label and have changed or want to change to do so.

What could be more victim-centered than that?

Sandy Rozek

Written by 

Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.

11 Thoughts to “CO SOMB changes ‘sex offender’ to ‘adults who commit sex offenses,’ but not without dissention”

  1. AvatarTS

    An active ongoing labeling of a person in the present tense which is no better than the predecessor term when the context is looked at and not the words specifically. The did not move the ball forward here, but merely laterally. They’ll never get it.

    1. AvatarA Mistake They Made

      Of all the comments you got it 100% right!

    2. AvatarWC_TN

      The topic of “sex offenders” (I gag upon typing these two words) is too politically hot for anyone to have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the public and protect this minority from the tyranny of the majority. The government ignores the fact that protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority is part of their sworn duty.

      Once those two words come into the conversation, the rational discussion based on facts stop and the vitriol, venom, and unadulterated hate comes out and facts, no matter how much evidence supports them, DO NOT MATTER. I don’t see society ever backing off of their hateful view of “our people”, especially those who have committed crimes against young children and teens. In fact, I think the hatred is festering deeper as time goes on. You see whack-jobs like Q-Anon who swear pedophiles are everywhere, including the highest ranks of our government and the powerful elites behind them.

  2. AvatarSusan Walker

    Thanks for finding the good in this still not done saga. It was definitely distressing to see the same D.A.’s, victims’ advocates etc. make the same non-researched, contrary to truth statements as they have been making for years. However, after many difficult discussions by the SOMB and the participation of advocates for our men and women at each of these discussions, as well as the presentation of much research that shows low recidivism rates as well as the damage that inappropriate labels produce, it was rewarding to see a small step toward the reduction of labeling in Colorado.

  3. AvatarPerry P.

    Ok, let’s just get Our ‘Elected Officials’, State AND Federal, to create a Registry FOR ALL CRIMES! Place Anyone who EVER committed a Crime at any time in their lives to be required to be on such a Registry. Murderers, Robbers, Thieves, DUI Drivers, Aggravated Assault Perpetrators, ‘White Collar’ Convicted People and etc, would be required to Register ALL Their Lives! Eradicate First Conviction Sentences for Probation, and ensure that EVERYONE Regardless of Social Class, Standing, or Position, gets a Baseline 15-20 Year Sentence. Since they want to do this only to Us, then let’s apply the EXACT SAME STANDARDS TO EVERYONE ELSE! Let’s see how they like it then.

  4. AvatarTim in WI

    IF you’re going to discuss the legal use by states a review of court opinion detailing the justification as interpreted from statute. In WI that opinion is found in a case called Higginbotham. Naturally, “Congressional intent” behind the ” congressional choice of words” combined with public safety catchall vested in proper governance is the theme upholding the reasoning and “lawful necessity” of such labels upon individuals. Ultimately, it is those we elect in Congress that make those choices. So the Colorado Board opinion matters little towards the elemental rights of registrants. It matters little to change the terminology used by authority of those indentured to the maintenance of database. However, their percieved need to alter the language is an admission of sorts by COSOMB. Is it, “those who commit…”, or “those who committed… ?” A vast difference exists between the two phrases. The first implies perpetuity and there is profitability for some in the garenteed need for service. These costs are readily apparent in the necessary upkeep of the states criminal databases.

  5. AvatarTS

    Sept 9, 2021
    The Crime Report, Colorado’s Sex Offender Laws Create ‘Endless Punishment’: Critics ”

    Critics of Colorado’s sex-offender registration system charge it demoralizes and endlessly punishes people who genuinely want to be better, reports the Denver Post. They claim the Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB), a 25 member group which sets rules for evaluation, treatment and monitoring of sex offenders, teaches offenders to see themselves as incurable monsters’ decades after their offenses at the expense of more effective and humanizing therapies.

    “Registration does not work. It does not keep us any safer,” said Emma Mclean-Riggs, an ACLU of Colorado fellow experienced in working with minors assigned to the sex-offender registry. A survivor herself, Maclean-Riggs says the system turns sexual offenders into “monstrous” predators and does little to protect the public. “Because I’m a survivor I care about exactly one thing: what works,” she adds, noting that Colorado is not very good at helping sexual abuse victims. A recent scathing report by the state auditor also found that board members were voting on policy matters to benefit their own firms and the delays in getting people past their parole-eligibility date into treatment. Forty-seven convicted sex offenders got out of prison last year without receiving treatment, the report found.”

    As @Tim in WI states, the SOMB matters little when it comes to brass tacks on this issue except when it comes influencing what people should feel about themselves.

    1. SandySandy

      And we don’t see that as any small thing. Is it not what people feel about themselves and how people see themselves that influences how they behave and what they do? If I see myself as a criminal, am I not more likely to engage in criminal behavior than if I see myself as a law-abiding citizen?

      What amazes me is that the vast, vast majority of those with sexual crime convictions do not reoffend in spite of being called sex offenders many years afterwards.

    2. AvatarTim in WI

      The reason(s) why large protests by the group hasn’t developed naturally. That is the crux. Large assembly is a natural outcome from mistreatment and such coordinated action is hardly rare in D.C. in fact they’re frequent in the summer months but not usually in January. BUT not by this particular case of sex offenders. Apparently they can only be forced to assemble because if the volition were present, it would have already occurred. States routinely compel assembly of this group for programming, or photos. Those compelled assembly are little more than cattle calls, yet bemoaning to each other never escalates into ideas of protest.
      Most of them claim to want to put it behind themselves, and many have. Many are fearful of more incarceration and who could blame them
      for the self preservation. But this ignores the larger issue of their indentured servitude. It also dismisses a duty to oneself and the nation. I believe many think they deserve every bit of it. The fact that children, mostly boys, are on the database causes little bother to the average registrant. That is what sticks in my craw, more than the rest of it. This is the fact proving there are big plans in the works with respect to gov use of the database. If Packingham didn’t make the point clear enough the intent is to quash freedom of speech by its use in law. Clearly enough believed it play a role in the outcome of the last election regardless of fact. The database is serious business indeed and DOES03 helped pave the way. And the people applauded it. I appreciate greatly your acknowledging the fact that (sex offending) humans learn (even) from the justice processes themselves which rightfully held to account the wrongful behavior. The registration system is undoubtedly underpinned by the notion that human doesn’t learn and cannot be taught. A highly presumptive pathology dismantled by the ratified prohibition upon the use of ex post language upon crimes by Congress.

  6. AvatarChristian

    So what are they calling the children they stick on the registry.

  7. AvatarWC_TN

    After the public comment period was opened on this topic, the board received so much blow-back from the community and the state’s governor that they walked back this change and stuck with “sex offender”. Not that “people who commit sexual offenses” was any better; that was just more words to say “sex offender” because the verbiage was still present perfect, as if crimes are still being committted.

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