Perceptions about the sex offender register in Hong Kong

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For many countries, criminal justice system and legal system could not provide a substantial protection on the vulnerable targets; therefore, there will be a reform on the system. In October 2006, the Secretary for Justice and the Chief Justice asked for a reviewal on the laws governing the sexual and related offences and "to consider whether a scheme for the registration of offenders convicted of such offences should be established" (Sexual offences records checks, 2010, p.1; Panel on Security, 2010). During 2007, The Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong has come to on the topic of sex offender register as the starting point of the reformation. There are a number of court judgments that have demonstrated some existing problems in Hong Kong. In recent years, some offenders use the trust between their students and children and the power of being authority to commit sexual abuse. For instance, a part-time fencing teacher was caught in 2009 because he was having indecency acts with a child who is under 16. The sentence of the defendant was reduced because he resigned as a teacher, instead, he still taught fencing as a volunteer (HKSAR v Yeung Tin Shun, 2009; Sexual offences records checks, 2010). Furthermore, some offenders would persist in their criminal acts even they have been convicted with similar offences. In 2006, an occupational therapy assistant was convicted because of indecently assaulting a 12-year-old girl. The defendant had five previous convictions; of those three were indecent assaults involving young girls or children (HKSAR v. Ian Peter Nash, 2009; Sexual offences records checks, 2010). These cases raise the awareness of the protection of vulnerable persons and thus sex offender register is proposed for the further protection of children.

Sex offender registration has been carried out in countries such as, America, Canada, England, etc; and it was defined widely in term of application in different places (LaFond, 2005; Winick & LaFond, 2003). In the interim proposals on a sex offender register (2008), sex offender register was defined as the protection for, particularly vulnerable persons and children, the public from sex offenders. The register also refers the obligations on the sex offenders after their prison term as they need to update continuously for the database of the register. Furthermore, the register also refers to a system for job screening; as criminal records will be provided to prove the suitability of applicants when they access to children-related jobs.

When setting up the sex offender register, it comes to a concern on the balance of interests of the stakeholders. Sex offenders' privacy and rights will be seriously affected. In other words, further protection on the vulnerable persons and incapacitated persons will be benefited because of a high accessibility on the sex offenders. In 2010, a report is pressed about the views of the sex offender register from schools, other organizations and individuals. The main issue of establishing the sex offender register is how to balance the interests both sex offenders and the vulnerable persons. However, just collecting the views and suggestions from the child-related organization, then what do the sex offenders think about the proposal? It is also important to collect the comments from the sex offenders as they are one of the key stakeholders. Therefore, this research will focus on listening to the ex-sex offenders, aim at searching their perceptions and consulting their comments and suggestions of the sex offender register that will be carried out in Hong Kong. The purpose of this research is (i) to explore the accuracy of the ex-sex offenders on the sex offender register, and (ii) to find out the views of the ex-sex offenders, and to be a voice for them to express their ideas.

Literature Review

There are a number of literatures conducted on the impact of a sex offender register, only a few amount of them focus on the public perceptions on the register. Nonetheless, those with public perceptions would help in this research with the contents selection.

Anderson and Sample (2008) conducted a research on public awareness and action resulting from sex offender community and notification laws. They took the sample of Nebraska residents to examine the degree of awareness of the public by survey. They found the respondents by randomized phone number and random selection by the computer for the target interviewee after they were informed the numbers of adults living in the home. This research has a representative sample, however, telephoned home has a limitation that the age group of 19-24 was underrepresented as the reason may due to the use of cell phones. Furthermore, this research was in a voluntary approach; the resulting answers may vary from those who chose not to participate.

Zevitz and Farkas's sex offender community notification: Assessing the impact in Wisconsin (2000) shows broad views on the consequences of the sex offender notification. They provided survey to the residents, police and sheriff's agencies, probation and parole agents and supervisors; however, my focus is on the face-to-face interviews of 30 ex-sex offenders. As sex offender registration is in practice in Wisconsin, they can easily find their targets from the registration. Written informed consent form was provided before the interview, and a series of questions were asked about their experiences with notification and the impact it had on their lives. However, the process and structure of the interview remain unclear in the research.

Levenson, Brannon, Fortney and Baker (2007) conducted a research on public perceptions about sex offenders. During the August 2005, the data was collected from 193 participants of driving age in Melboume, Florida. Those respondents were surveyed in Department office. To minimize bias, the researchers contributed the questionnaire to everyone who is waiting to be served in the Department Office. Because one has to wait four to six hours to be served, the questionnaire therefore can be filled with sufficient time. However, in the research, it has ignored those could not read English and those who handle the issue through internet rather than drop in the Department Office.

Theoretical aspect

In the theoretical field, deterrence of the sex offender register is necessary in determining recidivism. There are two types of deterrence: specific deterrence and general deterrence. Deterrence can be defined as the prevention of criminal acts by the use or threat of punishment (Schmalleger, 2006; Walsh& Hemmens, 2008; Duff & Garland, 1994; Vold & Bernard, 1986). While specific deterrence is for the prevention of particular offenders on repeat criminality, and general deterrence refers to the prevention of a general population from committing similar crimes that is being committed.

Furthermore, labeling theory is also important in this research as it highlights social reaction. As punishment has been served after prison term, sex offenders would have to carry the label of a sex offender if the register is in practice. This will be turned into double jeopardy. There is empirical evidence that negative labels have an effect on self-image and subsequent behavior (Schmalleger, 2006; Siegel, 2003). There are two categories on research on labeling theory (Schmalleger, 2006). The first refers to who are powerless and could not fight against to be negatively labeled, so it is stick with the characteristics of the offenders who are chosen for labels. The second refers to the prediction of theorists on people who are being negatively labeled. This research would prone to the second one as we would see the reaction acts of being a record on the register.

Methodology

Source and research design

This research is designed to be qualitative research and a bit of quantitative elements. The population will be all ex-sex offenders or those sex offenders including those on probation and parole in Hong Kong. The sample size would be set at 20. There will be 2 researchers in the proposal, and they may have relationship, classmates. There will be a 5-minute survey and 1-hour face-to-face interview to search the experience and explore the comments on the sex offender register with ex-sex offenders. Hopefully, the research will be done in 9 months which 2 months for sourcing and sampling, 6 months for the interviews and further 1 month for analysis.

Sampling method

The population of this research is ex-sex offenders; therefore, purposive sample is chosen which on the basis of those who was convicted one or more sexual offences previously. The population not just focuses on who had convicted of child-related but to all sexual offences. It is because the boundary of the sex offender register is remained unclear and this research would wish to collect more comments from different aspects. Those were convicted of the sexual crime can be found through the supervision staff who regularly handle, or trained to handle sex offenders on probation and parole and social workers. Of those provided if more than our expected sample size, a random selection will be adopted to minimize bias. Certainly, random selection is adopted only for the sequent order of the interviewees as there are more than one source of searching an ex-sex offenders; selection will be continued until the reach of the same size. However, there would be a difficulty in contacting the target offenders that the information may be provided restrictively. Therefore even just have a little lead, putting effort in telephoning the target, sending an email or even waiting at the report spot (for those who are on probation and parole) in order to contact the targets is necessary. For those who are referred by social worker, it is relatively easily to contact by utilizing the social workers as a middleman. It is because the ex-sex offenders may already build a trust with social worker. Here will probably take about two months for searching identity of ex-sex offenders and put them in a sequent.

Data Collection

To collect data, a 5-minute survey and a face-to-face interview will be conducted afterward. After successfully contacted the target sample, we would go to a place that provided with a comfortable and no pressure location for the survey and interview, such as café. In particular circumstance, the interviewee can choose the location that would comfort him as some of them may be very alert. To clarify, every interview is only for two-person conversation.

In the time we meet the ex-sex offender, a questionnaire will be provided for the basic information of the interviewee. On the very foremost page will be the information sheet and written informed consent from, it is to provide a clear message and information to the interviewees. After that, it will be the questionnaire. The decision of having a questionnaire is because some sensitive data is expected to collect (Vito, Kunselman & Tewksbury, 2008). The questionnaire will begin with some personal information, such as age, sex, marital status, employment, etc. The second part will refer to the conviction history and it is the reason why a questionnaire is necessary in the research. This part would not just questioning the times of being convicted, and also the details of the conviction such as the term of sentence and offences. Some may cover up some of the convicted offences as they would feel embarrassed while stating more previous convictions. Third part refers to the relationship between the research and the participants; it is for the purpose on identifying the potential bias and influence during the interview. As to prevent awkward atmosphere, the time of interviewees filling the questionnaire will be the time for the researchers away to buy a drink or food as a preparation for the coming interview.

After the 5-minute questionnaire, it will be followed by a 1-hour face-to-face interview. For the degree of formality, semi-structure interview is chosen in this section. The aim of this research is to explore the accuracy and views of the ex-sex offenders. As the topic was relatively sensitive on the sex offender register regarding to their identity, structure interview may generate pressure that would lead them to cover up something. However, in regarding to the unstructured interview, it may diverge from the aim of the research. Therefore, to stick with the direction of the findings, semi-structured interview will be conducted in terms of pressure and the information we wish to obtain (Vito, Kunselman & Tewksbury, 2008).

The face-to-face interview will be conducted with the raw data of the audio recording. At the beginning of the audio recording, there will be a verbal informed consent.

The semi-structured interview guide will be divided into two parts. The first part will focus on the sex offender register proposed in Hong Kong and introduce the practice of register in other country in order to provide a clearer perception of the function and practice of the sex offender register. The second part of the interview will seek the comments and recommendations from the ex-sex offenders, such as their concerns, existing problems, etc.

Data Analysis

For the questionnaire, as the question included in the questionnaire is independent variables (refers to the basic information of the interviewees), the first part of the questionnaire is closed-ended question. The measurement of variable is as follows:

Age

Interval Data

Sex

Nominal Data

Marital Status

Nominal Data

Employment

Nominal Data

Education level

Nominal Data

More, on the second part of the questionnaire, it question about the previous conviction. This part was designed with open-ended questions; it refers to the name of the offences, year of conviction and the sentence term. This is to investigate how many persons have committed child-related before and their recidivism rate. Therefore, this section will be evaluated in nominal format. Lastly, the third part was asking about the relationship between the research, and this data will be presented in nominal format. The data will then enter to software named Excel for calculation and evaluation.

For the audio recording interview, we will transcribe the audiotape into a printed record of the conversation. By the process of transcribing, researchers can again listen to the entire interview and the responses of the interviewees. Furthermore, we will analyze the data with a coding scheme (Bryman, 2008; Brown & Curtis, 1987; Vito, Kunselman & Tewksbury, 2008). That is first sort out the comments or answers with reference to the question guidelines. Then, we further identify the specific information, concepts and experience. This process would help ensure the going through of all transcripts and categorizing the statements in particular concepts. It is important that all statements should be included during coding process. Therefore, it is necessary to have a double check on the transcripts that should have been collected in the coding. After that, there will be an in-depth identification on the core idea or focus on the statements in order to demonstrate the process of work and the thought of the sample size. The meaningful and useful data will then be outlined for the discussion in the final report. In the final report, the categorized concepts and ideas will be performed by quotation. In addition, the analysis is assigned a month to finish, it is because the audio recordings will have transcribed after a few days of interview

Ethical principles

Another concern of the research is the harm of respondents, especially for ex-offenders, it is because they have to recall some regretted memories during the interview. Harms to participants refer to physical harm, loss of self-esteem, feel stressful, etc (Bryman, 2008; Bell, 2005). Of course, there will not have physical harm to the participants, and we would try to minimize the psychological harm of the participant. For example, when the participant is filling the questionnaire which consists of the something that is socially not accepted, try to leave the participant alone to minimize their stress. Furthermore, a written informed consent form was provided at the beginning of the meeting. The informed consent form is with the notification of voluntary of participation, right to refuse answering questions, right to withdraw from interview and right to withdraw their data within 2 weeks of interview (Bryman, 2008). Apart from the written informed consent form, there is also verbal informed consent at the beginning of the meeting to prevent lack of informed consent. Moreover, it is necessary to inform the participants that their identity will be protected throughout the research, Such as, use a false identity when quoting the conversation in the part of analysis.

Predicted Result

After seeking the views and comments of the ex-sex offenders, I predict that the participants concern most are (i) who will be registered in the register, (ii) alternatives on committing crimes and (iii) double jeopardy. For those who were convicted of related-sexual offence crime would concern about will they still be the population to be registered in the register, that is to say, when will be the starting point of being registered in the register. Secondly, there will always be alternative on committing related crimes. Deterrence may be effective on schools and organization may well recognized the sex offender register, but not to the householder or private institution. Therefore, a shift of the victim groups may result consequently. Thirdly, they may claim that they have already served their punishment and rehabilitation in their sentence term. It is stigmatization rather than labeling (Duff & Garland, 1994; Harrison, 2010). Furthermore, it would affect the freedom of occupation (Interim proposals on a , 2008; Harrison, 2010; LaFond, 2005)as it is hardly to have courage to employ an ex-sex offender on the child-related job. In other words, it obliterate an opportunity to get reintegrate the society.

Conclusion

In conclusion, ex-sex offenders are powerless to express their views. Although the society always brings up the ideas of balancing the interests of the sex offenders and the vulnerable persons, yet no actions is done in relation with the sex offenders. There is still limitation in this research, the research is not generalizable as the sample size is not representative that at least 1000 of sexual assault per year recently [1] (Crime Statistics Comparison, 2010). Nonetheless, this exploratory research will provide another point of views that is at stake with the establishment of the sex offender register. If the balance of interests who at stake is such important in setting up the sex offender register, this research will provide the perceptions of ex-sex offenders and hope their aspects could be taken into account for the proposal of the sex offender register.

Reference:

Anderson, A. L., & Sample, L. L. (2008). Public Awareness and Action Resulting From Sex Offender Community Notification Laws. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(4), 371-396. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from http://cjp.sagepub.com/content/19/4/371

Bell, J. (2005). Doing your research project : a guide for first-time researchers in education and social science. (4th ed.). New York: Open University Press.

Brown, S. E., & Curtis, J. H. (1987). Fundamentals of criminal justice research. (4th ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Pilgrimage.

Bryman, A. (2008). Social research methods. (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Duff, A., & Garland, D. (Eds.)(1994). A Reader on punishment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crime Statistics Comparison. (2010, March).Hong Kong Police Force. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://www.police.gov.hk/ppp_en/09_statistics/csc.html

Harrison, K. (Ed.)(2010). Managing high-risk sex offenders in the community : risk management, treatment and social responsibility. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

HKSAR v Yeung Tin Shun. (2009, July 9). In the district court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Criminal case No.1205 of 2008. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://legalref.judiciary.gov.hk/doc/judg/pdf/vetted/other/ch/2008/DCCC001205_2008.pdf

HKSAR v. Ian Peter Nash. (2009, August 14). In the district court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Criminal case No.422 of 2009. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://legalref.judiciary.gov.hk/lrs/common/ju/ju_frame.jsp?DIS=67619&currpage=T

Interim proposals on a sex offender register: consultation paper. (2008). Hong Kong: Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong.

LaFond, J. Q. (2005). Preventing sexual violence: how society should cope with sex offenders. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Leveson, J. S., Brannon, Y. N., Fortney, T., & Baker, J. (2007). Public Perceptions About Sex Offenders and Community Protection Policies. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 7(1), 1-25.

Panel on Security: Minutes of special meeting held on Thursday, 8 April 2010, at 9:00 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building. (2010, September 14). Legislative Council. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr09-10/english/panels/se/minutes/se20100408.pdf

Schmalleger, F. (2006). Criminology today : an integrative introduction. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Sexual offences records checks for child-related work : interim proposals. (2010). Hong Kong: Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong.

Siegel, L. J. (2003). Criminology. (9th ed.). Belmont, Calif: Thomson Learning.

Vito, G. F., Kunselman, J., & Tewksbury, R. (2008). Introduction to criminal justice research methods : an applied approach.. (2nd ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.

Vold , G. B., & Bernard, T. J. (1986). Theoretical criminology. (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Winick, B. J., & LaFond, J. Q. (Eds.)(2003). Protecting society from sexually dangerous offenders : law, justice, and therapy. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Walsh, A., & Hemmens, C. (2008). Introduction to criminology : a text/reader. Los Angeles: Sage.

Zevitz, R. G., & Farkas, M. A. (December, 2000). National Institute of Justice: Research in Brief. Sex offender notification: Assessing the impact in Wisconsin, Retrieved February 10, 2011, from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/179992.pdf

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