Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) recently determined that two words in their formal organization’s name – “sex offender” – are no longer appropriate. Composed of public defenders, prosecutors, and other professionals that work in sex offender treatment, they set standards and guidelines for treatment providers. They recently made a controversial determination to make the term “sex offender” a thing of the past and instead refer to their clients as “adults who commit sexual offenses.”
Ending a stigma
The SOMB’s new term will embrace more “person-first” language intended to avoid ostracizing people with the label of being a “sex offender.” Opponents believe this could likely represent an initial step towards a wholesale change in the treatment of sex offenders- a change which proponents of the move welcome as a necessary for truly rehabilitative treatment.
The change, however, will not alter the legal term or verbiage in the criminal justice systems. In addition, “sex offender” will remain in the board’s name as the state legislature holds that authority to make any changes.
Those in favor believe that a less stigmatizing name will reduce repeat offenses. Detractors fear that the change will decrease accountability, noting that terms such as “victims” and “survivors” last a lifetime for victims of sex crimes.
The 25-member board discussed five possible terms before voting 10 to 6 that the new designation will be “adults who commit sexual offenses.” Those in favor of the change believe that it balances the impact of the offense while ending a term with what they see as a negative impact on those convicted of the crime.
The decision follows a bill introduced last year in the Colorado legislator that proposed the elimination of “sexually violent predator” from statutes. The legislation was pulled before any action could be taken. However, a sentencing reform task force is considering going back to the legislature to put in place “justice-involved people” instead of “defendant,” “felon,” and “convict.”