The Origins of SOLR
The research behind this website began in July 2007 as a personal project by Marshall Burns to check the validity of rather outrageous claims made on the website Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL), with dire warnings of civil liberties being violated and cruel abuse of children by agencies set up to protect them. It sounded like a dystopian fantasy, but was too serious to ignore. And the amazing thing was that in-depth research showed that it's claims checked out. A set of footnotes were contributed to RSOL for the website to allow others to benefit from the research. Information gathered that was too lengthy for the footnotes was organized into a set of reports on a separate website, and thus began SOL Research. Further research continued to be conducted, with new findings posted on the website. In 2012, SOL Research was adopted as a formal project of Ennex Corporation, a business operated by Burns.
Marshall Burns is a physicist and technology entrepreneur who pioneered in the development of personal computers in the 1980s and 3D printers in the 90s. His career forte is the analysis and interpretation of complex data, which he learned to do in his PhD research on quantum chaos. In 2007, Burns focus shifted from technology to human issues, which led to his taking an his interest in this project.
For more information, see Burns personal website at MBurns.com.
Burns is served by a world-class team of advisors with expertise in fields relevant to the work of SOL Research.
- Alissa Ackerman is a professor of criminal justice in the school of social work at the University of Washington at Tacoma who did her PhD on the effects of the registry on recidivism and has since published a stream of papers on the effects of the registry.
- Jeffrey Douglas is a criminal defense attorney who started his career in 1982 by representing Virginia McMartin in the infamous McMartin preschool child molestation case. He also serves as the chairman of the board of the Free Speech Coalition.
- Charlene Steen is a retired psychologist who served on Californias panel that evaluates prisoners designated as sexually violent predators. She is the author of four books and serves on the board of directors of the California chapter of Reform Sex Offender Laws.
The following is a personal statement of researcher Marshall Burns, and is adapted from the section, No Longer Impartial, of the SOLR report, Riding the Registry.
The original intention of SOL Research was to use my skill as a scientist to gather information and present it impartially, to present the facts and let the facts speak for themselves. I was already suspicious that all was not well with the source and implementation of the registry and related laws, but I was committed to looking at the matter dispassionately and letting the truth emerge with the facts.
By the time I started my registry road trip, after almost three years of this research, it was already hard to maintain a stance of impartiality. I had seen too many pictures of children on the registry, read too many cases of convictions overturned because prosecutors had falsified evidence, received too many e-mails from young ladies asking if I could help them contact their boyfriends in prison. It was pretty clear by this time that all was not well, but as I set off on my trip, I still did my best to be the objective scientist, eager to observe what was going on with my own eyes and leave conclusions to be drawn based on what I would see.
Since that trip, it is clear that I can no longer remain impartial. What I have observed has affected me too deeply. I am still committed, of course, to presenting correct and complete information. But I would only be pretending if I claimed to be objectively reporting on facts here without a strong moral stance on the circumstances. It is clear to me now that however well-intentioned US sex laws may be, they in fact often traumatize the very youngsters they are supposed to protect. This trauma takes place in at least three ways:
- Criminal prosecution, with incarceration and registration, of children and teenagers for consensual sexual activity with their peers. See Child Sex Criminals in the road trip report, as well as the previous SOLR report on Criminalizing Childs Play.
- Paying no attention to the feelings or opinions of young people when prosecuting someone older involved in a sexual relationship with them. See Hearing from the Victims in the road trip report.
- Severe adverse effects of the registry on the children of people who are on it. Ive only had an opportunity to interview four such children in three families, and I refer interested readers to the comprehensive study (2°, ☀) on this subject by Jill Levenson and Richard Tewksbury.1
Wheres the Offender?
The original full name of this website was Sex Offender Laws Research. This was natural enough because the laws it is about are often called sex offender laws. But over time, an incongruity became apparent between this name and those of other criminal laws. We dont have life offender laws for people who commit murder or property offender laws for robbers. Those other laws focus on harmful actions and establish penalties for people who commit them. So why should sex laws focus on the people who break them and create a new category of people called sex offenders?
Another problem with this term that emerged from the research for this website is that there are many people on the registry who ought never have been charged with any crime at all. How can we with a straight face use the words sex offender to describe a woman who is on the registry for breastfeeding her baby, or another because when she was a teenager she sent a topless picture of herself to a friend, or another because when she was 17 she had oral sex with a 15-year-old boy? How can we use those words for a man who is on the registry because he relieved himself behind a garbage can in an alley, or another because when he was ten years old he touched a six-year-old girls breasts, or another because when he was 16 he had sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend who is now his wife? In cases like those, the offenders are the police, prosecutors, and judges who allow such matters to make their way to courtrooms and jail cells.
Clearly some people who are on the registry have committed offensive acts. However, we can never tell from information provided on the registry whether any particular person did so. So it is simply not appropriate to use the word offender to describe a person on the basis of their appearing on the registry.
For these reasons, the words offender and offense have been removed from this website except where they appear in a quote or in the title of a cited reference.
|Original term||New term|
|sex offender or SO or registered sex offender or RSO||on the registry (adjective) or person on the registry (noun) or registered person or registrant or convicted of a sex crime (adjective) or person convicted of a sex crime (noun)|
|sex offender registry||sex crime registry or just registry|
|sex offender registration||sex crime registration or just registration|
|required to register as a sex offender||be on the registry or put on the registry or listed on the registry|
|sex offender law||sex law|
|sex offense||sex crime|
|offender||convicted of a crime (adjective) or person convicted of a crime (noun)|
|Meanings of adjective and noun in this context:
adjective: He is a sex offender. becomes He is on the registry.
noun: Sex offenders are required to becomes People on the registry are required to
Examples of the results of these changes can be seen in the new titles of some of the SOLR reports:
|Previous text||New text|
|Q & A about Sex Offender Laws||Q & A about Sex Laws|
|Introduction to the Sex Offender Registries||Introduction to the Sex Crime Registries|
|Look Whos a Sex Offender Now!||Look Whos on the Registry Now!|
|Discerning Use of Force in Sexual Offenses||Discerning Use of Force in Sexual Crimes|
|Counting and Over-Counting Sex Offenders||Counting and Over-Counting the Registry|
|Relative Severity of Federal Offenses||Relative Severity of Federal Crimes|
|Civil Commitment of Sex Offenders||Sexual Civil Commitment|
Footnotes1. Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders (2°, ☀) by Jill Levenson and Richard Tewksbury, American Journal of Criminal Justice, January 15, 2009. See especially section on Impact on children of RSOs and Table 5: Psychosocial Consequences to Children of RSOs.
From the abstract: Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers and classmates. More than half had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger.
Page posted on June 5, 2015.
Page copyright © 2015, SOL Research. All rights reserved.