Two Republican state lawmakers want to set up a rape crisis trust fund, administered by Ohio’s attorney general and funded by $100 sex-offender registration fees. Their bill would raise money — an estimated $200,000 a year from first-time registrants — for a worthy program that would expand sexual-assault services.
Opposition to added sanctions on sex offenders is never popular. They make up one of society’s most despised groups. Even inside the walls of prisons, sexual offenders are at the bottom of the heap.
But the bill would impose an excessive fee — in addition to registration fees already assessed by local sheriffs — that is inappropriate, unfair, and ineffective. To say so is not to coddle sex offenders.
Ohio reports about 2,000 new registrations a year, but imposing new fees would never provide a reliable revenue stream. As the Ohio Legislative Service Commission notes, collection rates for court costs, fees, and fines for those convicted of felonies are already extremely low. Sentencing courts have determined, properly, that many felony offenders, including sex offenders, are indigent.
The bill directs the attorney general to recover unpaid fees in civil actions; good luck with that. It also leaves it to local sheriffs to charge the $100 fee when someone first registers as a sex offender. The measure also could require offenders to pay the fee every time they change their address.
Expanding rape crisis services in Ohio is a worthy goal. What services, if any, a sexual assault victim receives should not depend on where she or he lives.
A new survey, commissioned by Attorney General Mike DeWine, concludes that nearly 60 percent of Ohio’s 88 counties lack comprehensive, direct sexual assault services. Such services include a 24-hour crisis hot line, criminal justice advocacy, community outreach, crisis intervention, and referrals.
The survey shows that 44 counties offer only some of these sexual-assault services. Eight, including Fulton County, provide none, or practically none.
Mr. DeWine has a solid plan to close these service gaps in five years. His proposed sexual-assault services expansion program would fund regional coordinators who would, among other things, recruit and train local volunteers and work with local hospitals, as well as criminal justice and mental-health professionals. Ohio lawmakers ought to pay for these efforts as they would any such program.
Sex offender registries — even tiered systems such as Ohio’s — are problematic anyway. They can include errors and inflict decades of harassment, humiliation, discrimination, and even violence, in addition to whatever punishment a court imposes on an offender. In many cases, the consequences can be more severe than any appropriate fine, probationary sentence, jail time, or even prison term.
Expanding sexual-assault services in Ohio is a needed initiative that deserves to be funded — but not by an excessive and ineffective tax on offenders.
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