Managers of crisis hotlines say the barrage of news implicating men like producer Harvey Weinstein in some of the most powerful positions in Hollywood, politics and the media is prompting women from all walks of life to speak out about their own traumatic experiences with sexual assault, many for the first time. Many of the nation’s 1,300 centers are scrambling for funding, new staff members and volunteers to meet the demand.
Calls to rape crisis centers are surging around the U.S. amid an unprecedented public outpouring of survivors’ stories about sexual misconduct, the Washington Post reports.
Managers of crisis hotlines say the barrage of news implicating men in some of the most powerful positions in Hollywood, politics and the media is prompting women from all walks of life to speak out about their own traumatic experiences with sexual assault, many for the first time.
Advocates for sexual violence prevention see the national conversation as a hopeful moment that could bring lasting change. It is a challenging one in the short term, with a spike in demand that is straining the resources of 1,300 rape-crisis centers that provide free, anonymous, round-the-clock counseling and other support services.
Many centers are scrambling for funding, new staff members and volunteers to meet the demand.
“The good news is we were able to help a record number of people last month,” said Scott Berkowitz of the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a national hotline. “The bad news is that there are even more that came to us and left before we could reach them because our wait times were too high.”
He said it’s typical to see an uptick in calls when there is a big news story or a scandal, but the past year has brought two significant and sustained increases in demand for counseling and support.
The first was the video of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging to an “Access Hollywood”host about groping women.” The second was the report of sexual harassment allegations over decades against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and a #MeToo Twitter campaign with many people sharing their own stories of sexual harassment or violence. The network responded to 19,432 survivors in October, a 10 percent increase in a month.
In the “Post-Weinstein era,” victims of sexual assault and harassment are finally being believed. But unless critical reforms are enacted to how we convict and punish rapists, just believing the victim won’t be enough, argues a Boston College Law School professor.
In what is being called the “Post-Weinstein era,” victims of sexual assault and harassment are finally being believed. This no doubt is overdue, but in the context of rape, believing the victim will not be enough.
Three reforms are essential to how we convict and punish rapists.
First, the way states currently define the crime of rape does not target the conduct of unwanted sex. In the United States, rape was initially defined by unwanted sex accompanied by an element of force. The proof of force was and continues to be a high bar to meet, usually requiring threats, physical violence, actual injury, or weapons.
In 2017, a California court reversed a rape conviction because the evidence showed that a group of four men “lured” a 15-year-old girl into a house, got her “falling-down drunk” and then penetrated her while she was unconscious.
Before the 1960s, all sex outside of marriage was criminalized in the offenses of adultery (defined as sex with a married person) or fornication (defined as sex by unmarried people). An element of force was needed to prevent a rape victim from unwittingly confessing to these crimes when reporting the rape against her.
Starting in the 1980s, 35 states reformed their laws to include a crime of rape that did not use force. Due to the fears that women would falsely accuse men (what will likely be an anachronistic belief from the Pre-Weinstein era), the states narrowly limited consent to be actionable only in codified power imbalances, such as a prison guard and prisoner, therapist and patient, or certain family members.
The first needed reform to the definition of the crime of rape, then, is to abandon the definitions of rape used by 42 states.
Rape should not be limited to unwanted sex when there is also force or only arising in specific contexts. Rather, all states should simply define rape as only eight currently do: sex without the consent of the other person. Full stop.
The Question of Liability
Second, unlike homicide and theft offenses, rape law has not benefited from having liability arise from more sophisticated mental states that define the crime. If a person drives a car into a crowd and kills someone, it is a tragedy if the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. But the same death will be prosecuted as a murder if the driver had an intent to kill someone, disregarded the risk of death, or showed callous indifference over whether someone would be hurt.
Known as malice, this capacious mental state is effective in sorting out tragedies from murder.
In his book Missoula, Jon Krakauer interviewed a juror about her reasons for acquitting an accused rapist, which is a significant interview given that Montana is one of the eight states that define rape in its broadest reach as sex without the consent of another.
An important insight from this interview is that even when rape is defined broadly, the mens rea of knowledge requires proof that the defendant in fact knew he was having sex without his partner’s consent.
When framed in this manner, it is possible for the jury to both believe a woman’s testimony that she was raped but not have evidence that the defendant knew the victim was not consenting.
The second essential reform, then, is establishing a new crime of “rape by malice,” a crime that criminalizes both those who knew—or deliberately did not care to know—if their advances were consented to.
Unwanted sex arises from multiple motivations. A mens rea for rape should be flexible and responsive enough to criminalize as much unwanted sex as possible without criminalizing lawful or wanted sex. Other crimes such as homicide have expansive definitions to capture all killings made by the predators, the fools, and the careless. A new crime of rape by malice would do the same.
Rethink Rape Sentencing
Third, these proposed reforms to the redefinition of rape would lead to more convictions. But convicting more rapists under our current criminal justice system should not be welcomed. On paper, 19 states have respective maximum terms of 99 years, 100 years, and life sentences. And 12 states begin at 10 years.
In the rush to condemn rapists, throwing people away in prison is a poor policy option that no other developed country follows. In 35 comparable countries, the vast majority impose prison terms that do not exceed five years. This short sentence does not at all communicate that the crime was not heinous, the offender not depraved, or the victim does not merit justice.
In the mass incarceration era, the U.S. makes prisoners suffer with long sentences and harsh conditions, but that only results in high recidivism rates of about 75 percent for all crimes.
Canada, by contrast, provides evidence-based treatment that has resulted in the recidivism rate for sex offenders to fall from 33.2 percent to 14.5 percent. For first-time sex offenders, recidivism rates fell from 27.5 percent to 8.8 percent.
If the goal is to reintegrate into society convicted rapists who will not reoffend, the third essential reform is to impose shorter sentences for rapists. It is shorter sentences and actual treatment that succeed over calls to simply lock them up.
The third reform of shorter sentences also will serve the victims by leading to more convictions. Forty years ago, states faced an analogous problem in figuring out the proper punishment for a driver who killed another. The crime could fit under manslaughter, but when the prosecutor charged this serious offense, the jurors balked and did not convict—knowing from common sense that manslaughter carried a lengthy prison sentence.
In response, state legislatures crafted the new offense of involuntary manslaughter, which reduced the punishment for the killing from 20 to two years. Not surprisingly, conviction rates increased.
Many recoil at light sentences for rapists, on the assumption that a light sentence is letting-off a very bad person. But it is a mistake to contend that the problem with mass incarceration starts and ends with drug offenders. Ninety-five percent of all prisoners leave prison.
We can no longer be outraged by crime and continue to ignore what happens to the criminal.
In this respect, reforms to rape sentences must be accompanied by a call for more effective criminal justice intervention rather than simply incarceration and more of it.
Kari E. Hong
Instead of channeling outrage for the first rape, sentencing must also meaningfully seek to rehabilitate and prevent a second.
Kari E. Hong, an Assistant Professor at Boston College Law School, teaches immigration and criminal law. She founded a clinic representing non-citizens with criminal convictions in the Ninth Circuit, and has argued over 100 Ninth Circuit cases and 50 state criminal appeals. Her article A New Mens Rea For Rape: More Convictions and Less Punishment can be downloaded at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3060709. Readers’ comments are welcome.
In the latest case involving sex to roil the Capitol, longtime Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is investigated after he breaks a relationship and the woman “threatened to publicly share my private photographs and intimate correspondence in retaliation.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), having apologized over a nude picture of him circulating online, says that the Capitol Police is investigating a potential crime against him involving explicit materials, Politico reports. “Today, the Capitol Police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation and I have accepted,” the longtime congressman said Wednesday. A woman told the Washington Post she had a recording of a 2015 conversation in which he threatened to report her to the Capitol Police to protect himself after their relationship had ended. She said she had received explicit material from the congressman during a relationship that lasted several years.
Barton said the relationship was “consensual,” and that when it came to an end, “she threatened to publicly share my private photographs and intimate correspondence in retaliation.” Barton apologized to his constituents over the explicit photo of him circulating online. “While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women,” Barton said. “Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.” The 68-year-old Barton has represented the Dallas area in the House since 1985. He is a former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar pleaded guilty Wednesday to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct during medical examinations. He could face prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life. Some 140 women and girls have sued the university and USA Gymnastics over his conduct.
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar pleaded guilty Wednesday to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, reports the Lansing State Journal. All but one woman was abused during a medical appointment. Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina set a sentencing hearing for January 12, at which any victim of Nassar may make statements. “I think this is important, what I’ve done today to help move the community forward and away from the hurting, let the healing start,” Nassar said, adding, “For all those involved, I’m so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control.”
A a plea agreement with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office set a sentencing range of 25 to 40 years as the low end of Nassar’s prison sentence. The charges carry maximum sentences of life in prison. A few of more than 140 women and girls who say Nassar abused them were in court. Among them was Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse Nassar publicly of sexual assault. “I don’t believe there was anything sincere in what Larry said, other than his desire to refocus the attention on the good he believed he did today by allowing the community to move forward,” Denhollander said after Wednesday’s hearing. More than 140 women and girls have filed lawsuits against Nassar, Michigan State University or USA Gymnastics and said that Nassar sexually abused them. The allegations date to 1994.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called “extremely troubling” a report that Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, settled a complaint by a woman who alleged she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called “extremely troubling” a report that Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, settled a complaint in 2015 from a woman who alleged she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances, the Associated Press reports. BuzzFeed News reported that Conyers, 88, paid the woman over $27,000 to settle the complaint under a confidentiality agreement. BuzzFeed published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately —rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors. One former staffer said one of her duties was “to keep a list of women that I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using Congressional resources.”
Ryan (R-WI) said the House is updating its policies for handling complaints of workplace harassment and discrimination, which have been criticized as too weak and cumbersome. His statement did not name Conyers but Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong confirmed it was directed at him. “People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination,” Ryan said. BuzzFeed said it received the documents from right-wing activist Mike Cernovich, but independently confirmed their authenticity. Conyers is the longest-serving current member of the House, having arrived in 1965. The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money over the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.
Journalists probing the 47-year-old murder of Sister Catherine Ann Sesnik have turned up links between her death and five other unsolved killings. Police confirm a WJZ-TV report they are investigating whether the killings were tied to a coverup of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and cops in Baltimore in the 1970s.
The grisly story of a young Catholic nun’s murder—still unsolved—took a shocking new twist Monday night when a Baltimore television station quoted both witnesses and a police spokesperson in a news telecast which suggested that five additional murders (four of them involving teenagers) were linked to rampant sex abuse by both Catholic priests and local police during an 11-year period that began in 1970.
Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.
The story on WJZ-TV—the CBS outlet in Baltimore—marked the first time ever that a mainstream news organization has reported on a current police investigation of apparent connections between six different unsolved murders and Catholic Church/police sexual assaults in Baltimore.
While confirming the fact that Baltimore County cold case detectives are currently looking for connections between the unsolved killings and the sexual abuse, county police spokesperson Corporal Shawn Vinson told WJZ: “We’ll continue to try to look for any leads, any additional evidence that we can find.”
The groundbreaking news program on the six unsolved murders stemmed from recent disclosures unearthed during a local, 22-year-long reporting effort. Those findings were published in Inside Baltimore, an independent online newspaper last August.
The independent paper reported then that law enforcement officials in Maryland were studying the six murders in search of possible links that might connect them to sex abuse by priests and cops at a former girls’ Catholic high school in the city of Baltimore.
But last night’s report by WJZ broke new ground on the story, while quoting a childhood friend of a Catholic altar boy, 14-year-old Danny Crocetti, who was found stabbed to death near a Catholic church in Baltimore County in March of 1975.
The friend of the victim, a classmate of the altar boy, explained how “Danny was found in a stream,” not far from Our Lady of Victory Church. She then described a brutal murder in which the child had been “stabbed in the throat” and was later found dead “behind the Catholic school.”
The startling WJZ newscast came in the wake of an Emmy-nominated Netflix true-crime documentary, The Keepers, which last May drew millions of viewers to its tragic story of how a 26-year-old teaching nun had been found murdered in 1970, after reportedly trying to blow the whistle on widespread sexual abuse at her Catholic high school in Baltimore.
As they continue to try to solve the murder of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik and the other five young people slain between 1970 and 1981, cold case investigators in Maryland point out that they believe there are disturbing links between the murders, and that the later victims may have been killed because they too had been threatening to report the rapes by priests and cops.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB), meanwhile, has responded to the reports of abuse and murder by awarding cash “settlements” to more than a dozen abuse victims in recent years. Those awards, usually accompanied by “apologies” from Archdiocesan officials, now total more than $500,000, according to the AOB.
Tom Nugent is the author of Death at Buffalo Creek (W.W. Norton), a book of investigative journalism about a coal mining-related disaster that killed 125 people and left thousands homeless in Appalachia. He is also the publisher of an online newspaper, Inside Baltimore. Tom welcomes comments from readers.
The disparity fits into the larger picture of violent crime in the two countries–high in the U.S., low in Canada. “It’s partly cultural and partly the way the rules and regulations and social policy work in Canada,” said a Canadian sociology professor. “The social net is a little bit tighter in Canada.”
Amid the growing list of reports of celebrity sexual assaults in the United States, Americans might want to look north for clues as to why it’s less of a problem in Canada, says USA Today. The rate of reported sexual assaults and rapes in Canada is roughly half that in the U.S. The University of Victoria’s Cecilia Benoit said a lower number of sexual assaults in Canada fit into a larger trend of fewer violent crimes in general. “It’s partly cultural and partly the way the rules and regulations and social policy work in Canada,” she said. “The social net is a little bit tighter in Canada. Guns laws are very different, community cohesion is stronger with less individualism.”
Alex McKay of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada said the country has made strides in teaching lessons about sexual consent. In addition, “sex education is on average likely better than what it is in American schools because it tends to be less ideologically driven,” added McKay, who said Canada has a more progressive attitude toward sexuality. Holly Johnson, a professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in the justice system’s response to sexual violence, notes that the definition of sexual assault is different in each country. In the U.S., sexual assault is “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient,” according to the Justice Department website. That can range from forced intercourse to fondling. In Canada, sexual assaults are divided into three categories, with the vast majority classified as those that leave little or no physical injury to the victim. Johnson noted that most sexual assaults go unreported in both countries.
Former Boston television news anchor Heather Unruh accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexually assaulting her teenage son last year on Nantucket, recounting the alleged attack during an emotional news conference that included a vivid description of the encounter.,
Former Boston television news anchor Heather Unruh accused actor Kevin Spacey of sexually assaulting her teenage son last year on Nantucket, recounting the alleged attack during an emotional news conference Wednesday that included a vivid description of the encounter, the Boston Globe reports. In July 2016, Unruh said, her then 18-year-old son was at a dimly lit restaurant where the “House of Cards” actor was among the late-night crowd. Her son was mesmerized by Spacey, 58, Unruh said, and told him he was old enough to drink.
She said Spacey purchased alcohol for her son until he was drunk and then stuck his hand inside the man’s pants and grabbed his genitals. Unruh’s allegations are the latest to be lodged against Spacey since last month, when actor Anthony Rapp said the movie and television star had made an unwanted sexual advance toward him in the 1980s. Spacey was 26 at the time and Rapp was 14. Unruh said her son, now a 19-year-old college sophomore, reported the incident to Nantucket police last week and provided evidence to investigators. District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said prosecutors have contacted the lawyer for Unruh’s son but haven’t heard back. “We don’t do things by press conference,” O’Keefe said. Unruh said Spacey should go to prison and asked the woman who went to her son’s aid to come forward. Unruh’s son could face scrutiny if Spacey is prosecuted. “I think he can definitely expect to have to explain the fact that he was drinking and underage,” said Colby Bruno of the Boston-based Victim Rights Law Center, an advocacy group for sexual assault victims.
The Emmy-nominated Netflix true crime documentary, “The Keepers,” helped break open a 47-year-old story of sexual abuse and murder at a Baltimore Catholic school. But it took stubborn shoe-leather investigative reporting to penetrate official indifference and the refusal to pursue evidence of police misconduct.
It was the kind of moment that an investigative reporter never forgets.
Harsh accusations were told to WJZ by many of [Father] Maskell’s victims. We have spoken with two of these women, and now a third is coming forward with a real bombshell. She told WJZ she was abused not only by Father Maskell, but also by police officers. . . .
It happened last February 27, when Baltimore’s CBS outlet, WJZ-TV, reported that local police were investigating credible reports of cops raping teenagers at a Catholic high school for girls in the city, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik. Photo courtesy Baltimore County Police
But the shocking TV news report also marked a huge turning point in this investigative reporter’s 22-year effort to uncover the truth about the murder of a teaching nun, Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, who had reportedly tried to blow the whistle on widespread sexual abuse of students at her high school in southwest Baltimore.
The February 27 news story was an unexpected development, for sure.
For the first time ever, a major television station in Baltimore was talking openly—live and on the air—about the possibility that the nun’s murder had been covered up by police officials for more than four decades because an open investigation might reveal that “several” local policemen had been engaged in the sexual abuse, along with several law-breaking Roman Catholic priests.
Until then, the story of the 22-year struggle to uncover and report the abuse—along with an alleged Church and police cover-up—had been a depressing chronicle of stonewalling, frustration and official indifference.
But then came the remarkable evening last winter when the dam finally broke and the allegations of police misconduct suddenly flooded onto airwaves and front pages all across the Baltimore-Washington region.
The reporting struggle had not been an easy one. Again and again, as a series of mostly local reporters dug at frightening allegations of rape by priests and cops, they were stymied by Baltimore-area “cold case” investigators and special agents at the FBI—all of whom repeatedly refused to discuss details about the unsolved killing of the nun or the abuse that had reportedly triggered it.
Father A. Joseph Maskell (left) was defrocked by the Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB) after numerous allegations of sexual abuse, and after the AOB confirmed that “guns were found” at his last church rectory in Maryland. His friend Father Neil Magnus (now deceased) was also accused of rape by students at a Catholic girls’ high school in Baltimore, where he served as Director of Religious Studies. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
This reporter, for example, was told several times over the years by cold-case investigators at the Baltimore County Police Department and the FBI that the nun had undoubtedly been killed by a “random assailant” who abducted her during a Nov. 7, 1969, shopping trip, then raped and murdered her.
When I then uncovered significant evidence linking the murder of the nun to the school abuse, both the police and the FBI refused to examine it. Instead, they made clear that they had no interest in studying any scenarios other than the “random assailant” scenario they had long ago decided was the correct explanation that lay behind the nun’s murder.
Baltimore Police Captain James L. Scannell (now deceased) was a close friend of Father Maskell and often drove the priest on “ride-alongs” in his squad car. Some female high school students said they were sexually assaulted by priests and cops during such ride-alongs. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
It took more than a decade of reporting and writing stories about the nun’s murder before the shocking new information about sexual abuse by priests and police, and possible links connecting it to the killing, finally began to gain momentum.
The struggle to tell the story of the nun’s murder and the ensuing alleged cover-up began in 1994, in Baltimore, when I and several others interviewed the first abuse victim. During the ensuing years, I continued to interview both abuse victims (more than a dozen have by now received “apologies” and more than $500,000 in “settlement” compensation from Church officials) and those law enforcement officials who were willing to talk with me.
I spent hundreds of hours burning shoe leather in Baltimore, while interviewing dozens of former students at the Catholic high school—along with several police detectives and FBI agents who had worked on earlier investigations of the nun’s killing. I slowly developed several high-ranking sources in Baltimore law enforcement.
As I gained their trust over more than a decade of scrupulously careful reporting, they began to provide more and more revealing details about the abuse, the murder, and an alleged police cover-up of both.
I also went to Pittsburgh and interviewed family members and friends of the murdered nun, in order to tell that side of the story in specific, compelling detail.
Again and again, I tried to interest newspapers (including my former employer, the Baltimore Sun, and the nearby Washington Post) in letting me cover the story for them. For several years, they refused to run the copy I sent them, while insisting that the facts I’d uncovered weren’t sufficient to back up allegations of police involvement in sexual abuse—along with alleged police and church cover-ups of murder.
But then I got a break.
In early 2005, I finally managed to persuade the City Paper, an independent newspaper in Baltimore to run a massive, 5,000-word story about the nun’s killing and the ensuing investigations.
That story drew some important help from some media-savvy abuse-research volunteers, one of whom eventually succeeded in attracting the attention of the Huffington Post.
Photo courtesy Netflix
The lengthy 2015 HuffPo piece helped to set the stage for this year’s Emmy-nominated true crime documentary, The Keepers, which brought international attention and millions of viewers to the tragic story of Sister Cathy and the allegations of sexual abuse and alleged cover-up by Baltimore-area police and the FBI.
By the time The Keepers premiered in May of this year, the local news media—including print, television and magazines (such as Baltimore Magazine, which ran a lengthy investigative story on the nun’s murder)—were already reporting the story in shocking detail.
If there is a lesson for investigative reporters in all of this, it now seems clear.
Learn how to tell your story in a variety of formats (print, television, magazines and documentary film and video) so that you can reach a variety of audiences and thus maximize the story’s impact.
The bottom line: once the powers-that-be in Baltimore realized that the story of the murdered nun, the sexual abuse and the allegations of police cover-up was going to be the subject of a blockbuster, seven-part documentary on Netflix, the bureaucratic stonewalling gave way to increasing disclosures of revealing fact by law enforcement officials in Maryland.
Of course, the story isn’t over yet.
With local law enforcement in Maryland now talking openly about “new findings that may link six different unsolved murders to two priests who were involved in the abuse during the late 1960s and much of the 1970s,” there may very well be additional surprises ahead.
The effort to uncover the facts will continue.
Hopefully, the worldwide interest provoked by The Keepers will also continue to help journalists overcome the kind of stonewalling that so often takes place when law enforcement officials refuse to share information with the public—for motives that often seem dubious and self-serving.
Tom Nugent is the author of Death at Buffalo Creek (W.W. Norton), a book of investigative journalism about a coal mining-related disaster that killed 125 people and left thousands homeless in Appalachia. He is also the publisher of an online newspaper, Inside Baltimore. Tom welcomes comments from readers.
Kentucky’s registered sex offenders have the constitutional right to use Facebook, Twitter and other online social media, a federal judge ruled. A Kentucky law wrongly blocked registered sex offenders from “accessing what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square,” said U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove.
Kentucky’s registered sex offenders have the constitutional right to use Facebook, Twitter and other online social media under a new federal court decision, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. The ruling came in a lawsuit by a Lexington child pornography defendant identified only as John Doe. Scott White, who represented Doe, said the laws that were challenged “effectively deprived anyone on the sex offender registry of access to the most effective forms of communication that we have today. It was a complete suppression of speech.” Kentucky prohibited sex offenders from using social networking websites or instant messaging or chat rooms that potentially could be “accessible” to children — which is to say, much of the internet. A second law required sex offenders to keep their probation or parole officers updated on all of their email addresses and online identities.
Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a North Carolina ban on social media for sex offenders, in part because so many civic institutions are tied into social media. The Herald-Leader’s Kentucky.com website would be off-limits to sex offenders under the state’s ban because it has a comments section open to the public, Van Tatenhove said. Kentucky’s law “burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the commonwealth’s legitimate interests in protecting children from sexual abuse solicited via the Internet,” Van Tatenhove wrote. “Indeed, rather than prohibiting a certain type of conduct that is narrowly tailored to prevent child abuse, the statute prevents Mr. Doe and others similarly situated from accessing what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.”