This article will look at Sarah’s Law in comparison to Megan’s law and the changes which have been made to both. The official name of Sarah’s Law is The Sex Offenders Discloser Scheme. The UK’s version that was implemented in 2010/11, is an improvement on the US’s Megan’s Law which is the US’s own Discloser Scheme. The main difference between these two Laws is the way that the information is disclosed.
In 2007 the Home Office found that 75% of victims knew of their offender – and not the stereotypical stranger. The scheme therefore, always needs to be very open about all facts and figures surrounding this type of offence in order to make people feel more aware and educated as to risks. And, the possible situations that these offences take place in.
The most obvious and fundamental differences between Sarah’s Law and Megan’s law is the way in which the information is accessed. Within the UK, parents have to go to the police and enquire about someone whose close to their child; whereas in some US states, a parent or even, any citizen, is able to access all of the information about registered sex offenders, such as their name, address and even photos – all through putting their post code into a website.
In 2006 the issue was addressed by sending Gerry Sutcliffe MP to America to gain a further understanding of the US law. Even though this move was criticized by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Home Secretary commissioned a review which then led to positive comments being made about the UK introducing its own altered version of Megan’s law. There was discussion of an introduction of a legal duty for authorities to look at disclosure of information in all circumstances and who it should be aimed at. There was suggestion of a pilot process to discover whether or not the scheme should be extended.
Arguably Sarah’s Law is an improvement on that of Megan’s Law – taking the criticisms from Megan’s law and changing them to make UK law more effective and reinforcing the aim of the scheme to protect the children. The argument is that too much publicity could cause the offenders to go underground and pose a greater risk to children.
Additional evidence to support Sarah’s Law being an improvement when looking at the disclosure of information can be seen by looking at vigilante attacks. Many argue that the US’s system has encouraged these types of attacks –some of which result in death. For example the 2006 killings of two sex offenders by Stephen Marshall: a man who was found to be carrying twenty nine different addresses of registered sex offenders.
This shows the true scale of what public disclosure can lead to and what any member of the public who does not always have any ‘need to know’, is able to access.
However, some may argue it is difficult – if not impossible – to assess if Sarah’s law is an improvement. A recent 2012 study showed how the disclosure of information could actually have a negative effect on parents and the main aim of the scheme, which was, and still is, to be able to equip parents and guardians with the information they need to keep children protected. Therefore, even though the formalities of the Sarah’s Law scheme have shown an improvement, when it comes to assessing the response of parents and people affected by the disclosed information, the fears that remained before the scheme are still very much apparent; some may argue that not been solved or softened by the scheme at all.
An argument to suggest that Sarah’s Law is not an improvement with regards to the US law is that is still only concerns people who have actually been convicted of a crime, not those who have had charges brought against them but were then dropped. It is therefore possible to conclude that Sarah’s Law is more effective that Megan’s Law. The main reason for the improvements is to do with the differences in time between when each of the law’s was implemented, there is over a ten year gap from when Megan’s Law was enacted to when the pilot for Sarah’s law was first rolled out. This has enabled the UK to see how Megan’s Law has developed over time and to make the relevant changes.