COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Sex Offender Management Board has voted 8-7 to to remove the term “sex offender” from its standards and guidelines for clinical treatments and guiding principals and on Friday will vote on what to replace the term with.
Whatever the term, it will reflect “person-first” language such as ‘person who has committed sex offenses.’
“They are changing the terminology on ‘sex offender’ merely to protect the sex offender and not to protect public safety,” Michael Allen, district attorney for the Fourth Judicial District covering El Paso and Teller Counties, said. “It changes the focus from an affirmative step taken by a sex offender to violate somebody, to saying that something happened to them leading to them being in trouble for something in the courtroom. It changes the responsibility behavior from the offender themselves.”
The SOMB’s decision is one Board Chair Kimblery Kline says reflects what has long been used in clinical settings. Kline is the mental health representative on the Board and says that the language change would help in the rehabilitation process for offenders and prevent recidivism.
Kline says when looking at risk factors for re-offending, the term “sex offender” can isolate offenders trying to change, and implies the behavior is irreversible.
“If we’re talking about how someone speaks to themselves or about themselves or how they’re labeled as an identity versus something they’ve done, that can increase risk,” Kline said.
Other points made by proponents of the change say the “sex offender” label can lump several different offenses together in the public’s perception.
“Ultimately, its about risk reduction and when we’re talking about risk reductions, we’re talking about reducing recidivism and re-offense,” Kline said.
Allen joins the Colorado District Attorney’s Council in opposing the change, including Jessica Dotter who is the District Attorney representative on the SOMB.
Dotter is also the sexual assault resource prosecutor for the CDAC. She and Allen join other prosecutors who worry it will lessen a sense of justice for victims – or prevent victims from ever seeking it.
“If the SOMB prioritizes the self-image of offenders over the devastating impact that these crimes have on victims’ lives, we’re concerned that will negatively impact public trust and reduce the already low reporting numbers when it comes to sexual assault,” Dotter said in a recorded statement.
Part of the SOMB’s role is to weigh the research in making these decisions, and Allen blasted the notion that the language change is evidence-based as it relates to preventing re-offending and recidivism.
“There is no reputable study in existence that shows such a change in terminology used to describe a sex offender would have any measurable effect on the successful treatment of sex offenders and/or reduce recidivism,” Allen said.
The SOMB looked at five research papers in its January Standards Revision Meeting, none of which specifically addressed how the term “sex offender” affects recidivism.
The program manager for the SOMB, Chris Lobanov-Rostovsky, says the research doesn’t exist.
“I think there is connection related to outcomes indirectly through that, but no body has looked at, to this point, specific recidivism outcomes when the label is ascribed of a sex offender to that clientele,” Lobanov-Rostovsky said.
Kline hinted that the board may consider making recommendations to the Colorado State Legislature to create a labeling system that creates distinctions for different level of offenses, but for their next meeting, they will tackle what specific term should be used to label offenders.
That will occur in a virtual meeting on Friday at 9 a.m.