Colorado State Board Slammed for Dropping ‘Negative’ Sex Offender Label: ‘This Is the Left’s America’

A plainclothes detective with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department handcuffs a man on the Las Vegas Strip, August 8, 2007. REUTERS/Steve Marcus
REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The state of Colorado is set to drop references to “sex offenders” from its vocabulary in its standards and guidelines for clinical treatments and guiding principles, due to the label’s “negative” undertones, after board officials voted to no longer recognize the term in treatment provider contexts.

Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board, which sets state standards, voted to replace the term “sex offenders” on Friday.

The board, which is comprised of public defenders and prosecutors, handles the guidelines for treatment providers and the rehabilitation and monitoring of those labeled “sex offenders” and concluded it is improper to refer to such offenders in that context.

In an effort to “facilitate change,” the board argued that studies suggest the label “sex offender” creates “negative effects” during rehabilitation and leads to the ostracization of past offenders, according to the Denver Post

During the session, the board heard arguments from both offenders and victims as well as advocates on whether the label should remain or not.

Advocates for the change claim the term “sex offender” is offensive and places a stigma on a significant population.

One member of the sex offender registry, Derek Logue, explained why he does not deserve such an “offensive” title. 

“Referring to me by a label for something I did half my life ago is inappropriate and downright offensive,” he said, adding that “client” would be a more appropriate term.

Agreeing, Public Defender Kathy Heffron said, “It takes into consideration the uniqueness of individuals who are receiving treatment.”

Indeed, “client” was one of five alternatives considered by the board, which also included those “who have been sexually abusive” and “who are in treatment for engaging in sexually abusive behaviors.”

The chosen label, “adults who commit sexual offenses,” succeeded with ten votes in favor and six opposed, in what was seen as a compromise.

“I think this strikes a balance that honors the impact to victims and recognizes the current and ongoing impacts of sexual assault but also avoids the labeling term that has negative impacts on those who commit sex offenses,” said public defender Kathy Heffron.

Though the label “sex offender” will remain in both written law and the criminal justice system, many expressed concern that the term is now more likely to change in those settings as well.

District Attorney Michael Allen expressed opposition to the proposal, insisting the current label remain lest the perpetrator’s crime be trivialized. 

“Words have meaning and actions have consequences,” Allen stated during a press conference.

“Using the term ‘sex offender’ recognizes the gravity of deviant sexual behavior committed against another person,” he added. “This proposed change diminishes the harm done to victims of sex offenders.”

In addition, Jessica Dotter, who is the District Attorney representative on the board, expressed concerns that such a move was not merely symbolic and could trigger further similar moves to seemingly minimize the accountability of sex offenders.

“I’m concerned that the use of person-first language generally is an intent to remove accountability from offenders and to diminish the experience of the victims,” she said.

Kimberly Corbin, a rape victim who advocates on behalf of other such victims, was among many who spoke out against the term change, claiming sex offenses are subject to one’s choice and therefore such offenders do not deserve a “less stigmatizing” label.

“I didn’t choose to be victimized. A sex offender did,” she wrote on Twitter. “That earned label should follow him for the rest of his life, just as my victimization will always follow me.”

Several other prominent voices also weighed in online.

“This is the Left’s America,” wrote Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC).

“Democrats are worried about stigmatizing rapists and pedophiles…,” wrote Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“Balance between victims and their victimizer’s ‘negative impacts’ from labels? Ridiculous,” wrote former Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler.

Earlier this year, lawmakers attempted to pass a broad reform bill that would have updated state statute language on sexual offenses. However, the measure failed. 

Last year, lawmakers considered a bill that would see to the elimination of the term “sexually violent predator” from statutes, though it was ultimately pulled. 

The board’s changing of the term comes as a task force charged with sentencing reform is currently seeking to replace terms such as “convict” and “felon” with “justice-involved people.”

Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.

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