The National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) argues that SORs are overbroad and unconstitutional. Formerly known as “Reform Sex Offender Laws,” the group was co-founded by an LGBT activist who goes by the pseudonym Alex Marbury, but the group changed its name in 2016 and distanced itself from Marbury’s efforts to change “age of consent laws.”
NARSOL held national conferences in Houston in 2019 and 2021, and each year the group touted welcome letters from Mayor Sylvester Turner praising the group for civil rights advocacy and calling Houston a “city that is welcoming and inclusive.”
“The City of Houston applauds your restorative justice efforts on behalf of marginalized citizens, and I extend best wishes for a memorable conference,” wrote Turner.
Turner’s Director of Communications Mary Benton told The Texan that the letters were created by the city’s ceremonial documents team, but that she had not approved them and the mayor had not seen them.
“The staff is directed to show me anything that could be sensitive or controversial,” said Benton. “They did not in 2019.”
Benton said new staff had been brought in who had assumed the language was approved because it had been published in 2019. She added that the team researches unfamiliar organizations and has issued 144 welcome letters to various groups in the last year. Benton did not know if the city had refused any group a welcome letter.
“Mayor Turner believes in diversity and inclusion, so we would not deny any group without thoughtful consideration and review,” said Benton, who did not respond to questions about whether a letter was sent for this year’s conference.
NARSOL suggests that SOR laws are more punitive than preventative and challenges statistics on sexual offenders.
The group’s website points to studies showing low recidivism for new sexual crimes committed by adult sex offenders, including a 2015 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) analysis indicating a sexual recidivism rate of 5.3 percent during a three-year follow-up period. However, the DOJ report warns that few sexual offenses are reported, making recidivism difficult to measure, and notes that 43 percent were returned to prison within three years for new crimes of any kind or violations of release conditions.
Other studies have found that sexual offense recidivism rates continue to rise beyond the three-year mark, can be reported 20 years or more after the first offense, and are higher among offenders targeting underage boys.
Speakers scheduled for the NARSOL conference included Emily Horowitz, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at St. Francis College who argues in favor of de-stigmatizing sex offenders that have completed their sentences and says SORs have a “cruel and unusual human impact.”
Journalist Steven Yoder, who also advocates for bail reform, told conference attendees that they should refer to SORs as an “un-American” “public enemies’ lists,” created by “fear-mongering” leaders as distractions. He also argued that law enforcement funds would be better spent elsewhere.
Under Texas law, those convicted of felony sex crimes — such as continuous sexual abuse of a child, bestiality, or prohibited sexual contact — must register with local law enforcement agencies, and lists are publicized by the state. Those convicted as juveniles must register for 10 years, while adults convicted must register for life.
Offenders are also restricted on where they may live or work depending on the offense, but Andy Kahan, victims advocate for Crime Stoppers of Houston, explained that convicted offenders who have completed their sentences are not usually restricted on where they may live.
At past conference sessions, NARSOL speakers have expressed opposition to aspects of the federal Adam Walsh Act, which creates a three-tiered federal SOR, and police sting operations that lead to the arrest of men soliciting sex from undercover officers posing as minors.
Earlier this month authorities arrested seven people, including the superintendent of the Itasca Independent School District, for solicitation of a minor as part of a sting operation conducted by Harris County Constable Alan Rosen’s office.
NARSOL also advises journalists to avoid the use of the term “pedophile.” The conference schedule uses the term “minor-attracted persons.”
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg called for Judge Jason Luong to recuse himself from a sexual offense case last year, noting Luong’s statements comparing child sex abuse cases to the Salem witch trials.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, most sexual assault goes unreported, but studies estimate a child is a victim of sexual assault every nine minutes in the United States.
Houston has often been cited as a “hub of human trafficking,” often for purposes of sexual exploitation. Kerri Taylor of anti-trafficking organization Unbound Now Houston said in a recent interview that in the city “you can literally dial up and order a child and have them delivered to your hotel room as easily as you can a pizza.”
During the 2019 mayoral campaign, Turner rejected calls to return donations from those associated with sexually oriented businesses, and in the past, the city has been accused of selectively enforcing ordinances governing those businesses.
The recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson prompted concerns from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and others regarding Jackson’s alleged history of light sentencing for convicted child pornographers.
In 2017, the Supreme Court overruled a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from using social media on First Amendment speech rights and sided with an offender in Pennsylvania who objected to retroactive provisions of that state’s registry. But the nation’s highest court has not revisited the 2003 Smith v Doe decision upholding the constitutionality of SORs.