Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Heavyweight help for sex offender campaign

Derryn Hinch.
Derryn Hinch.

Derryn Hinch wants to be able to turn on his mobile phone and see the names of all sex offenders in the neighbourhood.

The outspoken Taranaki-born broadcaster, who now leads a campaign for a public sex offenders register in Australia, has come home to launch a pre-election campaign by the Sensible Sentencing Trust to get a similar register in New Zealand.

He will take part in a trust-organised debate tomorrow against liberals Dr Gwenda Willis and Kim Workman.

Police Minister Anne Tolley has said police are developing a register of child-sex offenders, but it would not be made public because of the need to preserve name suppression to protect the identity of victims and because of the danger of "vigilantes".

"If a neighbourhood finds that they have a sex offender living in their neighbourhood, they're going to drive them out," she said in April.

But Hinch, who spent his 70th birthday in February in jail for breaching a sex offender's name suppression order, said vigilante behaviour did not happen in the United States, where public sex offender registers have been required for almost 20 years.

"They even have apps for a phone," he said. "I've stood in Times Square, held the phone up ... you punch on the app like you punch up the word 'motel' to see where the motels are, and little flags come up and show 20 or 25 sex offenders. It shows their name, their photo, their crime and their address."

In Florida, he saw signs in front of houses saying, 'Predator lives here'.

"I wouldn't advocate signs in front of homes, but I do advocate a national public register," he said.

"Vigilantes are not out there burning houses down or shooting them, but locals know that a convicted sex offender lives there. They know to tell their kids that if a ball goes over a fence, don't go and look for it."

In May, Hinch led a 180km walk from the jail where he was imprisoned to the Victorian state parliament in Melbourne, where he presented a petition now signed by 143,000 people urging a public sex offenders register.

He said he did not believe rehabilitation of sex offenders ever worked.

"I've never met a rehabilitated sex offender yet," he said.

He accepted that offenders' names should be suppressed when it was necessary to protect a victim's privacy, but he said victims should have the right to choose whether they want suppression.

Media lawyer Steven Price said sex crime victims' names were automatically suppressed under NZ law but the courts usually agreed to lift suppression if a victim requested it, as Wellington woman Tania Billingsley did this week so that she could comment on the case of the Malaysian diplomat alleged to have assaulted her.

But a 49-year-old woman who was sexually abused by a family friend when she was aged 10 to 14 will tell tomorrow's meeting that she has had to fight for the past year to get her name suppression lifted because the man convicted of abusing her has repeatedly delayed the court hearing.

She objected to being described as 'Victim B' in a report on her case. "I have a name," she said. "I'm not ashamed. Why should I not have it made public?"

A former director of the Kia Marama sexual offenders' unit at Rolleston Prison, Professor Tony Ward, said international research showed that sex offender treatment programmes reduced sexual reoffending by a third to a half, from about 17 per cent for offenders who were released without treatment to 10 per cent for those released after treatment.

The research also showed that public registers had no effect on the reoffending rate.

Read more: Kneejerk response could increase reoffending

- NZ Herald

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