"Does permanent public shaming run contrary to rehabilitation, which requires that the former offender be afforded the opportunity to normalise their life within a community?"Ethics, at its heart, refers to those principles that promote healthy communities (or "human flourishing" as the classicists would have it). So honesty, politeness, mutual respect, courage, generosity, wisdom have been valued for as long as people started living in groups. It could be argued that the WA Community Protection website aligns with this aim as it promotes public safety. But does it? How? The answer should be provided on the website itself -- and the opportunity is right there in the answer to this frequently asked question: "What if I recognise a person’s photograph on this site?" Answer: "The photographs are provided primarily for the purposes of enhanced public awareness and safety. You can contact police if you have genuine concerns about your safety or the safety of any other person or to report suspicious behaviour." In other words, there’s not much you can do -- but the WA government wants you to know that there's bad guys living in your neighbourhood. Feel safer now? So what do you do with that information. Does knowing really promote community protection or is it far more likely to promote public fear against a group who, for the most part are not an ongoing threat? In fact, the possibility of vigilantism is a far greater threat to public safety than the offenders. For most of us, however, it simply adds to a general feeling of unease in our neighbourhoods and that is rarely healthy. Truth is we already know our communities are made up of all manner of people -- some we like and some we don’t; some we're glad to have around and others we wish would move somewhere else. The good, bad and downright ugly are everywhere. The challenge for all of us is to find ways to make our society function with all its diversity -- and that includes ways of reintegrating offenders back into the community so that they, and we, can get on with our lives in peace. Feeling safe is an important part of that and along with our own vigilance we expect governments to play a lead role in public safety. It doesn't help when the governments we entrust with this responsibility waste resources that play on the genuine fears of some without actually investing in strategies that reduce the likelihood of crime. Showmanship it is -- but community protection it ain't. *Neil Watt is a lawyer and consulting ethicist based in Sydney
The ethics of permanent public shaming of sex offenders
A new WA website which give the location of sex offenders may win public applause -- but does it really protect the community? Legal ethicist Neil Watt probes the rights and wrongs.