Colorado state board scraps “sex offender” for new terminology

Colorado’s Sex Offender Management Board plans to no longer recognize the term “sex offender” in its own guiding principles and policies.

The board, which controls treatment standards for people already convicted of sex crimes, voted 10-6 Friday on a controversial proposal to replace “sex offender” with “adults who commit sexual offenses.” Board members weren’t in lockstep on the issue and voted even more narrowly — 8-7, earlier this year — to consider the language change in the first place.

The board’s Friday decision is now subject to a 20-day public comment period before final ratification by the board, a spokeswoman said.

The argument for new language is based around an increasingly popular theory of “person-first” terminology. Labeling someone a “sex offender,” supporters of this change say, can impede rehabilitation efforts by creating the permanent perception that the person in question is a danger to public safety.

That’s precisely the point, said opponents of this change.

Jessica Dotter, sexual assault resource prosecutor for the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and a member of the SOMB, said before Tuesday’s vote that the new terminology — “adults who commit sexual offenses” — “fails to convey or represent any sort of victim-centeredness.”

Dotter said victims of sexual abuse “want their offender to be held accountable and to be known as an offender.”

Several law enforcement leaders, including the Colorado Springs District Attorney Michael Allen, backed her up on that.

The language change doesn’t affect the state’s Sex Offender Registry either in name or in policy. What happened Friday is a symbolic shift, more than anything.

But, SOMB Chair Kimberly Kline told reporters this week, it’s the kind of change that could affect actual behavior.

“If we’re talking about how someone speaks about themself, … that can increase risk,” she said. “Ultimately it is victim-centered if we’re reducing risk.”

Ironically, the Sex Offender Management Board (SOMB) will not change its name even as it renounces “sex offender” as outdated language. That name is determined by state statute, and thus up to the legislature.

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