Registered sex offenders in the state of New York will no longer be able to download and play Pokémon Go thanks to an order Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent to the state’s Department of Corrections on Monday. In addition to prohibiting sex offenders on parole from playing Pokémon Go and other “internet-enabled gaming activities,” Cuomo sent a letter to Niantic, the game’s developer, to ask for help in keeping sex offenders out of the software.
He has also instructed the Division of Criminal Justice Services to send a database of information about New York’s registered sex offenders to Niantic in hopes that the company will prohibit those people from signing up, as Facebook has done. The governor’s directive, a new parole condition, will affect about 3,000 people. “These actions will provide safeguards for the players of these augmented reality games and help take one more tool away from those seeking to do harm to our children,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Cuomo was inspired to act by two state senators who found that there were 73 Pokémon, Pokéstops, and Pokégyms (confused? Read this.) within a half-block radius of 100 sex offenders’ homes. “While children believe they are out to catch a Pokémon, what might really be lurking could be a predator instead of a Pikachu,” New York state Sen. Jeff Klein wrote in a blog post titled “Pokémon NO!” He commended Cuomo’s action on Monday: “Pokémon Go provided sex offenders with a virtual road map to our children. We know that pedophiles always seek new ways to lure victims and this new technology that entertains our kids, could also bring them close to dangerous individuals instead of Pokémon.”
There has been at least one case of a sex offender violating the terms of his probation in the course of a Pokémon Go game. In July, a registered sex offender in Indiana was arrested when a probation officer noticed him playing the game with a 16-year-old boy on the county courthouse lawn. The man had pleaded guilty to felony child molestation a few months earlier and was forbidden from contact with minors.
But fears of sex offenders using Pokémon to attract potential victims have been way overblown. One alarmist publication sent reporters out to the homes of people listed in the Megan’s Law sex offender database and found that—gasp!—Pokémon lingered on the streets outside those individuals’ residences, just like they do in every other imaginable place. “The block was swimming in creatures—a purple Rattata here, a Butterfree there, less than 50 feet from the molester's apartment,” the report salivated. Yes, and people walk in the streets and parking lots outside the homes of registered sex offenders every day, Pokémon or no. A full 90 percent of child survivors of sexual abuse know their offenders; nearly half of offenders are family members of their victims. Sex offenders do not, by and large, sit in their homes waiting for unsuspecting Poképlayers to wander by.
So the directive is likely to have very little impact on New York’s children. And worse, the allure of sex panic-drenched Eevees seems to have overshadowed a bill that would actually help child victims, as Select All reports:
Meanwhile, left sitting on Cuomo’s desk at the end of this year’s legislative session was a bill that would have lengthened the statute of limitations on sexual-abuse cases by five years; given officials a six-month window to revisit old cases; and eliminated the difference in how public and private organizations (i.e., the Catholic Church) would be treated when it comes to child-sexual-abuse cases.
Once again, the sex offender registry has played the part of a convenient platform onto which we can project our exaggerated fears of a world we cannot control. This move will certainly earn Cuomo political points with concerned parents. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will do any real good, however.