What you need to know

Registered Sex Offenders
What does it mean if someone is a registered sex offender? How dangerous are they? How likely are they to re-offend? Are my kids in danger?
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Communities protecting children from sexual abuse are confronted with some basic realities:
  • most sex offenders are not in prison; those who are tend to serve limited sentences;
  • sex offenders represent the highest risk of reoffense; and
  • while community supervision and oversight is widely recognized as essential, the system for providing such supervision is overwhelmed.

All states require sex offenders to register; California enacted the first such law in 1947. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimate there are over 700,000 sex offenders currently required by law to register their address and other information with law enforcement and update this information as it changes.

However, the mobility of offenders and inconsistencies among state registration laws have resulted in as many as 100,000″missing” sex offenders. Law enforcement does not know where these missing sex offenders are, yet they are living in our communities.

Should you check for registered sex offenders in your community?

Yes, but beware. Nine out of ten sex offenders are not registered. Most child sex abuse offenses are not reported or prosecuted meaning most offenders are not on the sex offender registry.

Someone becomes a registered sex offender because they broke a law that, in their state, carries registering as a sex offender as a penalty.

Those crimes include things like rape, sexual  abuse of a minor, and statutory rape. In some states, patronizing or working as a prostitute carries sex-offender registration as a punishment.

Various versions of indecent exposure and public urination can carry this punishment as well, especially if it happens on state or federal park land. In some states, people are still registered sex offenders for violating sodomy laws, even though those laws have been declared unconstitutional.

Check out our campaign that protects children from sex offenders
Does making someone a registered sex offender protect children?

No study has ever found that registries decrease the amount of child sexual abuse in a community, that they cut recidivism, or that they produce any other useful results.

The low conviction rate and the general lack of understanding of how to protect children limit how much good the registries can do.

Most experts don’t support or defend registry laws. Some victims’ rights groups like them, as it makes it easier for victims to avoid running into their abuser, but it doesn’t contribute much to the safety of children.

Most sexual offenses are never reported or prosecuted meaning most offenders are not on the sex offender registry.

What happens when someone is added to the sex offender registry?
Once someone is added to a sex offender registry, they must report to specific authorities once a year and register their legal address.

Different communities come up with different strategies for notifying residents when a sex offender either moves into their neighborhood, or when a resident becomes registered.

Registered sex offenders do not need to update their registering agency every time they change their address, only once a year. Some municipalities restrict where registered sex offenders can live; their goal is to keep them from living near schools, daycares, etc.

What happens if sex offenders have their own kids?
If everything works properly, the sex offender’s children will be interviewed by the police and/or CPS. If they don’t disclose abuse, they are allowed to stay with the offender.

From time to time, legislation is proposed to remove the children of convicted sex offenders from their offending parent after the parent is released, but we’re not aware of it having passed anywhere.

If the offender is placed into a good post-release program with lots of specific therapy and monitoring, they won’t be allowed to live with someone who has children, and they are likely to be caught if they try.

However, most offenders aren’t monitored that well. They often court single parents. And there is nothing stopping them from having kids of their own.

Can someone on the sex offender registry still get access to children?
Yes. In every state, there are laws about which employers must check the sex offender registry.

In New York, for example, public school teachers must, private school teachers don’t need to. It would probably be impossible to close every loophole in every law.

Most children are sexually abused by someone they know and trust. Do you check your baby-sitters against the registry? Your neighbors? Your significant other? Everyone in your significant other’s family who’s coming to the upcoming holiday party?

Remember most sex offenders are not on a sex offender registry.

Do sex offenders abuse more than one child?

Yes. Sometimes hundreds of children. Some sex offenders will continue offending into old age.

46% will be re-arrested within three years, 18% for a violent offense. Over a longer scale, different studies show that about 20% of sex offenders will be convicted of another sexual offense.

Remember, only between 3-10% of child sex abuse cases result in a conviction, we’re not aware of data showing whether registered sex offenders drive this number up or down.

What do different sex offender registry levels mean?

A level one sex offender is considered at the lowest recidivism risk, a level three sex offender is considered the highest recidivism risk, and level two’s are considered an intermediate risk.

Most professionals agree that this rating system isn’t as scientific as it should be.

Are there loopholes in sex offender registry laws?

About 40% of child sexual abuse is committed by minors. Some of them are three, but many minors who commit sexual abuse are old enough to go through the juvenile justice system.

In some states they are tracked on a juvenile sex offender registry, but they are removed from it upon their 18th birthday.

It is also possible for someone to accept a plea deal and be convicted of something like “endangering the welfare of a minor” as a result of committing a sexual offense against a child, and avoid being put on a registry.

But the single biggest shortcoming in the law that 90-97% of sex offenders never get convicted, largely due to Statutes of Limitations on the crime.

What else can communities do to protect children?
States need to eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, as this will  increase the percentage of abusers facing conviction.

Communities need to have good systems in place where child sex abuse survivors can get high quality therapy and associated services.

And all communities should have universal, voluntary access to maternal home visiting programs. They have a huge impact on breaking the generational cycle of child sex abuse, and determine how well survivors will be at protecting their own children from sexual abuse.

What can I do to protect children?

Nine out of ten people who sexually abuse children will never see a day behind bars for their crime.

Statutes of Limitations on the crime protect abusers from consequences, allowing them to continue abusing children, and denying survivors any semblance of justice. If you think this is wrong, get involved.

How The Catholic Church had a playbook for concealing the truth.

“Avoid scandal. Use euphemisms. Ask inadequate questions. Lock complaints away in a “secret archive.” Above all, don’t tell the police.”

The New York Times

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