Today, due to strict laws passed in the 1990s, the U.S. has the harshest sex offender registration laws in the world. But some say they aren’t working and are not the solution to protecting children.
Passed in 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, also known as Jacob's Law, established the present-day sex offender registry. Two years later, Megan's Law was enacted and authorized public access to information on the sex offender registry. The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act was passed a decade later which heightened the registrations mandates for sex offenders.
As a result of the push for such stringent sex offender laws, the "United States today has the most draconian sex registration laws in the world." The number of registrants listed on the registry today is now a whopping 750,000-all in a so-called effort to protect America's children.
In some states "outlier offenses," like public urination, are among the list of sex offenses that mandate registration. In other states, sex offender laws are so strict that those convicted are banned from obtaining a license to be a fishing guide.
But many people are now examining such draconian mandates and their effectiveness. Even Patty Wetterling, the mother of the kidnapped 11-year-old boy named in honor of Jacob's Law, is questioning today's sex offender laws.
Misnomer #1: "once a sex offender, always a sex offender"
A big push behind the move to implement such stringent sex offender laws was because of the profound belief that "once a sex offender, always a sex offender." For years, many people believed that every individual convicted of a sex offense was more than likely to reoffend.
But one expert at the University of Houston Law Center argues that such blanket statements about recidivism rates are simply false. Studies have shown that recidivism rates are actually low and there are many factors that determine reoffense rates for those who commit sex offenses, such as race, gender, and age.
Misnomer #2: only strangers commit sex offenses
A second reason behind the move toward more stringent sex offender laws was due to a belief that such offenses, particularly against very young children, were always committed by strangers, as in the case of Jacob Wetterling.
However, data shows that most sex offenses are not committed by strangers at all, but a member of the victim's family or close family friend.
The future of sex offender registration mandates
It remains to be seen how the pendulum will swing for state sex offender laws and registration requirements in the upcoming years. Many argue that it's time to readdress such laws because they simply aren't working.
Hopefully, public scrutiny and awareness about the issue and the data surrounding registration mandates will help get lawmakers to address the situation and think about alternate solutions to protecting America's youth.
Keywords: sex offense penalties, sex offender registration