Few crimes stimulate such visceral reactions and deep-seated fears as sexual offenses. Accordingly, societal responses to sexual offending such as registration and notification laws tend to be quite punitive and highly stigmatizing for the offender. Yet these social control practices are widely considered by the public to be essential for community safety.

However, given lessons learned about the linkages between moral panic and legislation in other justice contexts (e.g., juvenile “superpredators” and waiver/transfer laws), we question the degree to which public perceptions about the characteristics of persons who commit sexual offenses are accurate — particularly of juveniles who commit these types of offenses.

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