Sex offender registries have been in the news lately as media outlets have been questioning why billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor female, was able to largely elude the penalty of being on a sex offender registry by maintaining residences in states that did not require him to register.
This then begs the bigger question—what do these sex registries accomplish, and do they work to keep our children safe?
As with most things, the answer is complicated—but researchers overwhelmingly agree that in general, the answer is “no.” While some evidence suggests that registries may act as a deterrent for new sex crimes, the overall research has demonstrated that these laws do little to nothing to reduce reoffending.
Researchers have put forth various theories as to why sex offender registries are largely ineffective at preventing recidivism.
- Most sex crimes are committed by someone known to the victim, and thus, once identified, they no longer have access to potential victims. In fact, 93 percent of all sex crimes against children are committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member, friend, or community member.
Almost all (95 percent) of sex crimes are committed by someone who would not be on the sex offender registry—which means that only 5 percent of reoffending could be prevented by these registries
Sex offenders have relatively low reoffending rates—a large scale study of over 29,000 convicted sex offenders found that 13.7 percent reoffended sexually
There is evidence that sex offender registries may actually increase the risk of reoffending by destabilizing the offender as they try to reintegrate back into the community.
Sex offender registries are fraught with error. Studies have found that anywhere between 10-75 percent of all entries in the registries have some sort of factual error.