The killing of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement has sparked outrage and mass protests across the nation. Calls for police reform have created yet another divide among the American public. As we move toward what will likely be significant changes to the criminal justice system, will individuals on the sex offense registry be included in those reforms?

Why So Many Laws?

Throughout history the level of outrage associated with various types of criminals has changed, yet the moral disgust directed at sex offenses and sex offenders has remained constant. We use terms like “sexual predator” and “monster” indiscriminately to refer to individuals who have committed crimes ranging from minor sexual offenses to violent sexual assaults that end in murder. We pass laws to control sexual offenders based on the most high-profile and serious cases, yet most offenders do not fit these categories.

While legal control over sexual behavior can be traced to the earliest of civilizations, the 1980s and 1990s is when sex offense legislation began its dramatic rise in the U.S. There was an increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases prosecuted by the courts and recounted in the media. The high-profile disappearance of Jacob Wetterling, the sexual assault and murder of Megan Kanka, the abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman, and the kidnapping and murder of Polly Klaas were all presumed to involve children brutally harmed or murdered by previously convicted sexual offenders. These events launched a new wave of stranger-danger panic and get-tough legislation which remains today, despite minimal, if any, impact on sex offense recidivism or community safety.


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