Expert Commentary

Percentage of named offenders on the registry at the time of the assault: Reports from sexual assault survivors

2012 study published in Violence Against Women journal on the effectiveness of sexual-registry laws on preventing sexual assaults and aiding investigations.

California established the first sex-offender registry in 1947, and since then such lists have expanded to all 50 states. In 1994 the federal “Megan’s Law” was enacted, requiring public notification of convicted sex offenders’ presence in communities. The stated intent of such registries is to both reduce the number of sexual assaults and increase the ability of law-enforcement officials to find and prosecute offenders when crimes do occur.

A 2012 study published in the journal Violence Against Women, “Percentage of Named Offenders on the Registry at the Time of the Assault: Reports from Sexual Assault Survivors,” examines the effectiveness of these laws and practices. The study, from researchers at the University of Tennessee, used one year of data from a sexual assault resource center, during which it provided services to approximately 1,300 people.

Major findings included:

  • Of those who entered the resource center for any type of service, nearly 70% of the cases (865) were for children below the age of 18.
  • Only 27.4% of cases involved alleged offenders who were strangers or had no known relationship to the victim. “This indicates that a significant majority of the survivors knew the offender in some way, such as the offender being an acquaintance, friend or family member.”
  • Full names were provided for 60.8% of the known assailants, 6.3% of those for whom no relationship was given and less than 5% of strangers. Of the 566 cases where the full name was given, only 4.8% (27) were found on a sex-offenders registry and only 3.7% (21) were listed publicly due to the date of conviction.
  • Of the 21 cases where the offender could have been identified with a registry, 95.2% (20) of the victims said the offender was an acquaintance (33.3%), their father (23.8%) or another member of the family or household (14%).

The researchers concluded that the limited impact of sex-offender registries may be due in part to the fact that they only include convicted offenders. Another factor constraining their effectiveness is that past studies have shown that “95.9% of those arrested for rape and 94.1% of those arrested for child molestation were first-time sex offenders.”

Tags: children, youth, crime, safety, sex crimes

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