FAQ: Sex Offenders
What Everyone Needs to Know About Registered Sex Offenders
What exactly does it mean if someone is a registered sex offender? How dangerous are they? How likely are they to re-offend? Here is your answer to these questions and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many sex offenders are registered in the United States?
707408 are registered this year. Some drop off every year, as they only need to register for a finite period of time, some must be registered for life, and new ones get added every year.
What happens when someone is added to a sex offender registry?
Once someone is added to a sex offender registry, once a year they must report to specific authorities and register their legal address. Different communities come up with different strategies for notifying residents when a sex offender either moves into their neighborhood, or when a resident becomes registered. Registered sex offenders do not need to update their registering agency every time they change their address, only once a year. Some municipalities restrict where registered sex offenders can live- their goal is to keep them from living near schools, daycares, etc.
How likely is it for a registered sex offender to commit another sexual offense?
46% will be re-arrested within three years, 18% for a violent offense. Over a longer scale, different studies show that about 20% of sex offenders will be convicted of another sexual offense. Remember, only between 3-10% of child sex abuse cases result in a conviction, and I am not aware of data showing whether registered sex offenders drive this number up or down.
What happens to the children of registered sex offenders?
If everything works properly, the sex offender’s children will be interviewed by the police and/or CPS. If they don’t disclose abuse, they are allowed to stay with the offender. From time to time, legislation is proposed to remove the children of convicted sex offenders from their offending parent after the parent is released, but I’m not aware of it having passed anywhere. If the offender is placed into a very good post-release program with lots of specific therapy and monitoring, they won’t be allowed to live with someone who has children, and they are likely to be caught if they try. However, most offenders aren’t monitored that well. They often court single parents. And there is nothing stopping them from having kids of their own.
Do registries protect kids?
No. No study has ever found that registries decrease the amount of child sexual abuse in a community, that they cut recidivism, or that they produce any other useful results. The low conviction rate and the general lack of understanding of how to protect children limit how much good the registries can do. I have never heard an expert in the field who supports or defends registry laws. Some victims’ rights groups like them, as it makes it easier for victims to avoid running into their abuser, but it doesn’t contribute much to the safety of children.
Why does someone become a registered sex offender?
The short answer is that someone becomes a registered sex offender because they broke a law that, in their state, carries registering as a sex offender as a penalty. Those crimes include things like rape (any normal person’s definition of the word), sexual abuse of a minor, and statutory rape. In some states, patronizing or working as a prostitute carries sex-offender registration as a punishment. Various versions of indecent exposure and public urination can carry this punishment as well, especially if it happens on state or federal park land. In some states, people are still registered sex offenders for violating sodomy laws, even though those laws have been declared unconstitutional.
What do the “level one”, “level two” and “level three” designations mean?
A level one sex offender is considered at the lowest recidivism risk, a level three sex offender is considered the highest recidivism risk, and level two’s are considered an intermediate risk. Most professionals agree that this rating system isn’t as scientific as it could be.
Can a registered sex offender still get access to children?
Yes. In every state, there are laws about which employers must check the sex offender registry. In New York, for example, public school teachers must, private school teachers don’t need to. It would probably be impossible to close every loop-hole in every law. And besides, do you check your baby-sitters against the registry? Your neighbors? Your significant other? Everyone in your significant other’s family who’s coming to the upcoming holiday party?
Are there other loop-holes in the registry laws?
Yes. About 40% of child sexual abuse is committed by minors. Some of them are three, but many minors who commit sexual abuse are old enough to go through the juvenile justice system. In some states they are tracked on a juvenile sex offender registry, but they are removed from it upon their 18th birthday. It is also possible for someone to accept a plea deal and be convicted of something like “endangering the welfare of a minor” as a result of committing a sexual offense against a child, and avoid being put on a registry. But the single biggest shortcoming in the law that 90-97% of sex offenders never get convicted, largely due to Statutes of Limitations on the crime.
What are other things communities need to do to protect kids?
States need to eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, as this will increase the percentage of abusers facing conviction. Communities need to have good systems in place where CSA survivors can get high-quality therapy and associated services. And all communities should have universal, voluntary access to maternal home visiting programs, as they have a huge impact on how good of a parent a CSA survivor will become, and how good they will be at protecting their own child from sexual abuse.
Statute of Limitations Reform is the single biggest legal “fix” to the problem of child sexual abuse. The details of managing the 10% of sex offenders who are registered pale beside the reality that 90% of sex offenders aren’t registered at all. They’re out there, abusing children, and largely above the law.