Sex Offender Notification: Poll and Research

By Matthew D. Rosenberg, MSW, CSW

A recent online poll at The Sexual Abuse Treatment, Research, Referral and Resource Website asked the question, "What do you think sex offender community notification is used for". The number of respondents=100. Below is the breakdown of the answers:

Washington State was the first state in the U.S. to have convicted sexual offenders register and provide community notification. A recent research study examined the effects of community notification and found that it did not effect the reported sexual abuse cases throughout the years. Moreover, nor did it reduce the recidivism rate. The costs/benefit ratio was examined, and the costs of developing and implementing the sex offender community notification program were not only tremendously high, but there was no identifiable benefit from the program itself.

What the sex offender notification programs throughout the U.S. fail to adequately address are the following:

1. Just because a convicted offender has registered his/her address in one community does not preclude the great possibility of that offender accessing victims in other communities.
2. Most sexual offenses occur between victims and offenders who are well acquainted with one another, and often times are related; therefore, community notification would have little bearing or effect on the possible victims who are most at risk.
3. Most sexual offenders have lived with a pathological sense of shame since childhood and early adolescence. Community notification may defeat treatment attempts, or at best be counterproductive, as it increases the level of shame in the offenders life. This increase of shame may trigger old feelings and behaviors, and offer a sense of hopelessness, actually making the offender more dangerous in the future.
4. The amount of money is costs to implement and maintain the sex offender notification statutes (millions of dollars per state), especially when it has been revealed to have no impact on the reported amount of new sexual abuse cases or sex offender recidivism, could have been invested in effective treatment programs for adolescent and adult sexual offenders. There has been numerous studies and ample evidence pointing to the long term success of these programs.
5. There have been tragic errors made throughout the U.S. with regard to the notification system. Some of these errors include innocent people being harassed, threatened, and even beaten because their address has been erroneously listed as one housing a sexual offender.
6. The sex offender community notification programs throughout the U.S. fail to offer meaningful information. Most will only inform the reader of the offender's name, address, birth date, height, and sex offender convictions. They do not inform the reader whether the offender participated and completed a sex offender treatment program/regime, the nature of the offense (i.e. victim was a stranger; a rape of molestation case; etc.), or, in many cases, the age of the offender at the time of the conviction (i.e., offender may have been 13 when convicted, but is currently 25 with no reported offenses).

Though many people feel that the sex offender community notification programs serve a purpose, research has demonstrated that it is had no meaningful or significant impact. The purpose this system, in its current state, serves is to create a false sense of security, as well as the perception that the government and law enforcement agencies are "really doing something."

The best way to prevent sexual abuse of all types is to be keenly aware of what is going on with your children, how they are behaving, who they are associating with, etc. Many sexual offenders prey on children, men, and women, who are vulnerable and are usually in some high-risk situation. Knowing this, we can make solid efforts at preventing sexual abuse by understanding who is vulnerable and at high-risk; educating ourselves as to the mode of operation of many sexual offenders; and to make every precautionary step we can to protect our families and children.