Sex Crime Registration for Megan's Law

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Congress passed the Sexual Offender Act of 1994, better known as “Megan’s Law,” to require states to set up registries to keep track of convicted sex offenders and report their addresses to the general public.  Although information about sex offenders has always been public, as a practical matter, most members of the public would not have known how to access it.   

Megan’s law was a response to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a convicted violent sexual offender who had moved in across the street.  Legislators argued that if the parents would have known about their neighbor’s violent sexual history, they could have taken precautions to protect their daughter.  Also, under Megan’s Law, the local police have the right to notify the community if, in their discretion, the sex offender presents a danger.

However, most offenders in the state registries have not been convicted of violent crimes, but of lewd sexual acts with children under the ages of 14-18.  Most of the crimes involved children already known by the sex offender, such as a niece or stepson – not children that are kidnapped from near their schools.  Crimes are usually committed by deception or persuasion, which escalate in small steps over a period of months. 

Opponents to Megan’s Law claim that it is public shaming, a kind of punishment which will continue even after court-ordered punishment has ceased.  The dutiful reporting of a change of address indicates that the sex offender is trying to amend her ways and accept responsibility.  But, those sex offenders who do not check in yearly or provide false information may be more dangerous to society.  Thus, the registry may contain information only about law-abiding citizens. 

On the other hand, research as shown that sex offenders are “recidivists,” or repeat offenders.  The psychological and sociological patterns that have led up to the incident of sexual molestation cannot be easily altered.  Thus, it may happen again. 

 

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Last Modified: 05-06-2011 04:19 PM PDT

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