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They reflect a deep public yearning for safety in a world that seems increasingly threatening.Every child has the right to live free from violence and sexual abuse.
Advocates for residency restrictions believe they will limit offenders' access to children and their temptation or ability to commit new crimes.Some politicians cite recidivism rates for sex offenders that are as high as 80-90 percent.In fact, most (three out of four) former sex offenders do not reoffend and most sex crimes are not committed by former offenders.While these beliefs may seem intuitively correct, they are predicated on several widely shared but nonetheless mistaken premises.Given these faulty underpinnings, it is not surprising that there is little evidence that the laws have in fact reduced the threat of sexual abuse to children or others.Patty Wetterling, a prominent child safety advocate who founded the Jacob Wetterling Foundation after her son was abducted in 1989, recently told Human Rights Watch, I based my support of broad-based community notification laws on my assumption that sex offenders have the highest recidivism rates of any criminal.
But the high recidivism rates I assumed to be true do not exist.Sex offender laws are based on preventing the horrific crimes that inspired them-but the abduction, rape, and murder of a child by a stranger who is a previously convicted sex offender is a rare event.The laws offer scant protection for children from the serious risk of sexual abuse that they face from family members or acquaintances.Yet people who have not committed violent or coercive offenses may nonetheless be required to register as sex offenders and be subject to community notification and residency restrictions.For example, in many states, people who urinate in public, teenagers who have consensual sex with each other, adults who sell sex to other adults, and kids who expose themselves as a prank are required to register as sex offenders. Brandon was a senior in high school when he met a 14-year-old girl on a church youth trip.We want to acknowledge our special gratitude to Patty Wetterling, Alisa Klein, Jim Rensel, Nancy Daley, Dr. Levenson for providing guidance and insights in helping us to shape the research and writing of this report. Politicians have responded with a series of laws, including the sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws that are the subject of this report.