Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act


Jacob Wetterling was nine in 1989 (Farley, 2008). Jacob, his younger brother, and a friend rode their bikes to rent a movie at a local store. They were riding back on a country road in St. Joseph, Minnesota when a man approached them, brandished a gun, and ordered them off their bikes. The man took Jacob and ordered the others to ride away without looking back. No one saw Jacob after that. Although no direct evidence indicated a sex offender took Jacob, it was speculated that is what occurred. It was not known to local police at the time, but discovered later, that halfway houses in the city housed sex offenders post-release from incarceration (Pennsylvania State Police, n.d.). Jacob's mother, Patty, became an advocate for missing children. She was subsequently appointed to a governor's task force, which led to tougher laws, including the Wetterling Act, which was part of the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. (As this textbook went to press, a convicted sex offender admitted to molesting and killing Jacob, and the killer led law enforcement officials to Jacob's remains.)


The Wetterling Act established guidelines for states to track sex offenders. Each state would track them for ten years after their release into the community. Sex offenders would have their place of residence confirmed once a year for ten years. If sex offenders committed a violent sex crime, their place of residence would be confirmed four times a year for the rest of their lives. Registered sex offenders also were required to update their address when there was a change. Information was released to the public only when there was an interest to do so—for public safety reasons (SMART, n.d.). Thus, information was rarely released to the public. This, however, would change with Megan's Law.

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