Myths Regarding Which Community Sanctions Should Exist for Sex Offenders
Given the heinous nature of sex offenses, many may believe that all offenders are given lengthy prison sentences. While some sex offenders do receive lengthy prison sentences, most (60%) live in the community under some form of supervision (Greenfeld, 1997). Due to several high-profile cases of children (and young adults) who were abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered, registration and community notification laws have been enacted. These laws, however, are based on assumptions that are difficult, if not impossible, to support with existing evidence. It is assumed that if the public is more aware of known sex offenders, preventive action will be taken and, therefore, lead to fewer sex crimes. Although some research shows no reduction in sex crimes as a result of strict laws (Letourneau, Levenson, Bandyo- padhyay, Sinha, & Armstrong, 2010), no large-scale, multi-state comparison of the effects of various laws has been published.
Beyond sex-offender registration requirements, it is not known what other types of restrictions should exist for sex offenders. Should there be restrictions on where sex offenders can live, work, or engage in recreation? It is not known whether publicly identifying sex offenders (e.g., sex-offender notification on drivers' licenses, signs in yards, flyers distributed to neighbors, etc.) leads to a reduction in recidivism.
While it is clear that sex crimes are not unique to the U.S., the strictest registration and community-notification laws exist in the U.S. Due to substantial differences in reporting standards across countries, comparisons among different countries are difficult, if not impossible. What is different about the U.S. that has led to a moral panic about sex offenders?