Sexual crimes – such as sexual abuse, rape, indecent exposure, child molestation, sexual harassment and other related crimes – are particularly appalling. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and operator of the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 8 out of 10 crimes by sex offenders are committed by someone known to the victim.
In some cases, sexual assaults may be facilitated through alcohol or illegal drugs such as Rohypnol, commonly known as the “date rape” drug. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Rohypnol is not approved in the United States for medical use and it causes drowsiness, amnesia, and confusion for the victim who unknowingly ingests it.
What Is the Difference Between a Sex Offender and a Sex Predator?
Once someone is convicted of a sexual crime, they are likely to be either a sex offender or sex predator. The designation of sex offender versus sex predator varies by state, which can create some ambiguity in the seriousness of the offense that results in someone being labeled a sex offender or sex predator. Registration laws differ by state.
Megan’s Law: Sex Offenders in the Neighborhood
In 1994, seven-year-old named Megan Kanka from New Jersey died after being raped and murdered by a registered sex offender who lived across the street. Megan’s family was not aware of the sex offender in their community, and her death inspired Megan’s Law, which was one of the first laws that required sex offenders to be in a public registry.
Megan’s Law was one of several laws Congress passed to implement sex offender and crimes against children registries. Other legislation includes:
- The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act Improvements Act of 1997
Sex Offenders: Other Registries
According to the Department of Justice, Megan’s Law amended the Wetterling Act and mandated “public disclosure of information about registered sex offenders when required to protect the public.” In addition, states offer databases of registered sex offenders and predators that the public can check to determine if a sex offender is registered in their vicinity. Sex offenders and predators are required to provide their current address for the registry, and there are serious consequences for failing to register.
[Related article: How Parents Can Protect Children from Human Traffickers]
Similarly, sex offenders and predators in Florida are required to maintain registration for the duration of their lives. The Department of Justice operates a National Sex Offender Public Website that enables users to search for sex offenders and predators, either by name or within a radius of a specific address. The National Sex Offender Public Website provides information to the public in partnership with state, territorial, and tribal governments.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement operates a similar offender or neighborhood database. This database provides a lot of information on registered sex offenders that include the offender’s:
- The charges for which the offender received a conviction
- The status of the offender (sex offender or sex predator)
- Vehicle information
This Florida database also offers a list of local sex offenders and predators who have failed to register.
Criticism of the Sex Offender Registry
The sex offender registry has its critics. Since sex crimes have lower recidivism rates compared to general crime, the registry may cause more harm than good in some cases.
For example, someone who is just over the age of consent and receives a conviction for a sex crime against a victim just under the age of consent may have to register as a sex offender for that perpetrator’s entire life, even though that person doesn’t present any true threat to society. Sex offender designations can be applied to those convicted of public urination and other offenses that don’t present a threat to society.
Instead of relying on the sex offender registry alone to protect the public against sex crimes, effective re-entry and rehabilitation programs to maintain a low recidivism rate may be more effective. This treatment can assist in preventing recidivism by addressing the causes behind an individual’s risk to reoffend.
There is a concern that since many sex crimes occur by someone who has never been convicted of a sex crime, the sex offender registry may be ineffective in preventing incidents. Researchers have found that being in the sex offender registry does not have an effect on recidivism.
Ideally, the sex offender registry program should be revamped to ensure that it does not hinder people who committed a relatively minor offense (such as urinating in public) from becoming productive members of society by being branded as sex offenders for life. At the same time, I believe that communities should remain aware of those who may present a danger to society due to their criminal past involving violent sex crimes, especially those that reoffend.