In 1994, state sex offender registries launched as a tool for law enforcement officials and were limited to the most serious offenders. In the two and a half decades that have followed, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have continually pushed to expand these databases and pile punitive requirements onto people in them. Politicians may be acting on good intentions but what is the result? No improvement to public safety, crushing punishments that hobble offenders’ rehabilitation, and costly program maintenance that diverts critical resources away from survivors and prevention strategies. Yet, registries remain popular and keep growing.
Two persistent myths underpin the wide support sex offender registries garner. One is the false idea that sexual violence is mostly committed by strangers. The other is the misconception that sex offenders are far more likely to reoffend than people who’ve committed other types of crimes.