Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

More on What Victim Advocates Say About Registries

When I have conversations with people about the usefulness of sex offender registries and related laws, it’s usually not long before questions like these come up: “What about the victims? What about what they suffered?”

Victims do deserve to see justice done and to get state-funded services and support. Offenders do need to be held accountable for their crimes. When appropriate, they need to be behind bars, often for a long time.

But it’s worth pointing out the ostensible goal of sex offender registries–no more victims. So we might listen to what some actual victim advocates say about registries. Here’s a sample.


“I understand that [Megan’s Law’s] goal was to reduce sexual violence. The reality is that we haven’t seen any outcomes indicating that these goals have been reached.”

Jenny Murphy-Shifflet, executive director of the Sexual Assault Recourse and Counseling Center of Lebanon County (link:

“These kind of laws [sex offender registries] have a limited usefulness, which is they make it difficult for offenders to keep their anonymity but that’s about it. (These laws) sound good. It makes people feel good. It’s an easy sell in terms of votes.” 

Kristen Houser, chief public information officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (link:

“Should you think that I am soft on violent and sexual crime, let me assure you that there is a dark painful part of my soul that wants people who hurt other people to never take another comfortable breath. However let us be intelligent. Given that we are a society of law, let us demand that the laws we do enact achieve their intended mission. Let us stop creating a false sense of security and wasting our precious resources on laws that simply do not work.”

Andrea Casanova Founding Director of the ALLY Foundation and Mother of Alexandra (Ally) Zapp, who was sexually assaulted and murdered (Her foundation questions the value of laws like the Adam Walsh Act, which required states to increase the number of offenders listed on their sex offender registries (link:

“We have an intolerance for sexual violence, which I agree with. People want a singular solution, and the solution that’s been sold over the years is lock ’em up and throw away the key. But we’ve cast such a broad net that we’re catching a lot of juveniles who did something stupid or different types of offenders who just screwed up. Should they never be given a chance to turn their lives around?”

Patty Wetterling, mother of Jacob Wetterling, for whom the 1994 Wetterling Act was named, which mandated for the first time that states create sex offender registries (link:

“The registry gives the appearance that our community is safer, but we really question whether it lives up to that expectation. It really is a question of where do we put our resources where we’re going to have the maximum impact and I’m not sure the sex offender registry is where we’re getting the most impact.”

Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (link:

“Ohio’s law (retroactively placing ex-offenders on the state sex offender registry) is not based on empirical evidence or proven research but on fear and misinformation.” 

Margie Slagle, lawyer for rape crisis centers in Texas and Cleveland, in a case overturning the Ohio law (link:

“Schools and organizations need help establishing guidelines and training staff about acceptable conduct and how to avoid and report situations that lead to abuse. Administrators need help to become more comfortable with the topic and the management of disclosures and investigations. Children need education about appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior and how to recognize, resist and assist their friends. Parents need instruction and support about how to talk to and effectively supervise their youngsters. Treatment services are badly needed in every community for children and families who have been affected by the problem, and for offenders to reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend. The justice system needs to become more child friendly, so that victims and families will more readily come forward….

[But] how can we get officials, colleagues, victims and parents to report abuse or voice concerns when they know that it is likely to mark them and their organization, their family or their community with an indelible stain?”

David Finkelhor, Director, Crimes against Children Research Center (link here:


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