Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

The Powerful Case Against Sex Offender Residency Bans

By Sandy Rozek, Reform Sex Offender Laws

Contrary to the evidence about what works, new jurisdictions are passing sex offender residency restrictions and “child-safe zones.”

Almost every day brings another town, county, and even state proposing or enhancing restrictions limiting where those on the registry can legally live.

Legislators in Rhode Island, for example, recently committed what amounts to legislative malpractice. A bill was passed that increases the restricted living area for Level III registrants from 300 to 1000 feet.

Nothing supports this action or these restrictions. They are contradicted by evidence, by experts, by research, and by best practice. They are not supported by advocates for the homeless, law enforcement, advocates for victims, nor advocates for the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of law-abiding, former sex offenders into society. The ACLU testified against this action in hearings, along with the other advocates; they were ignored. This legislation favors the personal agenda of one or two legislators over all of the concrete evidence presented to them. It was pushed by a legislator after a Level III registrant moved two blocks away from his family. He used his public office to further his personal interests.

The concept of “child-safe” zones, like many other restrictions involving those on the registry, is flawed at the core. It makes assumptions that are untrue. One is that those who abuse children are strangers seeking out places where children congregate. This is true of the tiniest fraction, less than 1 percent, most data show. Virtually all child sexual abuse is committed by those close to the children in their lives, specifically their family members, their peers, and their authority figures.

Using what empirical evidence tells us then, a true “child-safe zone,” one that would separate children from those most likely to do them sexual harm, would separate children from all of their family members and closest friends and associates.

This flawed concept also assumes that registered offenders frequently re-offend, and that too is false. The majority of registrants living in the community, some for 25 and 30 offense-free years, whether on the registry for a youthful, foolish act or for a serious crime, will not sexually re-offend and are seeking only to rebuild their lives, support their families, and live law-abiding lives.

It is time to do away with residency restrictions for registered citizens. We have facts, evidence, and truth to support that policy change. And increasingly, we have the support of professionals in a myriad of fields ready to testify to that truth. We must not rest until we have achieved that goal.

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