Sex offender registries were established to keep children and communities safer. But, research shows that registration incorrectly presumes that children who commit sexual offenses are a risk to their communities. Here are five facts, based in research, that lawyers need to know.
- Youth who commit sexual offenses in childhood are unlikely to commit a subsequent sex offense. Studies universally confirm that sex offense recidivism among youth is exceptionally low—between 3–5 percent.
- Youths’ already low recidivism rates drop off dramatically after a very short period of time. When rare sexual recidivism does occur among young offenders, it is nearly always within the first few years following the original offense.
- The severity of a youth’s offense is not predictive of re-offense. Laws that create lengthier terms of registration or no ability to remove youth from registries based on type of offense are inconsistent with research.
- Youth who commit sex offenses are similar to youth who engage in non-sexual delinquent behavior. Multiple studies confirm that children who commit sexual offenses are motivated by impulsivity and sexual curiosity, not predatory, paraphilic, or psychopathic characteristics. With maturation, a better understanding of sexuality, and decreased impulsivity, these behaviors stop.
- Registering youth who have committed sex offenses does not reduce their already low recidivism rates. A 2008 study found no measurable difference in recidivism rates for registered and unregistered children who committed sexual offenses. In fact, recidivism rates among youth who have committed a sexual offense are lower in states that do not register youth.