Very little is known about the effects of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws and the resulting collateral damage suffered by the family members living with loved ones who are required to register as sex offenders.
With that in mind, Dr. Jill Levenson, Associate Professor at Lynn University decided to initiate her own research this past July.
Her study--Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders-- is now complete and scheduled for a 2009 publication by the American Journal of Criminal Justice.(The abstract of the work immediately follows this post).
After reading the unofficial copy of the study, the following stood out for me.
Besides the obvious disruption in employment and housing due to residency restriction laws, not to mention threats and harassment to family members as well as the unknown impact to an offender's children due to the stigmatization of the RSO laws, per the study, the "implications for criminal justice policy are clear."
"SORN laws have extended sanctions and their negative economic, social and psychological consequences to others associated with sex offenders....As a result, current policies may have effects that contradict their intentions: by imposing losses on RSOs' family members, the conditions that work to inhibit reoffending are weakened or removed, potentially facilitating recidivism."
Regarding the Adam Walsh Act:
The expanded registration requirements (under the AWA) lengthen duration periods which proliferate the impact of SORN laws on family members.
"Such a system is well-intentioned, but misguided...By reserving public disclosure for those (offenders) who pose the greatest threat, resources can be more efficiently distributed, citizens can be appropriately warned, reintegration obstacles for offenders can be minimized, and collateral damages for family members can be diminished. In contrast to guidelines set forth by the Adam Walsh Act, evidence-based sex crime policies which employ empirically validated risk assessment strategies would be more apt to accomplish goals of public safety and successful reintegration."
The family members of registered sex offenders have been...
"...largely unheard, and they are among the collateral victims of sexually violent crime. SORN politics have become increasingly restrictive over the years, exposing sex offenders and their families to public scrutiny and placing severe limits on sex offenders' employment, housing and academic opportunities. Certainly these policies were designed to protect the public from sexually dangerous individuals, but the collateral consequences of the laws to others were presumably unanticipated. Given that there is little research to suggest that community notification laws result in decreased recidivism...their impediments to offenders' reintegration and their consequences for innocent others deserve thought consideration."
But then, we family members already knew as much.
REPEAL. THESE. LAWS.
The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact of sex offender registration and notification laws on the family members of registered sex offenders (RSO). An online survey was utilized to collect data from 584 family members across the U.S. Employment problems experienced by the RSO, and subsequent financial hardships, emerged as the most pressing issue identified by family members. The likelihood of housing disruption was correlated with residential restriction laws; larger buffer distances led to increased frequencies of housing crisis. Family members living with an RSO were more likely to experience threats and harassment by neighbors. Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers and classmates. More than half
had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Unintended consequences can impact family membersʼ ability to support RSOs in their efforts to avoid recidivism and successfully reintegrate. Implications for criminal justice policy and practice are discussed.
Keywords: registered sex offender, family members, Meganʼs Law, sexual abuse
Levenson, J. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2009). Collateral damage: Family members of registered sexoffenders. American Journal of Criminal Justice. Available online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12103-008-9055-x
To view the unofficial copy, click here.