Every year in the run-up to Halloween, Patch publishes maps showing the homes of “registered sex offenders” in various cities. Ostensibly, this information is aimed at helping parents who worry that their children might be molested while trick-or-treating. But research shows that such fears have no basis in reality, and these stories—like the warning signs and restrictions imposed by local police prior to Halloween—mainly serve to stigmatize people who have already completed their sentences, along with their spouses and children, who have committed no crimes at all. That stigma invites harassment, vandalism, and violence. Like much local journalism, the practice of publishing these maps is ill-informed sensationalism masquerading as a public service.
This fall a petition organized by the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) is urging Patch and other outlets to cut it out. Noting the “total lack of evidence that the publication of these addresses at Halloween keeps children safe,” the petition asks news organizations to “cease a hurtful publication practice that has no positive effect at all on child protection or public safety.”
The irrationality of that practice is clear once you understand a few basic facts:
1. Sex offender registries include a wide range of people, many of whom were not convicted of crimes against children.
2. Sex offenders stay on the registry long after they have completed their official punishment, even though they are less likely to commit new offenses of the same type than people convicted of other crimes. According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), less than 8 percent of people who had served sentences for rape or sexual assault were rearrested for a similar crime within nine years after they were released. That report also shows that the annual risk of recidivism falls dramatically over time.
3. The vast majority of sexually abused minors—93 percent, according to a 2000 BJS report—are assaulted by relatives, family friends, or other people they already know.