In Maryland, a person who is convicted of a sex crime must register with a sex registry when he/she leaves prisons and starts private life. A sex registry is a database of information about people who have been convicted of various sex crimes. The information is public and available to law enforcement and anyone who accesses the database. Registrants must provide information about where they live such as their name, address, and place of employment. Offenders stay on the registry for different lengths of time depending on the seriousness of their offense.
According to Psychology Today, states began sex registries in response to the sexual assault and killing of a 7-year-old girl, Megan Kanka, in 1994. The person who committed the crime had been previously convicted of sex offenses – twice. Megan’s parents were not aware that he was living down the street from where they and Megan lived.
The assault and death led to the enactment of a New Jersey law, called “Megan’s Law.” A few years later, the “federal government passed the Wetterling Act which required all states to notify the public of the addresses of convicted sexual offenders.” In 2006, the Sex Offender and Notification Act (SORNA) was enacted. SORNA requires that every state keep an “online, searchable database of convicted sex offenders that provides their picture, home address, work address, and crime.”
Offenses are categorized by tiers. The registration requirement lasts from 10 years to life, depending on which tier the sex offender is on. Each state determines its own tier level.
The laws surrounding sex offender registries were created in good faith: no one wants anyone, let alone children, to be sexually assaulted or killed. But as the number of registrants grows, the laws surrounding sex offenses get stricter, one wonders if these registries are actually doing what they set out to do.
Do the registries prevent sex abuse?
According to Psychology Today, the general answer seems to be no: “While some evidence suggests that registries may act as a deterrent for new sex crimes, the overall research has demonstrated that these laws do little to nothing to reduce reoffending.”
A Uniform Crime Report (UCR) study of the number of rapes that were reported – after registration laws were enacted in 10 states – found that the number of reported rapes decreased in three states, but stayed exactly the same in six states, and even rose in one state.
Other studies suggest that the registries “do not impact reoffending rates.” Only studies in Washington state and Minnesota indicate that the sex registries are reducing the rate of sex offenses.
Why state registries aren’t working
Some of the theories that researchers suggest as to the ineffectiveness of sex registries are the following:
- In many sex crime cases, the victim knew the defendant. In fact, “93 percentof all sex crimes against children are committed by someone known to the victim, such as a family member, friend, or community member.” This means once the defendant is convicted, even on release, the defendant may not have “access” to victims, because there was only ever one intended victim.
- Nearly 95% of sex crimes are committed by a person who “would not be on the sex offender registry.” One study of 29,000 convicted sex offenders showed that the recidivism rate is about 13.7%. The registry is designed to stop that 13.7% of repeat offenders, not first-time offenders, and so in its truest form, the registry is not a deterrent to sexual assault or rape.
- Some research indicates that the registry “may actually increase the risk of reoffending by destabilizing the offender as they try to reintegrate back into the community.”
- Sex offender registries have many factual errors.
- Those accused of sex crimes may be able to negotiate a plea for a lesser charge, which keeps them off the registry.
What steps can be taken to reduce sex crimes?
There are estimates that sex offender registries cost taxpayers more than $10 million dollars each year to maintain. When this cost is balanced at what appears to be questionable benefits to victims – and outright devastation to alleged offenders, let alone convicted offenders – it might be time to stop wasting money on a system that does not work. Some of the suggested alternatives are:
- Increasing sexual violence prevention education in schools may help. According to a study, “teaching children about sexual abuse at an early age increased reporting—which in turn can increase detection and prevent future reoffending.”
- Bystander intervention programs can help. Teaching people to spot the potential signs of abuse and how to respond to abuse when it’s happening can, according to some research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), make a critical difference.
- Parents need to be taught the facts about sexual abuse. Adults should be educated about “sexual groomingand how potential predators can be detected.”
- Organizations that provide services for children should have policies and procedures on preventing sexual abuse – including policies that provide that adults shouldn’t be left alone with children and open-door policies.
- Change the culture. The #MeToo movement helped launch a discussion about sexual abuse on a national level. It’s important to continue these “conversations so that we are no longer accepting norms that sustain a culture of abuse so that we can create a world without sexual violencefor our children.”
At Carey Law Office, we take on the tough criminal cases. We understand how difficult sex offender cases are – especially when the consequences of a conviction include the requirement to register with a sex offender database. We assert every possible legal and factual defense on your behalf. We seek to exclude evidence that was illegally obtained. We work aggressively to show that there’s a reasonable doubt you committed the charged sex offense. Our experienced Bowie and Crofton defense lawyer has the experience and resolve to fight the prosecution. We work to obtain dismissals and acquittals. We also work to negotiate a plea bargain so defendants accused of sex crimes can plead to non-sex crimes and stay off the Maryland sex registry.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More