Human Rights Watch would like to thank all of the survivors of sexual violence, former offenders and their families, social workers, advocates, law enforcement officials, and attorneys who shared their experiences and perspective with us for this report.We are especially grateful to those who trusted us with very painful and personal stories.Some politicians cite recidivism rates for sex offenders that are as high as 80-90 percent.In fact, most (three out of four) former sex offenders do not reoffend and most sex crimes are not committed by former offenders.Corinne Carey, former researcher for the US Program, undertook the original research for this report.The report was written by Sarah Tofte with the assistance of Jamie Fellner, director of the US Program, who also edited the report. Patrick Vinck, director of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative on Vulnerable Populations at the Human Rights Center, University of California-Berkeley, tabulated the data for Human Rights Watch's study of North Carolina's online sex offender registry.Promoting public safety by holding offenders accountable and by instituting effective crime prevention measures is a core governmental obligation.
In addition, sex offender laws are predicated on the widespread assumption that most people convicted of sex offenses will continue to commit such crimes if given the opportunity.
Yet people who have not committed violent or coercive offenses may nonetheless be required to register as sex offenders and be subject to community notification and residency restrictions.
For example, in many states, people who urinate in public, teenagers who have consensual sex with each other, adults who sell sex to other adults, and kids who expose themselves as a prank are required to register as sex offenders. Brandon was a senior in high school when he met a 14-year-old girl on a church youth trip.
On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.
Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit.