VI. Public Access to Information on Sex Offenders 

We knew nothing about him. If we had been aware of his record, my daughter would be alive today.

—Maureen Kanka, whose daughter, Megan, was abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender137

Nothing is more threatening to our families and communities and more destructive of our basic values than sex offenders who victimize children and families. Study after study tells us that they often repeat the same crimes. That’s why we have to stop sex offenders before they commit their next crime, to make our children safe and give their parents piece of mind.

—President Bill Clinton, in a 1996 radio address about the passage of Megan’s Law138

Federal and state community notification laws give the public easy access to significant information about registrants. All 50 states have online sex offender registries which anyone with access to the internet can view. As noted in our previous chapter, by 2009 all state registration information that is publicly available will be uploaded onto the online national sex offender registry.139 

Information on the registry typically includes not just a person’s criminal conviction—which is in the public record, except in the case of juveniles—but also his or her current address and picture, and sometimes his or her license plate number and place of employment, among other information.140 Community notification thus does not, as some contend, simply make public what is in already in the public record.  Instead, it makes readily accessible additional information that would otherwise be private or difficult to obtain.141

Legislative History 

On July 29, 1994, Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered his neighbor, seven-year-old Megan Kanka, luring her into his home by asking her if she wanted to see his new puppy.142 Timmendequas had two prior convictions for sexual offenses against children.143 The story of Megan’s murder, which occurred in a small central New Jersey community, received significant national attention. In the aftermath of the crime, Megan’s parents stated that if they had known about Timmendequas’ past, they would have been able to protect their daughter from him.144 Parents and concerned citizens pressed for an expansion of the federal sex offender registration law (The Jacob Wetterling Act) to include community notification. Congress responded by passing Megan’s Law in 1996.145  All 50 states and the District of Columbia also passed their own Megan’s Laws.146

Support for Megan’s Laws within both Congress and state legislatures was overwhelming. When community notification came up for discussion in the US House of Representatives, only one representative voiced opposition and the bill eventually passed 418-0.147 In Florida, legislators held no debate on the merits of making sex offender registrants’ names public through community notification before unanimously passing the laws.148 Megan’s Laws passed with similar ease in other states; in Virginia, Illinois, and Washington, for example, they passed without a single “no” vote.149

Proponents of community notification framed it as a means by which to protect children from child molesters. Speeches featured stories of child victims who suffered serious abuse.150 Yet Megan’s Laws are not limited to individuals who have committed sexually violent crimes against children, who have abused children, or who have committed violent sex crimes against adults. Instead, in many states, community notification (just as registration per se) extends to individuals whose crimes bear a tenuous or no connection to either sex or violence.

Advocates of community notification believe putting registry information directly in the hands of the public will enable them to take steps to protect their children or themselves from convicted sex offenders—presumed to be dangerous and strangers.  As discussed above, most convicted sex offenders will not recidivate, sex offender registries include only a small percentage of people who will commit sex offenses in the future, and most offenders are not strangers to their victims.

Community notification occurs two ways: law enforcement officials may notify communities directly and states make sex offender registries available online.

Community Notification by Law Enforcement

After the sheriff placed the flyers with [my husband’s] face all over our neighborhood, neighbors stopped talking to us. People made copies of the flyer and passed it out in front of my son’s school. They posted the flyers along my running trail. People came around at night and pounded on our windows. We eventually moved to a more isolated neighborhood. We couldn’t handle the humiliation.

—Susan K., wife of a convicted sex offender151

The police posted fliers notifying the neighbors that my son was a sex offender. He found it too hard to live in his apartment complex. We never told my son this, but the neighbors actually stood out in the hallway and applauded as my wife and I moved his stuff out of his apartment.

—Bob K., whose son was adjudicated at age 14 for sexual contact with a minor152

All 50 states require some form of direct community notification by law enforcement for offenders convicted of certain sex offenses who have been released from custody and have moved into a community. Most state laws do not provide guidance to the police regarding who to notify or the method of notification.

Some police departments and sheriff’s offices hang posters in community centers and libraries, or send letters or postcards to homes within a certain distance of the registrant.153 Others publish notices in the local newspaper or broadcast pictures and addresses of the registrants on television.154 Some law enforcement officials fund non-governmental non-profits to inform the community about released registrants.  In New York, for example, Parents for Megan’s Law has a contract with the state to distribute information about registrants recently released from custody.155

Under some state community notification schemes, law enforcement is authorized to disseminate information about registrants to a wide array of public and private entities and organizations. F  FFor example, in New Jersey, notices about high risk (“Tier 3”) registrants are distributed to private residences, businesses, schools, and community organizations in the area(s) where the offender lives and works. For moderate risk (“Tier 2”) registrants, notices are provided to schools and community organizations. Notification concerning low risk (“Tier 1”) offenders is provided only to law enforcement.156 

Absent care in how notification is handled, law enforcement officials may inadvertently expand the scope of community notification beyond what is necessary to protect public safety, mislead the public about the actual risk a sex offender poses, and inflame community hostility and fear. When law enforcement notifies a community about the presence of a registrant by placing a notice in a local newspaper or on the local television station, for example, they expand notification to include more than those who live in close proximity to the offender.

Human Rights Watch spoke with a man convicted of possessing child pornography in 1996 who is subject to community notification laws in Florida:

When we moved in, in 2004, the police put flyers all over my neighborhood. I saw him hanging them up. It was my picture, and a description of the crime I committed, and it directed them to [Florida’s sex offender website]. Our neighbor made copies of the flyer, and started passing them out door-to-door. One of my neighbors works in my office, and soon the flyers were around the office as well. I was let go a few days after they appeared. One day, as my wife dropped my son to school, there were the flyers, being passed out by one of my neighbors. When my wife asked her, she said she had made copies of the ones the Sheriff posted. It was humiliating for all of us, and it just made me want to hide. We eventually moved from the neighborhood.157

In addition to community notification laws, some courts and legislators have sought to notify the public about the presence of sex offenders through means that could deliberately expose the offender to public humiliation and degradation. A court in Georgia, for example, ordered J.B., a 59-year-old registrant, to put signs up on his property declaring that he is a child molester.158 Lawmakers in at least two states have proposed requiring registrants to obtain special color-coded license plates—pink—on the theory that such plates would make them easily identifiable to children.159 

Law enforcement officials sometimes make little effort to accurately inform the community about the conduct that triggered registration for the offender and what safety risks he or she may pose. For example, Human Rights Watch spoke with an individual who had consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was 20. “I was convicted of statutory rape, but when the police notified the community I live in, they didn’t make it clear the circumstances. My neighbors, who are family friends, told us that the police [officer] just said I raped a girl. They didn’t explain that she was my girlfriend, that it was consensual, and that the judge, the prosecutor, and my probation officer consider me to be a low-risk offender. He just said that I raped a girl.  That makes people think I am a monster.”160

Human Rights Watch spoke with a mother in Texas who received a postcard notifying her that a convicted sex offender moved into the neighborhood: “They might as well have written it in a foreign language,” she said. “The postcard the police sent to my home was a bunch of legalese—I couldn’t understand what exactly this individual had done to get his name on the registry, and I had no idea what his criminal history meant for the safety of my family. Now I worry that if this guy does something to a child in the neighborhood, the police will blame the parents for not being vigilant enough, like ‘we gave you fair warning, and you failed to heed our warnings.’ But I don’t understand the threat. I am not saying one doesn’t exist, I just don’t understand it.”161

Minnesota’s community notification law is one of the few laws that carefully prescribes how and to whom law enforcement officials can disclose information about released former sex offenders (see text box about Minnesota below).  

Internet Registries: Expanding Community Notification to the World

My husband is being encompassed into a group which the general public is made to think contains only pedophiles, child molesters, and rapists. The descriptions on the web are very general and misleading.  At the very least, our state should actually take the time to [assess] each case and determine those who should actually be listed rather than blanket cover everyone.

—Heidi O., wife of a former prison guard convicted of inappropriately touching a female inmate162

Despite the rationale for community notification, online registries are not limited to offenders who have committed serious crimes, or are assessed to pose a significant risk of reoffending in the future. Nor is access to the registries limited to those who have a legitimate “need to know.”

Some people insist that community notification via online registries does not invade a registrant’s privacy because the registries contain information already in the public domain. This is an argument US courts have adopted in upholding community notification.163 It is true that criminal records are available at courthouses for those who wish to inquire. But, as noted above, the online registries pull together, in an easily accessible fashion, information that is not usually part of one’s criminal record.

State Internet Registries

I knew the planned internet registry had gone online when my neighbor came to my home and asked if I was a pedophile, because she had entered our zip code to search the database, and my name and picture appeared.

—Dave S., convicted in Oklahoma of possession of child pornography164

Every state has a searchable state-wide website with information about individuals required to register as sex offenders. Anyone with access to the internet can access state sex offender online databases and find out who is a registered offender. The information provided online for each offender typically includes the crime that triggered the registration requirement, name, photograph, physical description, date of birth, and current address of the registrant (although a few state online registries provide only the zip code of the individual). Some states provide additional personal information for certain offenders, including the address of the registrant’s employer and the make, model, and license plate number of any vehicle the registrant drives.165 Draft federal regulations for the Adam Walsh Act encourage states to list a registrant’s home telephone number and email address.166

Users of online registries can search by name to see whether a specific individual is registered, or can find out if there are any registered offenders in a particular neighborhood. The user need not live in the state whose registry is being searched, and states do not limit who can access the database. Those who search state and national databases can do so anonymously in every state except New York and Vermont, where those seeking to search the website must provide their names and addresses (which are kept confidential and seen only by state officials).167  

Thirty-two states include every registrant who was convicted as an adult on their online database (this includes youths who were under 18, but convicted as adults).168  Eighteen states (and the District of Columbia) exclude low- and, in some cases, medium-risk adult sex offenders from the internet registry.169Thirty-two states require some youth who were adjudicated as juveniles to be placed on the public registry.170 The Adam Walsh Act now requires states to include on their online registries children age 14 or older at the time of the offense who were adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court, where the offense “was comparable to or more severe than aggravated sexual abuse, or was an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense.”171 (See section VII, “Sex Offender Laws and Child Offenders”)

Failure to Inform: Inaccurate and Missing Information

The public needs to know there is a difference between a sexual OFFENDER and a sexual PREDATOR. You can’t tell that from the web-site that my father is a sexual offender, but he is not a predator.

—Emily L., daughter of a Florida registrant convicted of indecent exposure to a minor172

Most online registries do not provide information that will enable the user to understand the nature of the offending conduct or the likelihood that the offender will reoffend.

The online registries of 22 states and the District of Columbia reflect no discernable indication of the offender’s level of dangerousness.173  The other 28 state registries reflect various strategies for suggesting dangerousness: at least nine indicate how long the offender is required to register;174 at least two indicate that they include “only high level offenders”;175 at least five include a section describing the offense in detail;176 at least seven use the terms “aggravated” or “habitual” to define more dangerous offenders;177 at least two have a separate database for level two (medium risk) and level three (high risk) offenders;178 and at least 15 states designate some offenders as “sexual predators,” or “sexually violent predators”179

Only three state sites that Human Rights Watch could find provide the registrant’s age at the time of the offense,180 although all state registries provide the current age of the registrant. The lack of information about the offender’s age can be extremely misleading. As the age of the registrant is updated every year, the age of difference between him and the victim becomes greater and greater. For example, Marcus A., who was convicted at 20 of having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, explained to Human Rights Watch that his state’s sex offender website “lists my age, which is now forty-seven, and my victim’s age, who I later married, as fifteen. It makes me look like a child rapist. I live alone now. I moved to a new neighborhood … and I worry that everyone will just think I am some dirty old man living alone who likes to have sex with children.”181

Alabama, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states Human Rights Watch found whose online registry provides crime descriptions that the general public may be able to understand (for example, “when male was 41, raped 14 year old female”).182 The other registries either cite the statute under which the offender was convicted or quote directly from it. The user is left to wonder what such terms as “lewd and lascivious behavior,” “indecent liberties with a child,” or “crime against nature” actually mean and what the registrant actually did.

Florida’s website is typical. It provides no detail about a registrant’s crime beyond the name of the statute under which the registrant was convicted. One Florida registrant was convicted of “criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree.”183 Someone not familiar with the law might believe the registrant had committed a sexually violent act, when in fact he had groped a 29-year-old woman at a clothing-optional music festival—conduct that while unacceptable does not make him a dangerous offender. At the other end of the spectrum is a Florida registrant whose conviction is listed as “sexual battery of a child by an adult.”184 While most users may well note that his crime involved a child, they would have no basis for knowing that he had had sex dozens of times with a 12-year-old boy.185

As a Florida lawmaker advocating for the inclusion of more information on the state’s website has pointed out: “Parents don’t have time to be mini-detectives. I want to know the crime this person has been convicted of … so I know the difference between someone who was being mischievous and went streaking and someone who [has] … done horrible things to children.”186

Whatever utility registries are supposed to have is further undercut by serious inaccuracies and gaps. In 2003, the Boston Herald reported that nearly half of the online registered sex offenders in Massachusetts could not be located because their listed addresses were no longer accurate.187 Newspapers in Florida reported that almost half of the sex offenders on the state’s internet registry were incarcerated, dead, or missing.188 In Kentucky, researchers determined that approximately 25 percent of the addresses on the internet registry were incorrect.189 

“Other Offender” Registries: What’s in a Name?

In May 2006, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to create a registry for people who commit violent but non-sexual crimes against youth.190 The registry provides the same kind of information that the sex offender registry does, and will be available to the public online.191 According to a co-sponsor of the legislation, “We wanted to spare individuals convicted of violent but non-sexual crimes against youth from the stigma of being a registered sex offender.”192

Lance M., who was convicted of physically abusing a child in a crime that did not involve sexual assault sought to get his name excluded from the sex offender registry and placed on the separate violent offender registry precisely because, as he pointed out, “I didn’t want people to think I was a sex offender.”193

The change in the law was also supported by some child safety advocacy groups.  Laura Ahern, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law noted at the time of the law’s passage, “Somehow, if it’s not only sex offenders [on sex offender registries], it takes away the impact and the ability for the community to recognize the type of danger they are dealing with.”194

Does Community Notification Work?

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether posting information about registered sex offenders on the internet is a valuable and effective public safety tool; however … the public feels that the internet registry provides important information that can be used to protect families and expects such information to be a matter of public record.

—Findings of a special committee convened by the Vermont legislature to investigate the efficacy of internet registries195

Given the popularity and prevalence of community notification laws, surprisingly little research has been conducted on their impact. We know of no research that has sought to determine, for example, how parents have used information available to them, and whether it has changed the steps they take to protect their children either in general or against individual registered offenders. A few studies have sought to determine whether community notification reduces the reoffense rates of former offenders; none have established that they do.  

A 2005 study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that the rates of felony sex recidivism declined by 70 percent after the adoption of broad notification laws in Washington State. The authors concluded, however, that while community notification “should not be ruled out as a factor” in the reduced recidivism, there were other factors that could have contributed equally or more so to the reduction, including the factors that caused a national and state decrease in crime rates generally, as well as the state’s increased incarceration of sex offenders.196

An earlier study by the Institute concluded that community notification appeared to have little effect on sex offense recidivism. The researchers found no statistically significant difference in recidivism rates over a four-and-a-half-year period between sexually violent offenders subjected to notification in Washington State and those who had committed their crimes before the community notification laws went into effect. The researchers also found that most (63 percent) of the new offenses committed after community notification had been instituted occurred in the jurisdiction where notification took place, suggesting that notification neither deterred offenders nor motivated them to venture outside those jurisdictions.197

An investigation in 10 states led researchers to conclude that registration and community notification did not appear to yield systematic reductions in sex crime rates. In six states, sexual assault rates did not change significantly in the three years after the implementation of community notification and online registries. In three states there were significant reductions in sex crime rates. In one, the incidence of rapes increased.198 Research in Wisconsin and Iowa also found no statistically significant impact from community notification laws in those states.199

Finally, ongoing research in New Jersey suggests that the decline in sex crimes against children began several years before a community notification law went into effect in that state in 1994.200 The study, funded by the federal government, is one of the first attempts to analyze whether there is a connection between the decline in reported sex abuse in the US and the implementation of community notification laws.201 Human Rights Watch spoke with a researcher on the study, who cautioned that the results were preliminary—the result of six months of an 18-month project—and no conclusions should be drawn until the study is complete.202

Community notification may, however, contribute to earlier detection of reoffending by registered offenders. A 1995 study of offenders convicted of a sexually violent offense who were subject to community notification found that such individuals were arrested for new crimes (both sex-based and non-sex-based crimes) “much more quickly” than comparable offenders who were released without notification, although the overall recidivism rate at the end of a five-year period was nearly the same.203 There is no way to tell whether a registry available only to law enforcement would have had the same effect.

Impact on Residents

As noted above, we have not found research assessing how parents have used community notification about registered offenders to protect their children. A study on citizen attitudes toward sex offender laws found that notification actually increased some residents’ anxiety because information about offenders was not accompanied by information about how to protect oneself or one’s children from assault.204 Human Rights Watch spoke with a mother in Kansas who received a postcard in the mail notifying her family that a convicted sex offender had moved into the neighborhood: “The card had the individual’s picture, his crime—listed as aggravated indecent liberties with a child—the date of his crime, and where he lived.  The card didn’t tell me his level of dangerousness, or how I might be able to protect my kids. It just made me scared.”205 Residents in Wisconsin who were notified that a convicted child molester moved into the neighborhood experienced a “heightened sense of vulnerability,” “a lack of control over the environment in which they lived,” and a sense of “helplessness” and “anxiety about what the future might hold for the neighborhood.”206

As Alison Feigh, a child safety specialist for the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, pointed out to Human Rights Watch, “If it is not done appropriately, community notification just raises fears without helping parents. No community notification is almost better than poorly done community notification.”207

Is Community Notification Counterproductive?

Sex offender treatment experts point out that notification may exacerbate the stressors (for example, isolation, disempowerment, shame, depression, anxiety, and a disconnection from social supports) that can trigger relapse and reoffending in some former offenders.208 As an individual convicted of molesting his nephew and subject to community notification told Human Rights Watch, “It’s so shaming, sometimes I worry that I am not going to be able to hold myself together and be the healthy person I need to be for my family. My life is so unstable, upended each time notification goes out. Sometimes I want to just give up.”209

Rethinking Community Notification: Vermont as a Model

Vermont has a carefully tailored community notification law that limits notification to individuals who pose a high risk to the community, only for so long as they pose that risk, and on a need-to-know basis.

The online registry contains only offenders who have committed sexually violent crimes and “sexual predators,” defined as offenders determined through an independent court proceeding to have a certain degree of compulsion to commit sexual crimes.210 At present, only 282 out of 24,000 registered offenders in Vermont are listed on the state’s sex offender website. According to an official with the Vermont Department of Public Safety, “By limiting the number of offenders who are subject to uncontrolled disclosure, the state hopes to make it easier for members of the public to identify the individuals who pose the most significant risk, and to support offender treatment and reintegration into society.”211

Members of the public can search the website by the offender’s last name or can browse the records by geographical area.212 The site discloses the offender’s city of residence but does not provide his or her full address.213 Information about other registrants who are not online can be obtained through local law enforcement offices.  Members of the public who wish to get such information must first provide certain personal information (name, address, etc.) and state they have a public safety concern. The police do a background check on the person seeking the information, including the electronic verification of the seeker’s license plate number.  This provides a paper trail and a safeguard against vigilantism.214

Unlike other states, which have had a difficult time keeping track of individuals required to register by law, Vermont officials say that 97 percent of offenders were in compliance with their registration requirement.215

A Model Registration and Community Notification Program: Minnesota

Minnesota has developed carefully tailored sex offender registration and community notification, the work of thoughtful deliberation by experts on sex offender management, victims’ rights groups, and law enforcement officials. 

In Minnesota, convicted sex offenders are assessed by a panel of experts before they are released from custody to determine whether they need to register, and if so, for how long. In addition, convicted sex offenders may appeal their registration status every two years to a panel of experts that includes law enforcement and treatment providers. The panel has the authority to reassess the convicted sex offender’s level of dangerousness and adjust his or her registration requirements accordingly.216  Minnesota’s sensible approach, however, is now jeopardized by the Adam Walsh Act, which will require the state to adjust its registry requirements to reflect the Act’s mandatory minimum amount of time certain offenders must stay on the registry. 

At least 90 days before a sex offender is to be released, a group that by law includes a licensed sex offender treatment provider, a law enforcement official, and a caseworker who handles sex offenders, convenes to determine the risk that a particular sex offender will reoffend. They take into consideration a wide range of factors, including the circumstances of the sex offense which produced the conviction. The panel decides whether an offender will be subject to community notification. Minnesota also includes a “need-to-know” limitation on community notification. According to the law, “The extent of the information disclosed and the community to whom disclosure is made must relate to the level of danger posed by the offender, to the offender’s pattern of offending behavior, and to the need of community members for information to enhance their individual and collective safety.”217 

Low-risk offenders’ information is given to law enforcement officials in the jurisdiction where the offender will reside, as well as to the victims of and any witnesses to the individual’s offense. Moderate- to high-level risk offenders’ information may also be given, as appropriate, to area schools, daycares, and healthcare centers, and the police may hold a community meeting to explain the risks a particular sex offender poses for the community.218

137 Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation, “Statement of Maureen Kanka,” (accessed January 14, 2007).

138 President William J. Clinton, “Presidential Radio Address,” August 24, 1996, (accessed August 24, 2007).

139 Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, (accessed March 16, 2007).

140 Richard Tewksbury and George Higgins, “What Can Be Learned from an Online Sex Offender Registry Site?” Journal of Community Corrections, vol. 14(3) (2005), pp. 9-11, 15-16.

141 Smith v. Doe, 123 S. Ct. at 1608, (Souter, J., concurring). (“Although [community notification] may have a lasting and painful impact on the convicted sex offender, these consequences flow not from the Act's registration and dissemination provisions, but from the fact of conviction, already a matter of public record.”).

142 John J. Goldman, “Sex Offender Guilty of Killing Megan Kanka,” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1997.

143 Thomas Zambito, “New Hearings Will Determine if Wyckoff Rapist Can Be Freed,”Record (Bergen County, N.J.), August 4, 1994.

144 Steven W. Dill, “Pink Ribbons Symbolize Drive for Megan's Law,” Record (Bergen County, NJ), Aug. 3, 1994; also, The Megan Kanka Foundation, (accessed October 8, 2006).

145 Congressional Record, vol. 142, statement of Representative Melvin Watt (D-NC), September 25, 1996. The final vote in the House was 418-0. Congressional Record vol. 142, H10,354, 1996. The Senate passed Megan’s Law by voice vote with unanimous consent.

146 US Department of Justice guidelines give states discretion as to what kind of information is relevant to protect the public, who among the public should be notified, and how such notification should be done. DOJ Guidelines, 64 Fed. Reg. 572, 582 (Jan 5, 1999).

147 Congressional Record, vol. 142. The final vote in the House was 418-0. The Senate passed Megan’s Law by voice vote with unanimous consent.

148 Transcript, Florida State House of Representatives, “Debate and Vote on H.R. 1665,” April 2, 1993; Transcript, Florida State Senate, “Debate and Vote on S. 56, Law.6,” May 1, 1995.

149 “The General Assembly 1998 Session,” Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), Mar. 4, 1998; David Heckelman, “House OKs Notice Law Covering Sex Offenders,” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Nov. 3, 1995; David Heckelman, “Senate OKs Bill Linking Crime Measures, Storage-Tank Repairs,” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Nov. 16, 1995; Debera Carlton Harrell, “Sex-Offender Notification Guidelines Set; Police Can Defer in Some Cases,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 30, 1990.

150 Daniel M. Filler, “Making the Case for Megan’s Law: A Study in Legislative Rhetoric,” Indiana Law Journal, vol. 76 (2001).

151 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Susan K., November 2, 2006.

152 Email communication from Bob K. to Human Rights Watch, September 21, 2006.

153 Jennifer Kowalewski, “Madison Residents Fight Sex Offenders with Knowledge,” News Journal (Mansfield, OH), June 14, 2005 (notification to neighbors within 1,200 feet of the registrant’s address).

154 Tania Veldemor, “Boca Putting Sex Offenders on Television Channel 20,” Palm Beach Post, June 15, 2005.

155 Parents for Megan’s Law (PFML) is a “community and victim's rights organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse through the provision of education, advocacy, counseling, victims services policy and legislative support services.” Parents for Megan’s Law, “Mission Statement,” (accessed March 16, 2007). Human Rights Watch signed up to receive the Parents for Megan’s Law email alerts. In the period between September 5, 2006 and January 12, 2007, Human Rights Watch received 26 email alerts from Parents for Megan’s Law, including the information for 146 registrants recently released into either Suffolk or Long Island counties.

156 N.J. Stat. 2C:7-8(c).

157 Email communication from Daniel Y. to Human Rights Watch, August 11, 2005.

158 Sharon E. Crawford, “Judge Orders Sex Offender to Post Signs on Property,” Macon Telegraph (GA), August 25, 2004; State v. Jordan, 716 So.2d 36 (1998). In Jordan, the court ruled that a sex offender could not be forced as a condition of parole to place a sign on his lawn that identified him as a sex offender, but he could be so required under Louisiana’s sex offender registration statute. The statute specifies that a sentencing court can require any kind of community notification it deems appropriate, “including but not limited to signs, handbills, bumper stickers, or clothing labeled to that effect.” LA.R.S. 15:542(B)(3).

159 Dave Wedge, “IMAPERV Plate Proposed: Advocates: Pink would Warn Kids to Stay Away,” Boston Herald, June 10, 2005; “Lawmaker Wants Pink Plates Put on Cars of Sex Offenders,” Columbus Dispatch, May 3, 2005. After opposition from Avon and breast cancer awareness organizations—whose signature color is pink, one state changed the proposed license plate color to fluorescent green. “Ohio Lawmakers Propose Fluorescent Green License Plates for Convicted Sex Predators,” Associated Press, March 1, 2007.

160 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jason D., August 7, 2006.

161 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Marie D., November 13, 2006.

162 Email communication from Heidi O. to Human Rights Watch, July 20, 2005.

163 Connecticut Dep’t of Public Safety v. Doe, 123 S.Ct. 1160 (2003) (“any stigma or shame that resulted from the publication of a registrant’s information came not from the “public display for ridicule … but from the dissemination of accurate [and public] information about a criminal record.”).

164 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dave S., November 15, 2006.

165 For example, Indiana’s online sex offender registry lists the home, work, and school addresses of the registrants, and has a function that allows someone to map the address. Indiana Sheriffs’ Sex and Violent Offender Registry, (accessed July 18, 2007).

166 US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), “National Guidelines for Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Proposed Guidelines,” May 2007, (accessed August 24, 2007).

167 New York State Sex Offender Registry, (accessed March 19, 2007); Vermont Criminal Information Center Sex Offender Registry, (accessed August 29, 2007).

168 For a list of state online databases, see Appendix.

169 See Appendix for details.

170 Ibid.

171 Adam Walsh Act, Sec. 111 (8). However, “if the victim was at least 13 years old and the offender was not more than 4 years older than the victim” and the conduct was consensual, the conduct is not a sex offense for the purposes of this Act, and the offender is not included in the registration requirements. Ibid. at 111 (5)(C).

172 Email communication from Emily L. to Human Rights Watch, October 12, 2005.

173 Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington D.C., West Virginia.

174 Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Wisconsin.

175 Maryland, Minnesota.

176 Alabama, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota.

177 Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma.

178 Oregon, Rhode Island.

179 There is no uniform definition of these terms. State online registries list the definition of sexually violent or predatory offenders in various ways—and no two states are the same. For example, Colorado states that “SVPs [Sexually Violent Predators] are considered the highest risk sex offenders,” while Maryland refers to “Sexually Violent Predators” as “Th[o]se registrants [that] have been convicted of a sexually violent offense. They have also been determined to be at risk of committing a subsequent sexually violent offense.” Oregon states, “Sex offenders … have been designated as Predatory who have also been determined to present the highest risk of re-offending and to require the widest range of notification; or found to be a sexually violent dangerous offender.”

180 Alaska, Illinois, Missouri.

181 Email communication from Marcus A. to Human Rights Watch, August 25, 2005.

182 South Dakota Sex Offender Registry, (accessed August 24, 2007).

183 Stephanie Slater, “Sex Offender Website Lacks Key Details, Lawmaker Says,” Palm Beach Post, August 8, 2005.

184 Ibid.

185 Ibid.

186 Ibid. For reasons that are not clear—given the purpose of sex offender registries—the online registries in at least three states (Kansas, Montana, and Oklahoma) also include people who were not convicted of sex crimes. Kansas (K.S.A. §22-4904, 4902, 4909); Montana (Mont. Code Anno. §46-23-508, 504, 502); Oklahoma (57 Okl. Stat. §595, 593).

187 Maggie Mulvihill et al., “Special Report: State Losing Track of Sex Offenders; Monster Next Door,” Boston Herald, November 5, 2003.

188 Melanie Payne, “Sex Offender Site Criticized,” Southwest Florida News-Press, December 18, 2005.

189 Richard Tewksbury, “Validity and Utility of the Kentucky Sex Offender Registry,” Federal Probation, vol. 68(3) (2004).

190 §730 ILCS 154; Illinois State Police Child Murderer and Violent Offender against Youth Registry, (accessed August 24, 2007).

191 Ibid.

192 State Representative John Fritchey (D-IL), co-sponsor of a bill to create a separate registry for people who commit violent but non-sexual crimes against youth. Ryan Keith, “Illinois May Create Violent Offender Registry,” Associated Press, July 24, 2006.

193 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Lance M., August 24, 2006.

194 Keith, “Illinois May Create Violent Offender Registry,” Associated Press.

195 Vermont Legislative Council, “Sex Offender Supervision and Community Notification Study Committee Report,” March 2005, (accessed August 24, 2007), p. 11.

196 Washington Institute for Public Policy, “Sex Offender Sentencing in Washington State: Has Community Notification Reduced Recidivism?” December 2005, (accessed August 24, 2007), p. 1.

197 Donna Schram and Cheryl Milloy, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, “Community Notification: A Study of Sex Offender Characteristics and Recidivism,” October 1995, (accessed August 24, 2007).

198 Jeffrey Walker et al., Arkansas Crime Information Center, “The Influence of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws in the United States,” 2005, (accessed August 24, 2007).

199 Richard Zevitz and Mary Ann Farkas, “Sex Offender Community Notification: Its Role in Recidivism and Offender Reintegration,” Criminal Justice Studies, vol. 19(2) (2006), pp. 193-208 (No statistically different rate in recidivism among sexually violent offenders over five-year period). Geneva Adkins, David Huff, and Paul Stageberg, Iowa Department of Human Rights, Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning and Statistical Analysis Center, “The Iowa Sex Offender Registry and Recidivism,” December 2000, (accessed August 24, 2007). (No statistically significant difference among offenders subject to community notification compared to those who had not been).

200 Sam Wood, “N.J. Study Scrutinizes Megan’s Law Effect: The Declining Trend of Sex Attacks against Children Began Several Years before the Measure Started in 1994, Researchers Weighing Expense,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 2007.

201 Ibid.

202 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Matt Shuman, press affairs officer, New Jersey Department of Corrections, May 10, 2007.

203 Schram and Milloy, “Community Notification: Recidivism,” pp. 18-19. For the offenders subject to community notification, the medium rearrest period was 25 months after release from prison; for those not subject to community notification, it was 61 months. Ibid. The authors speculated that notification may have led the public to watch registered sex offenders more closely, resulting in earlier detection of criminal behavior. Ibid. p. 20.

204 A. A. Caputo, “Community Notification Laws for Sex Offenders: Possible Mediators and Moderators of Citizen Coping,” Dissertation Abstracts International, vol. 61(9-B) (2001); A. A. Caputo and S.L. Brodsky, “Citizen Coping with Community Notification of Released Sex Offenders,” Behavioral Sciences & the Law, vol. 22(2) (2004), pp. 239-252.

205 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Donna L., September 29, 2006.

206 Richard Zevitz, “Sex Offender Placement and Neighborhood Social Integration: The Making of a Scarlet Letter Community,” Criminal Justice Studies, v0l. 17, no. 2 (2004), pp. 203-222, 212.

207 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alison Feigh, child safety specialist, Jacob Wetterling Foundation, September 8, 2006.

208 Jill Levenson and Leo Cotter, “The Effects of Megan’s Law on Sex Offender Reintegration,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol 21, no. 3 (2005), pp. 298-300. Richard Tewksbury, “Collateral Consequences of Sex Offender Registration,” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 21, no. 1 (2005), pp. 67-81; Human Rights telephone interview with Dr. Jill Levenson, October 11, 2006; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Robert Prentky, March 20, 2007.

209 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Peter C., North Carolina, January 8, 2007.

210 Vermont Sex Offender Registry, (accessed March 21, 2007).

211 Kate Fitch, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), “Megan’s Law: Does it Protect Children?” November 2006, (accessed August 24, 2007), p. 32.

212 Vermont Criminal Information Center Sex Offender Registry, (accessed August 30, 2007).

213 Ibid.

214 13 V.S.A. §5411(c)-(d).

215 Kate Fitch, NSPCC, “Megan’s Law,” p. 33.

216 Minn. Stat. §243.166, 244.052.

217 Minn. Stat. §244.052, Subd. 4(a).

218 Minn. Stat. §244.052, Subd. 4(b); Subd. 4(c).