VIII. Consequences of Registration and Community Notification Laws for Registrants and Their Loved Ones

Sleep is hard to come by. I stay up at night, worried that I can’t find a job, worried that I can’t find an apartment, worried that I am going to be killed like other sex offenders have been killed, worried that they will take away my family, won’t let me see my children and grandchildren anymore.  

—Jessie K., registrant in California, convicted of sexual assault 23 years ago265

While the public safety benefits of sex offender registration and community notification laws may be up for debate, the toll they have exacted upon registrants and their families is not. The damage is less from registration itself than from having their status as a registered sex offender disseminated to the community and, indeed, to the entire world. Being identified as a registered sex offender elicits public hostility, fear, and loathing—strong emotions that motivate conduct that all too often far exceeds legitimate safety precautions.

Registered sex offenders face ostracism, job loss, eviction or expulsion from their homes, and the dissolution of personal relationships.266 They confront harassment, threats, and property damage. Some have endured vigilantism and violence.267 A few have been killed. Many experience “despair and hopelessness;”268 some have committed suicide.269 These consequences extend beyond the individual offenders to their families as well.270 

A recent study of the impact of community notification in Florida found that one-third to one-half of sex offenders subjected to community notification reported “dire consequences” such as the loss of a job or home, threats or harassment, or property damage.271 About 16 percent of the registrants reported being physically assaulted.272  About 19 percent of sex offenders reported that these negative consequences had affected other members of their households.273 

Unnecessarily expansive community notification laws (especially when combined with residency restrictions, described in the next chapter) may drive more and more offenders underground, away from supportive services like sex offender treatment, and away from the supervision and monitoring of law enforcement. Harsh enduring consequences also provide little incentive for former offenders to live without offending. To the contrary, the laws may be a disincentive: as one registrant has said, “No one believes I can change, so why even try?”274 

There are some people who say that such adverse consequences are the fault of the offenders—if they hadn’t committed the crimes, they wouldn’t be facing public hostility now. For example, a public official in Miami, Florida, in commenting on residency restrictions in his city, noted, “My main concern is the victims, the children that are the innocent ones that these predators attack and ruin their lives. No one really told them to do this crime.”275

Yet everyone, even former sex offenders, has rights that should be respected and protected. Registration and community notification laws directly and all too often unnecessarily interfere with former offenders’ rights to privacy. The invasion of their privacy in turn leads to violations of many other rights, including the rights to employment, housing, and personal safety.

Case study: Walter D.

Walter D., 58, unknowingly solicited an underage prostitute in 1986, for which he was jailed in Washington State. Released from prison in 1992, he is required to register and his picture appears on the state online sex offender registry. Walter has tried to hold down a job as a computer technician, but he has been fired at least four times after colleagues found his profile on Washington State’s online registry. Walter has a hard time finding landlords who will rent to him, and when he has found an apartment, within weeks flyers with his registry profile, downloaded from the online registry, appear all over his neighborhood. Walter told Human Rights Watch, “I will never be given a second chance. It doesn’t matter how long I don’t reoffend, I will always be a sex offender in everyone else’s eyes.”276


It is difficult to overstate the impact of community notification, particularly online registries, on the privacy of registered individuals and their families. Community notification makes readily available information that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. The lack of “need-to-know” restrictions on who can access the registries means registry information is available to all, regardless of why they want to see it and how they will use it. The breadth of information and extent of access all but eliminates the possibility that a former offender can move into a community and rebuild his or her life without notice.

Community notification does not just obliterate a registered person’s privacy. Publicly identifying someone as a registered sex offender brands that person—in many people’s eyes—as a dangerous and particularly loathsome person. The branding—which can last for a lifetime—has the entirely foreseeable result of making it very difficult (if not entirely impossible) for former offenders and their families to live peaceful, safe, stable, and productive lives.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas described the invasive and damaging nature of registration and community notification:

Widespread dissemination of offenders' names, photographs, addresses, and criminal history serves not only to inform the public but also to humiliate and ostracize the convicts. It thus bears some resemblance to shaming punishments that were used earlier in our history to disable offenders from living normally in the community. While the [majority] accepts the State's explanation that the Act simply makes public information available in a new way, the scheme does much more. Its point, after all, is to send a message that probably would not otherwise be heard, by selecting some conviction information out of its corpus of penal records and broadcasting it with a warning. Selection makes a statement, one that affects common reputation and sometimes carries harsher consequences, such as exclusion from jobs or housing, harassment, and physical harm.277

Public identification as someone who committed a sex offense leads to a host of problems that are described throughout this report and are detailed as well below.


Being publicly identified through online registries as a sex offender restricts employment in several ways. With some employers mandated to check the sex offender registry, and many others implementing the checks as part of their private business policy, many sex offenders are finding themselves unable to secure and maintain a job. Our research shows that private employers are reluctant to hire sex offenders even if their offense has no bearing on the nature of the job. Offenders who tell prospective employers they are registered sex offenders are usually denied employment; those who fail to tell are eventually fired when employers find out—often through fellow employees who found the information through searching online sex offender registries.

The difficulty Carl B., convicted of possessing child pornography, has had in finding stable employment is typical of the stories of many registered offenders: “I have been unable to find decent employment and I doubt I will be able to. I have worked in a few bars as a bartender but someone always seems to find out although no one has said that is the reason. In one job I was fired just 2 days after receiving a raise and that seemed strange. That was also within afew days that someone posted my internet [sex offender] picture on my front door and in the community. The chances of me working for a company that offers insurance, retirement, etc. are quite unlikely.278

Some state laws place employment restrictions on sex offenders, prohibiting them from working in schools, childcare centers, child-oriented non-profit organizations, and other places where they may come into regular contact with children. These laws are typically directed at individuals who committed sex crimes against children. Laws barring persons convicted of sexually abusing children from working directly with children may be reasonable. For example, Virginia prohibits sex offenders convicted of sex crimes that involved children from working or volunteering at a school or daycare center.279 But state employment restriction laws that bar all registered sex offenders—regardless of the nature of the crime—from employment where they may inadvertently come into contact with children effectively bar registered sex offenders from employment in large sectors of the economy.

Members of the community can also react so strongly to the presence of a registered offender on the job that employers will end up firing them. One employer fired his employee,a registered sex offender,from an office job involving no interaction with children, despite his good performance, because of the community’s reaction. The termination letter stated, “Several neighbors and the sheriff have brought to my attention the criminal extent of your past. It is with regret that I must inform you of the loss of your job with us as of today. I hope you understand. You have put in a lot of valuable hours and have been a good hired man, and we appreciate that …. This was a hard decision for us, but we feel we have no choice in the matter. We will have no problem giving you a good recommendation in your quest for a new job.”280 

Community hostility towards employers who hire registered sex offenders is also reflected in the following case, recounted to Human Rights Watch by the mother of a registered offender:

[My son] is currently working with a construction group and is very happy with the occupation. Two weeks ago, someone on the street where he was working discovered that the boss of the group is a registered offender as well and freaked out by calling all the neighbors on the block to inform them of the situation. During the time the group had been working in this prestigious neighborhood, several of the neighbors had hired them for future work on their homes. After hearing from the woman, all of the jobs were canceled, which caused a huge gap in the guys’ work schedule and in their paychecks. The overreaction was a big hit to my son and the others as they are just trying to make a living for their families and themselves. All of the men have served their time, still attend counseling every week and are watched carefully by the courts.281 

Parole officers supervising former sex offenders also testify to the difficulty registrants have in finding work. An officer in Michigan told Human Rights Watch that “most employers, whether they are required by law or not, refuse to employ sex offenders, even if the crime the individual committed was not violent. They say it’s bad for business. So now, I have a hard time lining up work for my sex offender parolees, so my parolees are stuck in halfway homes, unable to meet the full conditions of their parole.”282 An Arizona parole officer expressed similar concerns: “I have found it near impossible to find an employer willing to take a chance on a convicted sex offender.”283 As a parole officer in Florida told Human Rights Watch, “We have to find ways to find appropriate jobs for sex offenders, in a way that will both protect the public and also help sex offenders successfully reintegrate into society.”284

The inability to find and keep work can lead to despair and hopelessness. Lyndon G., who was convicted of child molestation and is registered in Alabama, told Human Rights Watch, “I have given up hope of finding a job, which makes me give up hope of succeeding out of prison.”285 A registrant in California, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor sex offense in 2001, told Human Rights Watch about his five-year struggle to find and maintain employment: “I have since given up looking for work. When I am honest I feel humiliated time and again.”286 

Making it difficult for former sex offenders to find and keep gainful employment is counterproductive for public safety. Structured, full-time employment is a cornerstone of nearly all re-entry programs for offenders. According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, “Research has shown that meaningful employment can provide a stabilizing influence by involving offenders in pro-social activities and assisting them in structuring their time, improving their self-esteem, and meeting their financial obligations.”287

Employment contributes to the likelihood that people who have previously committed crimes, including sex crimes, will not reoffend.288 A 2001 risk assessment study by Virginia’s Criminal Sentencing Commission found employment to be a major factor affecting whether paroled sex offenders relapse and reoffend: sex offenders who had been unemployed or not regularly employed were found to recidivate at higher rates than sex offenders who experienced stable employment.289  Another recent study showed that former sex offenders who committed subsequent offenses were more likely to be unemployed.290 According to a different study, the only factors associated with reduced reoffending among sex offenders were the combination of stable employment and sex offender treatment.291

Threats to Employment: Tom K.’s Story292

Fifteen years ago, Tom K. committed a sex offense and was required to register in the state of Florida. He was sentenced to two years house arrest and five years probation, from which he was released in 1999. He subsequently moved to New Mexico [NM] with his family, because of his wife’s job. Tom told Human Rights Watch,

“In December of 2001, we became the proud parents of a baby boy. Tragically, [my wife] died 3 hours after delivery leaving me to raise my son alone.

“Recently, in May of 2004, with changes to the NM law, I was forced to register in NM.

“As a professional composer/arranger I write music for the local high school marching band. I write this music at my home studio. I then deliver it to the band director, and the band director rehearses the music with the students. I have no contact whatsoever with the students. I should point out that I am not under any restrictions regarding contact with minors, so there should not be any concern to begin with. This commissioning represents a significant portion of my income. I should also point out that my work is paid for out of the private account of the band booster organization. Public funds are not used to reimburse my services. However, one woman has mounted a crusade saying that my involvement puts children in danger. This woman [who learned about my status as a registered sex offender from the online registry] has several times now tried to force the band and the school to sever their business arrangement with me. To this end, the woman in question has obtained copies of the handwritten arrest record from fifteen years ago (through the [Freedom of Information Act]), created a typed out version of it, and distributed it throughout my community. She has also called meetings of "concerned citizens" in an effort to essentially try and remove me from the community. This same woman has also mounted a campaign to get the band director fired in an effort to keep me from writing the music and therefore diminishing my ability to earn a living.

Members of the community have protested several performing groups in which I participate, requesting that they be denied access to the use of public facilities.”

Vigilante Violence

I just want my son back.

—Shirley Turner, mother of a convicted sex offender murdered by a stranger who looked up his address on Maine’s online sex offender registry293

Information provided by state online sex offender registries, as well as information provided during community notification by law enforcement, is not just used by private citizens to determine what streets their children can walk on, or whom to avoid. Neighbors as well as strangers harass, intimidate and physically assault people who have committed sex offenses. At least four registered sex offenders have been killed.

Richard R. was convicted in 1986 of molesting his step-daughter. In 1999 Richard was released from a New Jersey state prison. About two weeks later, notification went out to the community. A short time later, neighbors started throwing garbage on Richard’s lawn, and people rang his doorbell late at night and ran away. On another occasion, someone drove by Richard’s home and yelled out, “Stop fucking little girls! I’m going to kill you!” Late one evening Richard heard a knock on his front door. Richard looked through the door’s window and did not see anyone. When Richard opened the door, a man who had been crouching down in front of the door stood up. The man was wearing a ski mask and carried a handgun. He pointed the gun at Richard and said, “If you don’t get out of this neighborhood I’m going to kill you.” The man turned and fled. A few days later, Richard moved out of the community.294

One of the fundamental obligations of government is to put in place measures to protect the lives and safety of those within its jurisdiction. This duty to protect extends to people who have been convicted of crimes, including sex offenses.  When public officials affirm the importance of public safety, that public includes disfavored people living in the community. Indeed, when public officials and law enforcement know a particular individual or group is likely to be or is being targeted for harassment or violence by private actors, they must take appropriate measures to protect them, even when that means standing up to widespread community sentiments. In the case of former sex offenders, such measures should include limiting access to online registries, carefully limiting community notification efforts, and taking steps to signal forcefully to the community that harassment and violence are unlawful and will be prosecuted.295

For a case challenging community notification laws, New Jersey public defenders collected over a hundred affidavits from people convicted of sex offenses who experienced vigilante violence soon after their whereabouts were made available to the public, either through the internet registry or some other community notification scheme.296 Registrants speak of having glass bottles thrown through their windows; being “jumped from behind” and physically assaulted while the assailants yelled “You like little children, right?”; having garbage thrown on the lawn; people repeatedly ringing the doorbell and pounding on the sides of the house late at night; being struck from behind by a crowbar after being yelled at by the assailant that “People like you who are under Megan’s Law should be kept in jail. They should never let you out. People like you should die.  When you leave tonight, I am gonna kill you.” Among the affidavits are stories like this one:

In 1998, six years after H.M., convicted for molesting a child, was released from prison, notification about his crime was distributed to his community in New Jersey. The very same day that notices went out, members of the public began to harass and threaten H.M. Although the notices were distributed only to H.M.’s neighbors, local newspapers were provided with the information and they published stories about H.M.’s presence in the community. A few days later, H.M. received an anonymous letter that read “We’ll be watching you asshole.” This message was spelled out using letters cut out from a magazine. Late that same evening, someone fired five shots from a high caliber handgun into H.M.’s home. Several bullets almost hit one of H.M.’s family members. The shooting generated additional publicity and by 4:30 in the afternoon the next day, a crowd of about 250 people had gathered in front of H.M.’s home. The stress of these events caused H.M. to fear not only for his own safety, but also for the safety of his family. He checked himself into a hospital and was placed on suicide watch. According to H.M., community notification “is a far worse punishment than jail ever was.”297


Reviewing the record of such incidents, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded “they happen with sufficient frequency and publicity that registrants justifiably live in fear of them.”298

A mother described to Human Rights Watch what happened to her son, a convicted sex offender living in Colorado, when neighbors found out about his status: “A few teens on their bikes were riding by [her son’s home] and yelled to his wife ‘Someone should burn their house down.’ My son was released [from prison] … and sure enough, about a week later someone did burn their house down while they were asleep in their beds.” Her son and his wife were able to make it out alive.299

A convicted rapist from Georgia spoke to Human Rights Watch about the effect of community notification on his family. When the registrant, Donald V., was released from prison in 1994 he went to stay with his parents, who were elderly. One morning, his mother woke up and went outside to get the paper. On the driveway, someone had written in a black “tar-like” substance, “FUCK YOU RAPIST” in letters that spanned the entire driveway. “It took months for it to fade away, even though we tried to wash it off every weekend or so for a number of months.”300

A number of convicted sex offenders have been targets of violence from strangers who take it upon themselves to “eliminate” sex offenders from communities. In April 2003, Lawrence Trant stabbed one New Hampshire registrant and lit fires at two buildings where registrants lived. When he was arrested, police found a printout of New Hampshire’s sex offender internet registry, with checkmarks next to the names of those already targeted.301

In 2006, four convicted sex offenders moved into a home near Donald Keegan in New York state. Later that year Keegan was arrested for plotting to blow up the home where the offenders were living. Police found a concoction of paint thinner and road flares in Keegan’s garage that they believe Keegan planned to use to kill the offenders.302  Subsequently, two of the four offender residents moved from the home.303

In August 2005, a man shot and killed two registrants in Bellingham, Washington.304 The assailant, Michael Anthony Mullen, posed as a federal agent and gained access inside the home that two registrants shared, under the guise of warning them that they were on a “hit list” on the internet.305 Messages appearing on blogs days after the double murder praised Mullen’s actions. “Two down,” one poster wrote, “Let’s hope he continues his meetings with offenders in his city without interference from the boys in blue.”306 The writer continued, “The public must often do what our elected officials will not.”307


Despite well-documented and publicized cases of harassment and vigilante violence against registered sex offenders, Human Rights Watch found only 14 states and the District of Columbia that have statutes that specifically prohibit the misuse of registry information for purposes of harassment, discrimination, or acts of vigilantism.308 In those states where misuse of information is prohibited, persons who misuse the information may be subject to prosecution.

In addition to state laws prohibiting harassment, some states have specific legislation allowing a registrant to bring a civil action against the person misusing the database information.309 New Jersey and California prohibit the use of registry information to deny registrants housing, credit, education, health insurance, loans, and credit.310 

Shirley Turner Loses a Son311

In April of 2006, a young man from Nova Scotia, Canada, shot and killed two convicted sex offenders living in Maine whose information he had found on the state’s internet registry.312 The assailant shot himself as police attempted to capture him.313 One of the victims was 24-year-old William Elliot, convicted at age 19 of having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.314 His mother, Shirley Turner, said, “Without the registry, he would still be alive today. I would still have him.” She spoke to Human Rights Watch about the crime.

“William had a girlfriend. He was 19 and she was 15 [three weeks from being 16, the age of consent in Maine]. Her parents found out, and William was convicted of statutory rape. William was in prison for about two years. When he was released, I told him he could live in my home with me, but he wanted to prove he was an adult, and he bought a trailer and moved to a small town next to mine.

“William did okay adjusting to life after prison. He was always a quiet and really sweet person, and he mostly kept to himself. He didn’t really have any neighbors, because his trailer was in the woods. He liked it, it was quiet. William was working in construction.

“One day, I came home from work, and my husband told me sit down. I sat down, and he told me that William had been killed. My husband found out on the evening news. William had been killed that morning, but the police had not come by to tell us … I thought, as William’s mother, the police should have come to tell me first before his name was on the news.

“It took me a bit to understand the details. A young man came to William’s home. This man didn’t know William, but he found his information on Maine’s sex offender registry. The man thought William was a pedophile. The man shot William in the face. William was found in his doorstep, so they think the man just shot him right after William opened the door.

“It is impossible to make sense of any of this. Once, I asked William what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he didn’t know, but that he wanted to be known as a person who shook everyone’s hand and smiled at everyone he met. That is how people who knew William would describe him. He was not a violent person, but he was killed because someone thought he was.”

At least 40 state online sex offender registries warn users against misusing information they obtain from the internet. In the other 10 states, Human Rights Watch could not locate a warning (see Appendix for sites). The line between harassment and legitimate reproduction of internet information is not clear. Only one state (Utah) that Human Rights Watch could find specifically prohibits any reproduction of registry information (for example, printing a copy of the registrants information from the internet and reposting or distributing it), an action that can certainly lead to harassment. But at least four states now have “click to print” options apparently designed to facilitate printing out individual flyers with the picture, name, and address of registered offenders.315 And at least one state, Texas, uses language on its online registry that seems to encourage widespread dissemination of the information: “The information provided through this Web site is open record. It may be used by anyone for any purpose.”

Living Peacefully at Home

I have not felt safe living here since that night in February when someone in the night left that poster [of my husband’s online profile] on my porch, and then banged on all our windows. Now all we want to do is move.

—Linda L., wife of a California registrant316

Former sex offenders have an extremely difficult time finding and keeping homes. In some cases, neighbors find their names via online registries or through community notification by law enforcement and begin campaigns to force registered sex offenders out of their neighborhoods. Private landlords do not want to rent or sell to them; federally funded public landlords are prohibited from doing so. As discussed in the next chapter, residency restriction laws force them to move from or prohibit them from moving into countless communities. 

Community Hostility

Community members have used the notification information they have been provided about registered sex offenders in their area to both discourage sex offenders from moving into their neighborhoods, and to encourage those who already live there to leave. By far the most common tactic has been to print information from the internet about sex offenders and post copies of these printouts throughout the neighborhood.  

Many registered former offenders told Human Rights Watch how neighborhood flyers forced them and their families to move. One former offender, convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime, described what happened in his case: “Shortly after I moved into an upscale neighborhood in [Ohio], the neighbors found out my situation and delivered a 40+ page packet to all 200 homes in the subdivision of court records, newspaper clippings, etc. A few weeks later they sent around another packet, about 28 pages, with more information, including a whole host of newspaper clippings about property values. We received several letters telling us to move and some people even came to our door to tell us to move. Someone even sent a flyer to my wife at her place of employment, an act the prosecutor deemed as harassment although they did nothing to find the culprit (no fingerprints were taken from the letter). We had to move. We couldn’t stand the shaming.”317 

In some instances, the stigma of being a registered sex offender affects not just the registrant’s employment but that of family members as well. The wife of Ted P., a registrant from Michigan, had worked for a company for five years. One of her co-workers found Ted P.’s name on the state’s website (for a conviction that happened 15 years earlier). The co-worker “told the other employees and started giving my wife a hard time.” The job became so difficult that she decided to resign and look for other employment318 

In Florida several people posted printouts from the state’s sex offender website identifying their new neighbor, Sam Z., as a sex offender. They repeatedly plastered the running route of Sam Z.’s wife and their son’s bus stop with copies of the printout. Their campaign of harassment succeeded in driving the family from the neighborhood. The family sold the home they had built themselves and moved to another community, where they again faced overt hostility, as Sam Z.’s wife explained to Human Rights Watch:

We built another home similar to the one we sold [in a remote area not far from where they had moved] … We also added an 8 ft. privacy fence, a security system, a gated entry w/ keypad, and a surveillance system. When we first started building [the new home], our neighbors met with the homeowners’ association of our new home and discussed ways to eradicate us from the neighborhood. Several neighbors took part in posting flyers on trees, mailboxes, and poles. A police officer along with three others pulled Jeff's original records, made copies, and distributed them throughout the neighborhood. I met with the Chief Inspector of the County and aired my concerns. He spoke with an Officer and, immediately after that meeting, there were no other problems in the neighborhood. No one speaks to us with the exception of one couple but no one has threatened us with weapons directly or vandalized our home.

We are praying that we can live here without future harassment. I purposely drive my son to and from school so there are no problems on the bus or at the bus stop with other parents. My son socializes with other students who do not live in our neighborhood.

The monetary loss [of buying a new home] is nothing compared to the emotional toll it's taken on my family. I know I've aged in the last three years considerably. I look at pictures of our wedding and cannot believe I looked that way only three years ago. My hair is turning gray, the lines on the face are so pronounced. I've gained weight. My son has become more withdrawn and stays on his computer most of the time.319

Private and Public Landlords 

Private landlords increasingly require criminal background checks from prospective tenants and refuse to rent to those with criminal records. Registered sex offenders have a particularly difficult time finding landlords willing to rent to them. As one registrant told Human Rights Watch, “I have been turned down from a number of apartments. When I asked one landlord why I was rejected (because I have a good credit and rental history) he said he checked the online registry and saw me listed.   He told me he does that search for all his tenants.”320 In an effort to exclude “dangerous sex offenders” from regular public housing, federal law prohibits anyone subject to lifetime registration on a state sex offender registries from admission to public housing.321

With no one willing to rent to them, particularly when the registered offender has been the recipient of a lot of media attention, many registered sex offenders face homelessness. Some local law enforcement officials have tried to help sex offenders from becoming homeless. When they fail, they improvise. A local sheriff in Oregon spent months searching for a landlord willing to rent to Bruce E., a registered sex offender with a mental health diagnosis. He was unsuccessful, so in the end the county spent $45 for a camping tent with an army surplus cot. “Transitional housing” for Bruce E. was, as a result, a tent in a yard behind the jail with a tin can for a toilet.322 Bruce E. was moved to a $155-a-week motel when he contracted pneumonia after a period of cold weather.323Rory W., a convicted sex offender who completed his prison sentence, was housed in a tent outside of downtown Bellingham, Washington when he was unable in 2003 to find a place to live in the community.324

In Suffolk County, New York, officials have resorted to placing sex offenders in county-owned trailers that will be moved periodically around the county.325 The officials explained their policy, “Finding housing resources for sex offenders in nonresidential areas is very difficult, so the trailer allows us to create housing in a nonresidential area.”326 A social worker who works with convicted sex offenders expressed reservations about the plan: “Its going to be a challenge, because every now and then they will be moved and have to figure out how to get to work. If people start showing up late for work, they can get fired.”327

Housing and Public Safety

Individuals released from prison who have stable housing may be less likely to reoffend than their counterparts.328 

Human Rights Watch knows of no studies that specifically address the connection between reoffending by sex offenders and housing. Nevertheless, those who work closely with convicted sex offenders believe it plays an important factor in their reintegration. For example, New Hampshire’s chief parole and probation officer concluded recently that sex offenders readjust to society better when they have access to “employment, housing, family support, [and] social interaction.”329 

Suicide and Despair

I thought of suicide because I felt people were talking bad about me.  Maybe some people want for me to die. Maybe that’s what this law is about, to cause enough stress on the offender so he will take his own life. 

—Frankie A., registrant in Texas convicted of possessing child pornography330

A number of the sex offenders and their family members with whom Human Rights Watch spoke talked of ending the ordeal of sex offender laws and the consequences that flow from it by taking their own lives. 

One sex offender told Human Rights Watch that despite being employed, and suffering no overt threats from his neighbors, he “fear[s] that with the changing laws and the views of all sex offenders being dangerous, this may change. I am constantly haunted by this and it has left me to live a shell of a life. It has made it very difficult to make friends, do the things I used to enjoy, and has left me with suicidal thoughts nearly every day. Luckily, I am talking with professionals for my mental health, but the thoughts are still there.”331

One mother said of her son, convicted of a statutory rape offense for having sex with his girlfriend several years his junior, “[He is] failing in all areas of life and … has often said that he should just kill himself. I do believe that there are already young men who have committed suicide and sadly, who like my son felt that a lifetime sentence for a youthful offense is just too damning … I do believe … that if I cannot get help soon that I will lose him and not to a prison, but to the ultimate absolute: death.”332

The daughter of a Florida registrant told Human Rights Watch, “My father also became extremely depressed and I am often afraid of him ending his life. Everything has been taken away from him and it must be so hard. The future looks grim. It seems like each month, another living restriction is placed for offenders.”333 

Justin F. died of a drug overdose shortly after being told he would have to register as a sex offender. He was prosecuted, along with three other teenage boys, for statutory rape in Michigan after a 14-year-old girl’s parents found their daughter’s “sex diary,” which detailed sexual encounters the girl had had with over 20 partners between the ages of 14 and 20. Initially, the four defendants in the sex diary case were spared registration requirements when the judge allowed them to enter a guilty plea to the lesser offense of seduction.334 However, subsequent changes to Michigan law required registration for the charge of seduction, and the four young men were required to register. 

Justin F.’s parents said that they believed that “learning he would live as a marked man came as a shock.”335 After his death, Justin F.’s parents pledged to work to “make the sex-offender list more meaningful.” “The sex offender list was created so that people could know if there is a predator in their neighborhood,” Justin F.’s father said. “Justin was not a predator, he was not a threat to anyone, and he should not have been on that list.”336

Clovis Claxton, a developmentally disabled 38-year-old from Florida who lived with his parents, killed himself after neighbors posted laminated reproductions of his entry on the state’s online sex offender registry throughout his neighborhood.337  Whoever posted the signs, however, had altered them, scrawling the words “Child Rapist” on them. Claxton was, in fact, not a child rapist. At 20, he had the mental capacity of a 10-to-12-year-old due to meningitis as a child, and he pled guilty to inappropriately touching an eight-year-old neighbor.338 None of this information, however, was reflected on the registry.

After seeing the signs, Claxton had called the local police, telling then that he was frightened that he would be harmed; he also threatened suicide.339 The morning after he called the police, Claxton was found dead of an apparent suicide, with one of the flyers lying next to him.340

“I think this is a clear example of an unintended consequence which can occur when we go beyond what we call police protocol when handling sex offenders,” the local sheriff told a newspaper. But the county commissioner, who initially proposed the idea of public posting, said that people had a right to know who their neighbors were. “I don’t blame his death to the signs,” he told the press. “That (death) doesn’t deter me from the proposal to do the best job of informing people in their neighborhoods … [it] has in no way removed my efforts.”

The local paper reported that many of Claxton’s neighbors were saddened by his death, but others, “who did not want their names published, said they were glad there was one fewer sex offender to worry about.”341

265 Email communication from Jessie K. to Human Rights Watch, June 15, 2006.

266 US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ), “Sex Offender Community Notification: Assessing the Impact in Wisconsin,” December 2000, (accessed August 24, 2007), p. 10. The study surveyed 30 sex offenders subject to community notification in Wisconsin. The results: 83 percent reported that notification resulted in “exclusion from residence,” 77 percent reported “threats/harassment,” 67 percent reported “emotional harm to family members,” and being “ostracized by neighbors/acquaintances,” and 50 percent reported “loss of employment.” See also, Levenson and 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,” vol.21, no.1 (2005), Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, pp. 67-81.

267 There has been no national survey on the extent of threats and assaults on registrants. Indeed, of those states that responded to Human Rights Watch’s query, none had in place any formal mechanisms for receiving such reports. Most state registration officials we spoke to told Human Rights Watch that registrants could contact local law enforcement if they experienced any harassment or violence.

268 Levenson and Cotter, “The Effects of Megan’s Law;” Tewksbury, “Collateral Consequences.”

269 Registrant suicides (and other consequences) are chronicled on this website: (accessed December 15, 2005).

270 Ibid.

271 Levenson and Cotter, “The Effects of Megan’s Law,” pp. 49-66.

272 Ibid.

273 Ibid.

274 Ibid.

275 John Pain, “Sex-Offender Restrictions Leave 5 Men Living Under Miami Bridge,” Associated Press, April 8, 2007.

276 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Walter D., December 4, 2006.

277 Smith v. Doe 538 U.S. 84, 1156 (Thomas, C., concurring).

278 Email communication from Carl B. to Human Rights Watch, February 16, 2005.

279 Va Code Ann. §18.2-370.4.

280 Letter to Cliff M., a registered sex offender in Colorado, July 20, 2005, on file with Human Rights Watch.

281 Email communication from Sarah V., mother of a registered offender in Oklahoma, to Human Rights Watch, July 6, 2005.

282 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a parole officer in Michigan who requested anonymity, December 5, 2006.

283 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a parole officer in Arizona who requested anonymity, November 28, 2006.

284 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a parole officer in Florida who requested anonymity, March 28, 2007.

285 Email communication from Lyndon G. to Human Rights Watch, January 5, 2006.

286 Email communication from Matt W. to Human Rights Watch, February 28, 2005.

287 CSOM, “Time to Work: Managing the Employment of Sex Offenders under Community Supervision,” January 2002, (accessed August 24, 2007), p. 1.

288 P. Gendreau, T. Little, and C. Goggin, “A Meta-Analysis of the Predictors of Adult Criminal Recidivism: What Works,” Criminology, vol. 34 (1996), pp. 575-607.

289 Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, “Assessing Risk Among Sex Offenders in Virginia,” January 15, 2001, (accessed August 24, 2007).

290 R. Karl Hanson and Andrew Harris, Department of the Solicitor General of Canada, “Dynamic Predictors of Sexual Offense Recidivism,” 1988, (accessed August 24, 2007).

291 Candace Kruttschnitt, Christopher Uggen, and Kelly Shelton, “Predictors of Desistance among Sex Offenders: The Interactions of Formal and Informal Social Controls,” Justice Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 1 (2000), pp. 61-87.

292 Email communication from Tom K. to Human Rights Watch, January 11, 2006.

293 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Shirley Turner, October 11, 2006.

294 A.A. v. State of New Jersey, CA: No. A-002153-0441, Appellant’s Brief.

295 The United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N. T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, on June 8, 1992. The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the ICCPR, has noted that under the Covenant, states must protect their residents “not just against violations of Covenant rights by its agents, but also against acts committed by private persons or entities that would impair the enjoyment of Covenant rights.” Moreover, public officials violate their obligations under the Covenant when they permit or fail “to take appropriate measures or to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate, or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.” UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation on States Parties to the Covenant, U.N.Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (2004), (accessed June 19, 2006), para. 8.

296 Through New Jersey’s internet registry, the public may, without restriction, obtain access to the following information about registrants who have been deemed to be at moderate or high risk of reoffense, and for whom a court has ordered community notification: the offender’s name and any aliases used; any sex offense committed, with a brief description; the offender’s assessed risk of reoffense; the offender’s age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair, eye color and distinguishing marks; a photograph of the offender; a description of the offender’s car and license plate number; and the street address, zip code, municipality and county in which the offender resides.

297 A.A. v. State of New Jersey, CA: No. A-002153-0441, Appellant’s Brief. 

298 E.B. v. Verniero, 119 F.3d 1077, 1102 (3d Cir. 1997). 

299 Email communication from Betty L. to Human Rights Watch, February 10, 2005. 

300 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Donald V., August 11, 2006.

301 Gary Hunter, “Ex Con ’Helps Police’ By Trying to Murder Sex Offenders,” Prison Legal News, June 2004, p. 7. Trant was sentenced to 10-30 years in prison after pleading guilty to attempted murder of two registrants. He told a reporter that he was “morally justified” in doing what he did. “I think I’m a good guy; I don’t think I should receive this kind of punishment. I thought people would accept it. But I was wrong. I hope I’ve done a service to the community … These guys are sexual terrorists. “Man Anticipates Support, not Jail, for Attacking Pedophiles,” Portsmouth Herald (NH), May 6, 2005.

302 Corey Kilgannon, “Threats of Violence as Homes for Sex Offenders Cluster in Suffolk,” New York Times, October 9, 2006. 

303 Ibid.

304 Kira Millage, “Charges Filed in Double Homicides,” Bellingham Herald, September 9, 2005. 

305 Kira Millage, “Suspect Sought after Double Homicide in City,” Bellingham Herald, August 28, 2005.

306 Ibid.

307 Ibid.

308 California, Cal Pen Code §290.4(c); Connecticut, Conn. Gen. Stat. §54-258a; Idaho, Idaho Code §18-8326(2007); Hawaii, HRS §846E-3(g); Kentucky, KRS §17.580(3); Massachusetts, ALM GL ch.6, §178N; Mississippi, Miss. Code Ann. §45-33-51; New Jersey, N.J. Stat. §2C:7-16(b); New York, NY CLS Correc §168-q(2); Pennsylvania, 42 Pa.C.S. §9798.1(b)(2); South Carolina, S.C. Code Ann §23-3-510; Utah, Utah Code Ann. §77-27-21.5(22); Vermont, 13 V.S.A. §5411a(h)(2007); Virginia, Va. Code Ann. §9.1-919(2007); and Washington D.C. D.C. Code §22-4011(d).

309 See, for example, New York, NY CLS Correc §168-q(2); Michigan, MCLS §28.730.

310 New Jersey, N.J. Stat §2C:7-16(c); California, Cal Pen Code §290.4(d)(2).

311 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Shirley Turner, October 11, 2006.

312 “Sex Offender Murderer Kills Self,” Associated Press, April 17, 2006.

313 Ibid.

314 John R. Ellement and Suzanne Smalley, “Sex Crime Disclosure is Questioned: Maine Killings Refuel Debate Over Registries,” Boston Globe, April 18, 2006.

315 Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Missouri.

316 Letter from Linda L., wife of a California registrant, to Human Rights Watch, May 21, 2005.

317 Email communication from Marcus T. to Human Rights Watch, July 4, 2005.

318 Email communication from Ted P. to Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2005.

319 Email communication from Diane Z. to Human Rights Watch, June 1, 2005.

320 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Tom M., November 13, 2006.

321 42 USCS § 13663 (2004) explicitly purports to deny ’dangerous’ sex offenders from such housing, but in fact, requires Public Housing Authorities (PHA) to deny eligibility to anyone listed on a state sex offender registry for life. Many PHAs go beyond federal law and ban all sex offenders from living in public housing. In 1999, a Washington State local PHA found that three of its public housing residents were convicted sex offenders. Because it interpreted federal law to mean that sex offenders were ineligible for housing assistance, the PHA sought to evict Mr. Demmings, a convicted sex offender who had been living without incident in the development since 1996 and was compliant with his treatment plan. Demmings argued both that he posed no risk to other tenants, and that he suffered from a documented mental illness. While the court expressed sympathy and “applaud[ed] his successful rehabilitation,” Housing Authority v. Demmings, 2001 Wash. App. LEXIS 2276 (Wa. Ct. App 2001), 3-4, it affirmed Demmings’ eviction nonetheless. The court concluded its opinion by noting, “The rule is harsh as to all sex offenders who increasingly struggle to find housing upon their release … The rule is, however, reasonable.” Ibid., p. 9.

322 Andrew Kramer, “Oregon Houses Paroled Sex Offender in Tent,” Associated Press, August 4, 2003.

323 “Sex Offender Kept in Tent Gets Pneumonia,” Associated Press, November 17, 2003. 

324 “Sex Offender Living in Tent,” Bellingham Herald, August 8, 2003. 

325 Brandon Rain, “Sex Offenders Moved from Neighborhoods—by the Trailer,” Newsday, February 16, 2007.

326 Ibid.

327 Ibid.

328 For example, a 2004 study tracked almost 50,000 individuals who were released from New York State prisons and returned to New York City between 1995 and 1998. Eleven percent of these individuals entered a city homeless shelter, and 33 percent of that group were reincarcerated within two years of their release. Shelter use, both before incarceration and after release, was associated with an increased risk of return to prison: risk of reincarceration increased 23 percent with pre-release shelter stay, and 17 percent with post-release shelter stay. Stephen Metraux and Dennis P. Culhane, "Homeless Shelter Use and Reincarceration Following Prison Release: Assessing the Risk," Criminology & Public Policy, vol. 3, no. 2 (2004), pp. 201-222. A national study found that two-thirds of former prisoners who did not have stable housing recommitted crimes within the first 12 months of release, whereas only one-quarter of those who obtained housing reoffended in the same time frame. Jeremy Travis, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul, The Urban Institute, “From Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Re-entry,” June 2001, (accessed August 24, 2007).

329 Mark Hayward, “Registered Sex Offenders in the Community: From Prisoners to Pariahs,” Union Leader, June 4, 2006. 

330 Email communication from Frankie A. to Human Rights Watch, January 5, 2005.

331 Email communication from Jarrod B. to Human Rights Watch, July 22, 2005.

332 Email communication from Brenda H. to Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2005.

333 Letter from Elizabeth L. to Human Rights Watch, October 12, 2005.

334 “Teens get Probation in Sex Case,” Associated Press, October 22, 2002.

335 Marsha Low, “Oakland Youth in Sex Diary Case Found Dead; Parents Blame Overdose,” Detroit Free Press, March 23, 2004.

336 Ibid.; Carolyn Starks and Jeff Long, “Abuser Killed Self, Family Says,” Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2005 (registrant took his own life after he was taunted by neighbors and his home was set ablaze).

337 Cara Buckley, “Town Torn over Molester’s Suicide,” Miami Herald, April 23, 2005; Daniel Ruth, “Who was the Rape Threat to the Town?” Tampa Tribune, April 27, 2005.

338 Ibid.

339 Ibid.

340 Ibid.

341 Mabel Perez, “Sex Offender Found Dead: Family says Flyers Led to Apparent Suicide,” Star Banner (Florida), April 22, 2005.