by JILL LEVENSON, Ph.D.
Recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that a policy banning registered sex offenders from entering Albuquerque's public libraries is unconstitutional. Over the past decade the availability of online sex offender registries has enabled widespread awareness of sexual offenders living in the community, increasing concerns for the safety of children and leading politicians to pass laws restricting where sex offenders can live, work and even be present. Residence restrictions in 30 states and countless municipalities typically prohibit individuals convicted of sex crimes from residing within 500 to 2500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, daycare centers, bus stops and other places where children congregate.
Few court challenges have been successful in overturning such restrictions. Research shows that politicians and citizens are overwhelmingly in favor of such laws, which are often based on stated (but empirically unsupported) assumptions that almost all sex offenders reoffend and that they are immune to therapeutic intervention. In fact, recidivism rates of known sex offenders are much lower than commonly believed, and properly designed treatment, though not equally effective for all offenders, can significantly reduce the risk of re-offending. Restrictions also reinforce the myth of "stranger danger," despite research from the Justice Department indicating that over 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims are well known to their perpetrators, who typically cultivate opportunities for molestation through familiar relationships with relatives and acquaintances. More