Sex Offenders Emotional vs Evidenced-based Policy

Sex Offenders Emotional vs Evidenced-based Policy

Policies are not evidence-based but typically emotion-based & often counterproductive for society.

Child sexual offenders are considered some of society’s worst criminal offenders. Sexual abuse, assault, and rape are almost universally condemned when it comes to children. The impact of these crimes can be devastating including psychological dysfunction, self-esteem loss, and negative lifestyle impacts (Woodhams, Gillett, & Grant, 2007). As a result of the heinous nature of such crimes, policies are made that are not evidence based but typically emotion based which are often counterproductive for society.

There is a real problem in this area of policy making because there is no solid statistics due to the fact that defining sex offenders is an ambiguous area (Chaffin, 2008). There are different severities to the sexual criminal offense and these severities would typically warrant different interventions and treatments (Levenson & D’Amora, 2007). Instead, public sentiment and emotionalism tends to guide policy making with regard to the treatment of sex offenders. This form of policy making has proven to be insufficient to correcting the problem from both a criminal justice and social standpoint (Levenson & D’Amora, 2007). A strong example of this problem is in the one size fits all approach to dealing with sex offenders in the community. Mandatory registration and public notifications have become the standard for many communities to deter behavior but this has been a complete policy failure. Researcher found:

…that a registration requirement without public notification reduces reported sex crime substantially, most likely through better police monitoring and more effective apprehension of recidivists. For a state with an average-sized registry, a registration requirement reduces crime by about 13 percent from the sample mean. The drop in crime gets larger as registries grow larger, indicating that registry laws lower crime by discouraging registered offenders from re-offending, as opposed to discouraging potential first-time offenders (Rockoff & Prescott, 2008).

Statistically, registration without public notification is more effective than announcing to communities. The question is why? The answer may rest in the fact that public notifications have a negative impact on the individual which alienate the person from the community and in the worst cases trigger recidivism. There is also a problem with defining who the sex offender is? What is considered a sex offender in one state is different than in another. Someone who was caught running naked down the street in a drunken stupor in Florida may be considered a sex offender and have to register while in Maryland this person might be charged with public lewdness. The problem is that policy is incoherent because it is not based on science or psychology and potential danger of sex offenders. Ultimately, this is a serious issue for child sex offenders as these individuals can be found guilty, stigmatized, and create serious problems with social integration:

There are also criticisms of the application of these laws to juveniles. The referral of a juvenile to a registry can create significant stigma as the juvenile becomes labeled. Consequently, after having successfully completed sex offender treatment, the juvenile may have significant difficulty reintegrating into an education system if the offender’s peers become aware of his or her appearance on a registry. Recently, an author of this chapter consulted on a 12-year-old girl with significantly delayed social skills who was convicted of Lewd Act on a Minor after she was found playing with several 6-year-old children in her neighborhood and they had all removed their clothing. She could not return to her school of origin after her picture was picked up from her state’s internet sex offender registry and was posted around the school by her peers (Frierson, Dwyer, Bell, & Williamson, 2004).

It is highly likely that many incidents of juvenile sexual offenders and adult sex offenders are being mistreated both legally and from a case work perspective. There are clear indications from the literature that the emotionally based policies are not working to protect communities and may be causing worse outcomes. Clearly, more research is needed both in the defining of the problem and its interventions.


Chaffin, M. (2008). Our Minds Are Made Up — Don’t Confuse Us With the Facts: Commentary on Policies Concerning Children With Sexual Behavior Problems and Juvenile Sex Offenders. Child Maltreat, 13(110).

Frierson, R. L., Dwyer, R. G., Bell, C. C., & Williamson, J. L. (2004). The mandatory registration of juvenile sex offenders and commitment of juveniles as sexually violent predators Controversies and recommendations’. APA, American Psychiatric Association Workshop. APA.

Levenson, J. S., & D’Amora, D. A. (2007, June). Social Policies Designed to Prevent Sexual Violence. The Emperor’s New Clothes? Criminal Justice Policy Review, 18(2), 168–199.

Rockoff, J. E., & Prescott, J. J. (2008). Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior? Journal of Law and Economics, 54(1), 23.

Woodhams, J., Gillett, R., & Grant, T. (2007, February). Understanding the Factors That Affect the Severity of Juvenile Stranger Sex Offenses The Effect of Victim Characteristics and Number of Suspects. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(2), 218–237.

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Thu, Jan 21, 2021. Sex Offenders Emotional vs Evidenced-based Policy Retrieved from

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