A vast majority of all childhood sexual abuse goes unreported.45 Only ten percent of all
survivors of child sex abuse notify the authorities of their experience.46 This means that around
ninety percent of victims do not report incidents of child sexual abuse, and their abusers could
remain anonymous in their communities.47 Victims choose not to come forward to report their
abuse for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons that victims do not come forward is
because they usually feel shame and embarrassment about their experiences.48 The pressure that
children feel to be accepted by their peers affects their daily behavior, so children are commonly
embarrassed by their experience.49 Children also often believe that they have somehow done
something to merit the abuse and are therefore to blame for its occurrence.50 In other cases, the
abusers threaten to harm the child or the child’s family should the child tell someone, or give the
child gifts and special attention in exchange for keeping the abuse secret.51 If the abuser is
someone in the victim’s family, it is particularly difficult for the victim to choose to report the
abuse due to a fear of having to see the abuser again or that no one in the victim’s family will
believe him or her.52
The secretive nature of child sex abuse and the propensity of children to hold onto that
secret for years at a time create unique circumstances. The fact that only ten percent of victims
report their abuse, coupled with this secrecy makes it difficult to identify abusers.53 Accordingly,
when a number of children died at the hands of abusers in the early 1990s,54 federal and state
legislatures reacted by focusing on punishing known abusers in hopes that it would have a
deterrent effect on others.55 These types of laws are referred to as memorial laws since
legislatures enacted them after highly-publicized kidnappings, sexual assaults, or murders of
children.56 Though states and local jurisdictions have enacted their own local laws, the national
memorial laws enacted since the early 1990s provide states with a set of primary regulatory
policies for monitoring sexual offenders.57
III. FIRST WAVE REFORMS: REGULATING AND PUBLICLY IDENTIFYING KNOWN ABUSERS
The first wave of reforms relating to the regulation of sexual offenders began in the early
1990s and continued through 2006.58 Both the federal and state laws were passed in response to a
45 Miller, supra note 14, at 602–03; OLIVA, supra note 14, at 166; HAMILTON, supra note 4.
46 Miller, supra note 14, at 602–03; HAMILTON, supra note 4. The biggest obstacle that victims of childhood sexual abuse face is
coming forward and reporting the experience. OLIVA, supra note 14, at 163. The secrecy surrounding the abuse also makes it difficult
for criminal investigators once a child victim does come forward. Id.
47 HAMILTON, supra note 4, at 13.
48 Miller, supra note 14, at 603; OLIVA, supra note 14, at 163–64.
49 OLIVA, supra note 14, at 163–64 (noting that the need for children to be accepted by their peers is so strong that it can affect their
future behaviors as adults. When children do not report abuse because of the embarrassment they feel about the abuse, and fear being
ostracized by their peers, then that confusion and the “bad” feelings will continue until the abuse stops).
50 Id. at 164 (highlighting the fact that children have a limited understanding of what is happening to them when they are being
sexually abused. Thus, all they understand is that they feel bad, and that is connected to feelings of guilt or worry that they did
51 Id. at 166–67.
52 Id. at 165.
53 Miller, supra note 14, at 602–03; HAMILTON, supra note 4.
54 Karen J. Terry & Alissa R. Ackerman, A Brief History of Major Sex Offender Laws, in SEX OFFENDER LAWS: FAILED POLICIES,
NEW DIRECTIONS 65, 65 (Richard G. Wright ed., 2009).
55 Wilson, supra note 7, at 518.
56 Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54.
58 Id. at 65; LAURA J. ZILNEY & LISA ANNE ZILNEY, PERVERTS AND PREDATORS: THE MAKING OF SEXUAL OFFENDING LAWS 83