rare, but highly-publicized, kidnapping and murder of a child.59 In general, these types of stories
are appealing to journalists because they involve sex and murder and offer a narrative to the
audience.60 The random and public nature of the events makes the audience fearful that there is a
sexual predator on the loose in their community.61 This media-fueled fear, combined with the
public outcry after the death of each child, led to legislation that only protected children from a
rare type of sexual predator.62 The laws focused on “stranger danger” rather than seeking to assist
the vast majority of victims who are abused by someone they know.63
In 1990, Washington was the first state to pass comprehensive sex offender laws.64 Like
most of the state and federal laws subsequently enacted, it was created in response to two cases of
sexual assault and torture of children.65 The perpetrators were both prior offenders who had
served only finite sentences and, despite both making statements preceding the events indicating
that they planned to commit the crimes, the community had no means of tracking their
whereabouts.66 The Washington state legislature passed the Community Protection Act of 1990,
which contained fourteen means by which the community could regulate convicted sexual
offenders.67 Other states, as well as the federal government, soon began enacting similar
legislation.68 After two decades of legislative reform, there is now a set of federal laws governing
the regulation of sexual offenders: the Jacob Wetterling Act, Megan’s Law, and the Adam Walsh
Child Protection and Safety Act.69 In addition to the federal laws, a number of states during this
time passed legislation imposing other types of restrictions on convicted sexual offenders.70
A. The Jacob Wetterling Act
In October 1989 in St. Paul, Minnesota, a masked gunman abducted eleven-year-old
Jacob Wetterling from a group of three boys, including Jacob, his brother Trevor, and his friend
Aaron.71 Ten months earlier, a masked gunman had abducted another boy and sexually abused
him in a car before releasing him.72 The police later discovered evidence suggesting that the same
individual perpetrated both crimes.73 Jacob is still missing and his case remains open.74 His
friends and family organized the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center with the mission to “educate
59 Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54.
60 ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 84.
64 Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54, at 74.
65 Id. The first case was that of Wesley Allan Dodd, who was eventually executed for kidnapping, sexually molesting, and murdering
three boys. Id. The second case was that of Earl Shriner who cut off a seven-year-old boy’s penis and left him for dead after sexually
assaulting him. Id. Both men stated prior to the perpetration that they intended to commit the acts, but because the state of Washington
could only require finite sentences at that time, the state could not monitor their activities. Id. This prompted the passage of legislation
that allowed for the monitoring of known sexual perpetrators. Id. at 74–75.
66 Id. at 74.
67 Id. The fourteen means by which the community could regulate convicted sexual offenders were related to the punishment or
management of sexual predators, but this law also contained the first community notification statute, and the first statute allowing for
civil commitment of sexual offenders. Id.
68 Id. at 74–75.
69 Id. at 65–66.
70 Id. at 66.
71 Wilson, supra note 7, at 515; Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, Jacob’s Story, GUNDERSON NAT’L CHILD PROTECTION TRAINING
CTR., http://www.gundersenhealth.org/ncptc/jacob-wetterling-resource-center/who-we-are/history/jacobs-story (last visited Mar. 13,