Although most of the regulations during the first wave were passed quickly as a response
to public outcry and fear, the basic principle behind each of the acts was to aid law enforcement
in supervising and apprehending offenders who may abuse again, and to help local households
protect themselves from abusers in their neighborhoods.142 Many legislators hoped that these new
regulations would deter potential offenders from either committing crimes in the first place or
discourage them from again committing sex crimes against children.143 Proponents of the Adam
Walsh Act specifically maintained that by implementing these methods of tracking abusers,
communities would see a decrease in the aggregate sex crimes committed.144 They reasoned that
placing known sex offenders on a registry would have a deterrent effect on criminal sexual
activity.145 Finally, proponents of this type of legislation argued that by giving community
members the location and identification of local sex offenders, they would be able to more easily
protect their children.146
The idea of community policing of child sex abusers, or giving citizens notification about
sex abusers, is an important aspect of these notification laws. Notification is psychologically
appealing to communities because it gives community members more control over their
surroundings.147 Legislators continue to turn to this form of attempted crime prevention because it
vests power in individuals in an age where the fear of being a victim of a crime is common.148
Moreover, clinical research shows that people who are able to take control of their own
protection, or even assist in the process, experience empowerment.149 Research also shows that
the public views sex offender laws as effective. A study conducted in Washington State, for
example, indicated that sixty-three percent of the public believed that sex offender laws
encouraged released offenders to avoid re-offense, and seventy-eight felt a greater sense of safety
knowing the location of sexual offenders.150 Furthermore, a study in Florida showed that eighty-three percent of people surveyed felt that community notification laws helped decrease sexual
violence in their community.151 Because of this strong public approval, many of the lawmakers
who supported the registration and notification legislation have been motivated simply by a desire
to appear proactive in the eyes of their constituents, rather than by a belief that this would truly
help reduce child sexual abuse.152
2. Inefficacy of Legislation
Despite the motivations behind and public support of this series of legislation,
registration and notification laws have not provided the deterrent effect that many expected.
Between 1992 and 2006, child sexual abuse decreased by fifty-three percent.153 This decrease,
however, occurred during a period of overall decrease in crime and abuse in general, making it
142 Prescott & Rockoff, supra note 7; Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54, at 93; Levenson, supra note 85 ( “Laws tend to be passed in
response to anomalous cases rather than the statistical probabilities reported by researchers.”).
143 Wilson, supra note 7, at 518.
147 Id. at 541. “Turning over information to the public has been seen not only as a way of maximizing the effectiveness of the existing
law enforcement resources but also as a healthy mechanism for encouraging involvement and investment in the community.” Id.
148 Id. at 541–42. “Public opinion polls have demonstrated that Americans maintain a relatively high level of anxiety about being
victims of crime.” Id. at 542. Responding to public concern, “legislation aimed at restoring a sense of security to the public” is
implemented “in spite of the doubts about the wisdom of such” criminal registries. Id.
149 Id. at 541–42.
150 ZILNEY & ZILNEY, supra note 58, at 121.