another sex crime during those three years.191 Other studies suggest that fourteen percent of
sexual offenders recidivate with another sexual offense in the first five years after their release,
but that number rises to twenty-four percent after fifteen years.192 The 2003 study also notes that
offenders who perpetrate sexually against adults tend to recidivate more frequently, and
consequently affect those statistics.193 The rate of recidivism for sexual offenders who abuse
family members, however, is much lower.194 One study found that overall, those convicted of
sexual offenses are more likely to be rearrested for nonsexual crimes and “are among the least
likely criminals to kill their victims.”195
Although the belief that sexual abusers are at a high risk of recidivating is widely held,
there is not enough empirical evidence to support that belief, especially because that belief is
dictating the creation of legislation to regulate offenders.196 Yet the misnomer that the recidivism
rate for child sexual abusers is extremely high is rampant in our legal system.197 It is so ingrained
that many courts have based their interpretation of the legislative intent of registration and
notification laws on this belief.198 In Smith v. Doe, the Supreme Court found that the legislature in
Alaska implemented a registration statute to address the “frightening and high” risk of recidivism
among sex offenders.199 In United States v. Emerson, the Fifth Circuit based its decision to
uphold special conditions of supervised release on the testimony of a U.S. Probation Officer who
stated that, based on his experience, the recidivism rate of sex offenders was seventy percent; the
probation officer did not cite to any authority.200 Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s Wetterling’s mother
and a prominent child safety advocate, even had a change of heart about this type of regulation.201
In 2007, she told the Human Rights Watch that:
I based my support of broad-based community notification laws
on my assumption that sex offenders have the highest recidivism
rates of any criminal. But the high recidivism rates I assumed to
be true do not exist. It has made me rethink the value of broad-
based community notification laws, which operate on the
assumption that most sex offenders are high-risk dangers to the
community they are released into.202
This trend toward registration of known criminals has continued since the passage of
federal legislation. Many state legislatures have proposed new registries ranging from “violent
offender” and drug offense registries, to domestic violence registries.203 In 2007, for example,
Illinois passed the Child Murderer and Violent Offender Against Youth Registration Act,
requiring violent offenders and those who murdered children to register with the state.204 This Act
191 Id. at 24.
192 Finkelhor, supra note 17, at 172; Levenson, supra note 85, at 274 (reporting an average re-arrest rate of fourteen percent over four
to six years).
193 Levenson, supra note 85, at 274 (noting a twenty-four percent recidivism rate over fifteen years for rapists of adults).
194 Finkelhor, supra note 17, at 172.
195 Levenson, supra note 85, at 274.
196 Terry & Ackerman, supra note 54, at 92–93.
197 Yung, supra note 112, at 90.
199 Id. (citing Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 103 (2003)).
200 Id. at 91 (citing United States v. Emerson, 231 F. App’x 349, 352 (5th Cir. 2007)).
201 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 158, at 4.