"Human Rights Watch appreciates the sense of concern and urgency that has prompted these laws. They reflect a deep public yearning for safety in a world that seems increasingly threatening. Every child has the right to live free from violence and sexual abuse. Promoting public safety by holding offenders accountable and by instituting effective crime prevention measures is a core governmental obligation.
"Unfortunately, our research reveals that sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws are ill-considered, poorly crafted, and may cause more harm than good:
"The registration laws are overbroad in scope and overlong in duration, requiring people to register who pose no safety risk;
"Under community notification laws, anyone anywhere can access online sex offender registries for purposes that may have nothing to do with public safety. Harassment of and violence against registrants have been the predictable result;
"In many cases, residency restrictions have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas and forcing them to live far from their homes and families.
"The evidence is overwhelming, as detailed in this report, that these laws cause great harm to the people subject to them. On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.
"Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit. Registration laws should be narrowed in scope and duration. Publicly accessible online registries should be eliminated, and community notification should be accomplished solely by law enforcement officials. Blanket residency restrictions should be abolished...
"Many child safety and rape prevention advocates believe that millions of dollars are being misspent on registration and community notification programs that do not get at the real causes of child sexual abuse and adult sexual violence. They would like to see more money spent on prevention, education, and awareness programs for children and adults, counseling for victims of sexual violence, and programs that facilitate treatment and the transition back to society for convicted sex offenders.
"As one child advocate told Human Rights Watch, 'When a sex offender succeeds in living in the community, we are all safer.'"
*Excerpted from Human Rights Watch: "No Easy Answers. Sex Offender Laws in the US" http://hrw.org/reports/2007/us0907/1.htm