Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Attitudes toward Sex Offender Policies and Laws

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Attitudes toward Sex Offender Policies and Laws

Article excerpt

Beginning with the passage of The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act in 1994 and Megan's Law in 1996, the federal government and states have passed numerous pieces of legislation to control and restrict those convicted of sex offenses. This study surveyed the attitudes of undergraduate students toward sex offender policies and laws. Students indicated strong support for sex offender registration, community notification, residence restrictions, and treatment for sex offenders. There was less support for surgical and chemical castration but the majority of the students support the use of the death penalty for repeat sex offenders. The perspective of the college student today will greatly shape the understanding and attitudes towards the issues related to sex offender policies and laws in the future.

Sex offenders! This is a term that conjures up all sorts of images, stereotypes, and emotions, including fear. Fear of sex offenders in not new nor are the policies and punishments used to supervise and control sex offenders.

Over the past two decades policies and laws concerning the monitoring and control of sex offenders have been passed at the local, state and federal level. These policies and laws concern issues such as sex offender registration, community notification when a sex offender moves into a neighborhood, residence restrictions limiting where sex offenders may live, electronic monitoring and more. A 2008 report by the Vera Institute identifies six significant trends in sex offender legislation including stricter sentencing, enhanced registration requirements, expanded community notification, more residency restrictions, the spread of electronic monitoring, and the growth of civil commitment (Velazquez, 2008).

Public attitudes related to sex offenders have been shaped by special interest groups and the media. Major legislation resulted from issues related to the high profile disappearances of a number of children. Six-year old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981 and his remains were discovered approximately two weeks later (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2015). Eleven year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted near his Minnesota home in 1989 and he has never been found (Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, 2015). In 1994, seven-year-old Megan Kanka of New Jersey was lured into the home of a neighbor to be brutally raped and murdered. The offender in this case had already served prison time for the attempted sexual assault of a child and the neighborhood was not aware a convicted sex offender was living in their midst (Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation, 2015).

As a result of these incidents a number of major pieces of legislation established the requirements for sex offender registration and community notification. The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994 established guidelines for sex offender registries and required states to track sex offenders for ten years in the community (Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART), 2015). Megan's Law was first passed in New Jersey and by the mid-1990s was passed in all fifty states. The federal act (Megan's Law) was passed by Congress in 1996 and allowed sex offender registry information to be released to the public and required states to notify the public about dangerous sex offenders living in their area (SMART, 2015).

In 1996 Congress passed The Pam Lyncher Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 requiring the establishment of the National Sex Offender Registry to enable the FBI to track sex offenders (SMART, 2015). The Jacob Wetterling Act was amended in 1997 requiring states to participate in the National Sex Offender Registry (SMART, 2015). The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 "required states to maintain a web site containing registry information, and required the Department of Justice to maintain a website with links to each state web site" (SMART, 2015). …

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