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The Effects of Sex Offender Laws on the Sexual Health of Minors and on the Residential Geography of Crime Commission

a PSC Small Fund Research Project

Investigator:   J.J. Prescott

The aims of these projects are to identify and measure the causal relationships between sex offender registration and notification laws (i.e., public sex offender registries) and (1) the levels of child sexual abuse and STDs among minors and (2) where sex offenses occur relative to where convicted (known and unknown) sex offenders reside.

Sex offender registration and notification requirements may affect abuse rates through multiple channels: Requiring private registration with authorities can facilitate monitoring by the police of convicted sex offenders and notifying the public of nearby potential recidivists allows potential victims (or their parents) to take additional precautions. Moreover, fear of being publicly identified as a sex offender if caught and convicted raises the costs of crime for non-registered, potential offenders. Indeed, when statutory rape is covered by registration and notification laws, the possibility of becoming a “registered sex offender” may be especially likely to reduce the extent of abusive, coercive, and even consensual (but illegal) sexual contact between older and younger minors or between two underage minors.

We examine these potential channels in two ways. First, we use STD data as a measure for the frequency of sexual abuse of children and information on the passage and implementation of sex offender registration and notification laws at the state level, particularly as they apply to minor offenders and consensual sex between minors, to examine the consequences of these laws for child sexual abuse rates and for the sexual health of minors more generally. Second, we join past and current addresses of registered sex offenders with crime data in Maryland to study how rates of crimes (including rape) change when the number of sex offenders living in an area changes and when the identity and proximity of nearby offenders becomes known, as it does halfway through our sample period.

Funding Period: 02/01/2011 to 06/30/2012

Country of Focus: USA

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