Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Child Sex Offenders

Megan's Law

Megan Kanka
Megan Kanka

Megan Kanka's parents had no idea that a twice-convicted sex offender lived close by until after their seven-year-old daughter had been raped and murdered. New Jersey passed a law in 1994 requiring sex offenders to register with local police, and other states quickly followed. Although Washington State had the first such regulations in 1990, it was not until after Megan Kanka's brutal assault that national attention was focused on the issue of sexual predators living among families. In 1996, President Clinton signed a nationwide Megan's Law that allowed each state to establish its own criteria for disclosure, but compelled all of them to make information on registered sex offenders available to the public. Every state except Hawaii now requires registration, and most post the information on an accessible Web site.

Dru Sjodin
Dru Sjodin

According to sexoffenders.com, released offenders must verify their addresses on an annual basis. This web site lists the following offenses that classify one as a child molester: "aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child, luring or enticing and, if the victim were a minor and the offender not a parent, kidnapping, criminal restraint and false imprisonment." Sex offenders are also classified according to the degree of risk they pose to the community — not an easy assessment to make, even for professionals.

Alfonso Rodriguez
Alfonso Rodriguez

And registration is not without controversy. Some advocates for the offenders believe that the registries and public notifications harm both the offenders and their families. There have been cases in which communities have run the offenders out of town or even become violent vigilantes. Where children are concerned, community safety considerations often outweigh the personal rights of the offenders.

In 2004, says Richard Willing in USA Today, states across the country became aggressive about enforcing the registration laws. Dozens of offenders were arrested who had failed to notify the police about their addresses. Some of this was precipitated by the kidnap and murder of Dru Sjodin in North Dakota. Convicted offender Alfonso Rodriguez had moved within his home state of Minnesota, where he was registered, but it put him close to the border of North Dakota. He slipped over, abducted his victim and killed her. No one in North Dakota even thought to check Minnesota registries, so the public pressured for a national register to enable authorities to track mobile offenders.

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