Recent developments focus on how the community emphasizes the use of sex offender registries as a means for safety and protection. One consequence of such efforts is that it can raise public awareness and keep individuals from wanting to reside within these communities where male sex offenders dwell (Beck, 2004, p. 166). The prospective qualitative study draws on data from an online questionnaire presented to 200 students from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and is used to assess whether individuals of a certain race who are females, parents, or have a history of sexual trauma are more likely than others to refuse living in a neighborhood where a local sex offender reside. Findings are expected to show that those who perceive themselves as threats (i.e. Caucasian women, parents, those with previous sexual encounters) are more likely to refuse living in an area where a nearby sex offender resides. The age and race of the mock sex offenders are also expected to have a significant difference on the public’s response as juvenile African American male sex offenders were viewed as the greatest threat. Implications for current policies and future research are discussed.
Effects of Offender Registry on Public Perception
In the field of social psychology, much of the central focus tends to be related to how one becomes affected by their environmental atmosphere. However research that focuses on the tendency to display self avoidance in relation to the exposure of sex offenders is often minimal. Previous research has suggested that receiving notification that a sex offender has moved into a community can significantly influence perceived risk of victimization and the behaviors individuals engage in to protect themselves and their loved ones (Beck, Ramsey, & Travis, 2004). Although this may be predictable, there is an essential need to understand the cognitive factors that may contribute to the onset of one’s perception of what a “threat” is.
One of the most common challenges in reintroducing sex offenders into society is not only understanding the mental effect that it can have on the perpetrator but also the effect that it may have on the community. In today’s world, the use of sex offender notification is common and has been utilized as a means to alert the community of the necessity for safety precautions. As Herman (2007) discussed, the use of sex offender registration derived from a convicted sex offender named Jesse Timmendequas who lured a young girl named Megan Kanka into his home in New Jersey. After he sexually assaulted and killed her, questions derived as to how the release of sex offenders should be handled for the purpose of reducing recidivism rates. As a result, Megan’s Law was created in which notification of sex offenders became important as perpetrators were then ranked into three tiers according to the level and severity of their offense. Such a method is believed to be resourceful in protecting society and taking preventable measures of one’s safety.
Although it is sometimes believed that sex offender registry may reduce public fear, Levenson, Brannon, Fortney & Baker (2007) discovered that community members often believe that sex offenders have high recidivism rates, view sex offenders as a homogeneous group with regard to risk, and are skeptical about the benefits of sex offender treatment. In addition it was discovered that females were significantly noticed amongst the population to be more likely frightened or angry about a sex offender moving into their neighborhood. Perhaps this may be due to the noticeable victimization within the female population. Although it is possible for a female to be convicted of a sexual offense, there is no need to compare the perception of threat that females have in the community as opposed to males since research shows that women are less likely than men to commit such offenses (Hollin & Palmer, 2006, p. 181). Instead, more focus should be derived on how the community (both men and women) perceives male sex offenders according to the different characteristics that the offender displays.