The Scary Backlash of the National Sex Offender Registry: What You Need To Know

Scale of Justice depicting the Scary Backlash of the National Sex Offender Registry

Do you know anyone who has their name on the National Sex Offender Registry?

Let’s take a look at a podcast presented by American Public Media Reports. Season one of the In The Dark has one of the most critical parts of the creation of a National Sex Offender Registry. It is detailed in the Jacob Wetterling story.

Back in 1989, the year Jacob was abducted and murdered by Danny Heinrich, there was no such thing as a public list of sex offenders. In fact, local police departments often didn’t keep that information handy for easy communication with each other or with the FBI if children went missing.

It all started to change when 6-year-old Etan Patz was abducted in New York in 1979, Adam Walsh was murdered in Florida in 1981, and 12-year-old Johnny Gosch disappeared in West Des Moines in 1982.

Public Fear

By 1989, public fear over stranger abductions was growing. However, Patty Wetterling, Jacob’s mother, says she didn’t know about the victimization of children. After Jacob went missing, Patty became involved in creating the 1994 – Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. It was responsible for creating the National Sex Offender Registry.

The incredible thing is that now Patty is against how far the registry has gone. She spends her time advocating for the treatment of sex offenders.

What Happened To Patty?

What Patty found out after Jacob went missing was that there was no list of the names and addresses of known child molesters for easy access by law enforcement to rule out suspects in her son’s case.

In fact, there was no regulation for the access of this information. When law enforcement did begin to compile a list of known sex offenders in her area, she was shocked to find out that numerous pedophilic clerics and priests had been housed in a local Abbey over the years.
One local pastor who had reached out to the Wetterlings in early days after Jacob’s abduction had been a convicted child molester. Patty hadn’t known any of it.

When they were creating the Jacob Wetterling Act, Patty’s idea was for a list accessible to law enforcement only. She rightly thought it would be a good idea to have an easy way to keep tabs on known child molesters so that they could be ruled out in the event of an abduction. However, the act has been added to many times since 1994.

Does the National Sex Offender Registry Help?

The first thing that happened was that the sex offender registries became public. Over time, they also grew to include sex offenses other than violent crimes or crimes against children.

Under President Obama, sex offenders were required to have a marking on their passports. This has never been done for any other crime in this country. Now, teenagers routinely get put on this registry for life, for crimes like sexting or public urination.

Is it working? Do sex offender registries keep offenders from re-offending?

Patty Wetterling doesn’t look at the registries anymore. She says they don’t do anything. What she wants are no more victims. Additionally, she wants parents and children to live in the world Jacob lived in before he was abducted: a world that was safe, and happy.

Sex Offenders Aren’t Who We Think

Did you know that stranger abduction account for less than 1% of all sex crimes against children? Most sex offenses against children are perpetrated by someone the child knows.

The truth is, sex offender registries may be making the problem worse. Recidivism rates for sex offenders are low anyway – about 15% according to most of the latest research. In addition, as in Jacob Wetterling’s case, where the actual killer hadn’t been convicted of child molestation, the real dangerous perpetrators haven’t been caught yet.

For those on the sex offender registry who do re-offend, the research also shows that being on the registry did the most to contribute to it. In many states, registered sex offenders can’t live within a certain distance from any schools or day cares. They have trouble getting jobs or renting apartments because of the stigma of their status.

Research shows that the opposite treatment – stable housing, jobs, and community support – is what actually prevents sex offender recidivism. However, laws like the Jacob Wetterling Act and the ones that came after have made it all but impossible.


In conclusion, having your name on the National Sex Offender Registry is life-altering.

If you have been accused of a sex crime, it is critical that you consult with an experienced defense attorney. Contact my office today.

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