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Sex Offender Registries Give False Security

January 4, 2010

delmarvanow.com : Sex offender registries give ‘false’ security.

Residents mourned the death of Sarah Haley Foxwell after investigators found her body two days after she was reported missing. The news sent parents searching for sex offenders in their neighborhoods. But professionals who work with sexual assault victims say checking registries for neighboring sex offenders is not the best means of protecting children.

“The sex offender registry gives people a false sense of security,” said Donna Leffew, a clinical director for the Life Crisis Center who has 17 years of experience with victims of child sex abuse. “When children are sexually abused, they rarely tell.” And when they do tell, many times child victims will recant their story, she added.

Residents often assume that a person not listed in the sex offender registry is safe, but the Maryland sex offender registry only includes individuals who have been convicted of a sex offense. In Delaware, only high- and moderate-risk offenders are included in the registry. Individuals classified as high-risk sex offenders have been convicted on charges that include first- or second-degree rape, first-degree unlawful sexual contact and sexual exploitation of a child. Moderate-risk offenders have been convicted on charges that include third- or fourth-degree rape, second-degree unlawful sexual contact and committing a dangerous crime against a child.

“The best way to protect your children is not to leave them alone with anyone,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of the Life Crisis Center.

“Most sex offenders are not convicted, and we need to do a better job of educating parents and children about the risk of child sex abuse from people they know and people in the family who are not on the registry,” said Lisae Jordan, legal counsel for both the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Maryland Children’s Alliance.

“To the extent that the public rely on the registry and the government to protect them from sex offenders, we need to devote the most resources to the offenders that provide the most danger to our children,” Jordan said.

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