While there certainly are individuals who may remain dangerous after their incarceration and supervision, there is a large proportion of non-violent / non-forcible / non-contact / rehabilitated offenders who are on the Registry. Example offenses/offenders include: teens close in age who engaged in consensual sexual activity below the age of consent, teens who were caught sexting images of each other, consenting adults who were caught having sex in public, public urinating while intoxicated, viewing/possessing readily available online child pornography, sex worker/customer activity, etc. These individuals pose very little threat to the general public based on these activities alone, yet they fall under the scary umbrella term, Sex Offender.
The rationale for having the Registry to begin with: that sex offenders have a high recidivism rate and are hard-wired to reoffend, is entirely inaccurate. Department of Justice statistics and a large body of peer-reviewed, scientific criminology/psychology literature have routinely concluded that next to murder, sex offenses have the lowest recidivism rate of any category of crime. Even for the high-risk/violent contact offenders, by 5 years post-release, their recidivism rate is 5%. Further, the recidivism rates include non-sexual crimes and probation/parole/Registry violations, which makes the true repeat sex offense rate around 2-3%
The common perception that sex offenders pose a continuous sociopathic risk to the community stems from a phrase uttered by then SCOTUS Justice, Antony Kennedy in McKune v. Lile, where he stated that sex offenders have a frighteningly high rate of recidivism (80%+). The events leading up to and the aftermath of this false proclamation are highlighted by Jacob Sullum’s article: https://reason.com/2017/09/14/im-appalled-says-source-of-pseudo-statis/
90% of children are sexually abused by someone known to them, not some masked stranger hiding in the playground bushes, waiting to pounce
Focusing on the extreme/outlier cases is a great disservice to the public. Doing so with SORNA stokes panic and perpetuates misconceptions. From a policy-making perspective, it uses the horrific actions of a few, along with the public’s fear as a basis for flawed and punitive policies that crush the lives of thousands who are just trying to recover from their past mistakes and redeem themselves.l
Many sex offenders fail to register or keep in compliance because their life is in upheaval, or they are rendered homeless by residency restrictions and/or an inability to obtain employment as a result of the stigma associated with the sex offender label. Further, once a check-point has been missed (like an annual in-person update, a new car registration, reporting a new email, etc.), many are afraid to go to the authorities, thinking they will be apprehended onsite because of their lapse in complianceNOT because they are not avoiding detection for the purpose of preying upon unsuspecting citizens.
It should also be pointed out that since 1,000s of registrants are unaccounted for and most are only discovered when there is a run-in law enforcement, it illustrates that even if registrants are out of compliance, they are otherwise staying out of trouble. If anything, this observation underscores why the current Registry and SORNA is unnecessary and ineffectivethe overwhelming majority of sex offenders do not recidivate. It also provides an explanation as to why law enforcement often chooses not to devote their resources towards tracking down every last sex offender: they know (as well as many other officials who are forced to work within the system) that most registrants pose very little risk; making additional funding towards enforcement of this policy a further waste of money.