Do you know how many registered sex offenders there are in your state? If you found out a registered sex offender lived nearby, what would you do? How close to your home would that person need to live for you to consider moving, and have you ever checked the registry in your state to see which sex offenders live near you?
An estimated 752,000 people are listed on state sex offender registries in the U.S. as of fall 2019, and according to a new SafeHome.org survey, a majority of people have checked the sex offender registry in their state to see how many offenders live near them.
In an exclusive SafeHome.org survey, we polled people on whether they’d consulted their state’s registry and how they would respond to finding out a registered sex offender lived nearby. Our survey ran from roughly mid-October to mid-November 2019, polling more than 500 respondents.
We found that while about 62% of all respondents said they’d consulted their state’s sex offender registry to see if any sex offenders live near them, women were far more likely than men to have searched a registry.
In fact, just over half of men (51.3%) had consulted the registry, while nearly 3 in 4 women (73.4%) had done the same. In every age group, women were more likely to have visited their state’s registry, and the gulf was widest in those between the ages of 35 and 44. In that age group, 82% of women had searched their state’s registry, while only 52% of men that age had done the same. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 were the most likely group among all men to have consulted the registry with 57.3% having done so.
Our survey also measured respondents’ reactions to, theoretically, finding out that a sex offender lived near them by asking how close a potential sex offender would need to live to the respondents’ homes for them to consider packing up and moving.
Interestingly, while men were less likely to have consulted their state’s registry, they were more likely to say they’d move if a sex offender lived next door: 48.6% of men said they’d move if faced with that reality, while only 38.9% of women said the same. Still, large percentages of people across the board said it would take a sex offender living either on the same street or next door — a combined 76% of all respondents.
Do you know how many registered sex offenders there are in your state? In addition to polling respondents on if they’d used the sex offender registry in their state, we also conducted thorough research into how many people are registered in each state, which proved more challenging than one might assume, owing largely to a patchwork of laws and publicly available data across the country.
While the national sex offender registry website does allow users to search their address or zip codes or for the name of specific offenders, the site actually pulls from each state’s individual system. Each state maintains its own registry, some of which allow users to see the total number of registrants, while others don’t. In addition, the states vary in terms of who must register, what that entails and how often verification is done to ensure all those who should be registered have done so.
Finally, we consulted other publicly available data — federal crime data and child abuse statistics — to see if certain patterns emerged when it comes to sexual violence across the United States.
Registered Sex Offenders
According to our research, which included consulting each state’s sex offender registry and, when necessary, counting the number of registrants and confirming those figures with state officials, more people are registered as sex offenders in Texas than in any other state, followed by California in second place and New York and Michigan in a distant third and fourth, respectively.
Nearly 13% of all registered sex offenders are registered in Texas, with California adding another 11%. At the other end of the spectrum, the District of Columbia and Vermont had the lowest total numbers of registered sex offenders.
California, Texas and New York are the three states with the largest total populations, so it should stand to reason that they would include more people on their offender registries than most other states.
So what picture emerges when we adjust these figures for population differences? Several states emerge as having very high concentrations of sex offenders. For instance, Oregon and Montana have by far the highest rates of registered sex offenders per 100,000 people — 749.06 and 646.65, respectively.
Among the top 10 states, four are in the West, while four are in the Midwest and two are in the South. The highest-ranking Northeastern state is Maine at No. 27 overall, though the state’s rate is lower than the overall national average of 230.92 registered sex offenders per 100,000 people.
Looking at registered sex offender data tells only one part of the story. That’s because in order to be placed on the registry, a person must first be arrested, then convicted and ordered to list themselves on their state’s registry.
While states vary in terms of which crimes require people to be listed on the registry, sexual assault generally is one of those crimes. Nationally, the rate of rape has risen in the U.S. for the past several years, according to the FBI, climbing every year for the past six consecutive years.
The overall national rate is on the rise, but several states have rates that are much higher than others and higher than the national rate of 42.6 per 100,000 people, with the rate in Alaska coming in at far higher than — in fact, more than double — any other state’s rate.
Alaska has by far the highest population-adjusted rape rate among all states, nearly 100 points higher than the next-highest state, Michigan, with a rate that’s still considerably higher than the overall U.S. rate of 42.6 per 100,000.
Among the top 10 states, four are in the West and three are in the Midwest and South each. All four major geographic regions of the country also saw the number of rapes increase between 2017 and 2018, with the largest increase (4.4%) in the West, followed by a 3.7% increase in the Northeast, a 2.3 % increase in the South and a 1% rise in the Midwest.
Child Sex Abuse
The other major crime that will most often land a convicted person on their state’s sex offender registry is child molestation. FBI data does not specify the number of sex crimes against children, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collects data related to child abuse and neglect in each state, and according to the agency’s 2017 report, about 8.5% of children who are victims of abuse or neglect have been sexually abused.
In 2017, nearly 60,000 children were victims of sexual abuse, and the population-adjusted rates of child sex abuse vary widely by state, with rates highest in Vermont and lowest in Idaho.
Nationally, child sex abuse occurs at a rate of about 78.2 per 100,000 children, but more than half of the states have rates that are lower than that. However, both Vermont and Arkansas have population-adjusted child sex abuse rates that are at least three times higher than the overall national rate.
While it’s normally the case that correlation does not necessarily equal causation, in the case of states and their sex offender registries, it is reasonable to assume that rates of sexual assault and child molesting would have a direct impact on the prevalence of sex offenders in each state since those are generally the two major crime categories that will land a person on the registry.
A total of nine states have higher-than-average rates in all three areas: registered sex offenders, rapes and child sex abuse, while another 15 have above-average rates in two of the three areas.
More than 750,000 people are currently listed on a sex offender registry in the United States, and while such registries show mixed results in reducing sexual violence and recidivism, when used responsibly, they can help people make informed decisions about where to live, where to send their kids to school and which parts of their own communities they feel safest in. Between the results of our survey, which found that almost 75% of people would act on information they saw on a sex offender registry, and the incredibly variable nature of sex offender registry rates, it’s hard to argue that residents shouldn’t at least see for themselves.
About This Story
As we mentioned, the national sex offender registry website pulls its results from each state’s individual sex offender registry. Some of these individual registries make it possible to see at any given time the total number of sex offenders registered within each state, while others limit users to geographic searches, meaning it’s only possible to look for offenders within a certain distance of a specific address. Other registries allow users to see offenders registered by county.
Where possible, we got our numbers directly from the registries themselves, whether because the registries listed an overall total or we were able to calculate the number of registrants by county. In cases of registries that require an address to be entered, we contacted state officials, who provided us with the most updated numbers in their states.
We’ve already mentioned that states may vary in terms of what offenses require offender registration, and our analysis was limited only to sex offenders vs. other types of offenders. For instance, the Kansas state registry includes violent offenders and drug offenders in addition to sex offenders, but we included the state-provided estimate of sex offenders only.
Individual state registries are easy to find via Google, and you can enter your address or zip code or the name of an offender on the national sex offender registry public website here to see who is registered near you.
Our survey on perceptions of sex offenders was conducted between Oct. 2 and Nov. 8, 2019 and included responses from a total of 569 people, and all other sources are linked directly in the text.
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