Awareness of Sex Offender Registration Policies and Self-Reported Sexual Offending in a Community Sample of Adolescents
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Sex offender registration laws are widely implemented, increasingly restrictive, and intended to serve both specific and general deterrent functions. Most states have some form of policy mechanism to place adolescents on sex offender registries, yet it remains unclear whether adolescents possess the requisite policy awareness to be deterred from sexual offending. This study examined awareness of sex offender registration as a potential sanction and its cross-sectional association with engagement in several registrable sexual behaviors (sexting, indecent exposure, sexual solicitation, and forcible touching) in a community sample of 144 adolescents. Results revealed that many adolescents were unaware that these behaviors could result in sex offender registration. Moreover, over one-third of adolescents who incorrectly believed that youth cannot be registered were highly confident in their answers. Notably, nearly half the sample had engaged in at least one of the four registrable behaviors we assessed, and policy-aware youth were just as likely as others to have engaged in those registrable sexual behaviors. Our findings cast doubt on arguments that juvenile sex offender registration serves as a general deterrent, adding to a growing body of literature suggesting that the policy is ineffective and in need of reform.
Najdowski, Cynthia J. and Cleary, Hayley M. D., "Awareness of Sex Offender Registration Policies and Self-Reported Sexual Offending in a Community Sample of Adolescents" (2019). Psychology Faculty Scholarship. 3.