How to find out if there are sex offenders in the area.
For most people, safety is a top priority when choosing a place to live—especially if they have children. In addition to researching crime rates in their potential neighborhood, many parents also wonder “are there sex offenders in my area?”
It’s natural for parents to be concerned for their children’s welfare if they happen to live in proximity to a convicted sex offender. After all, of the 750,000-plus individuals on the National Sex Offender Registry, nearly 400,000 were involved in crimes against children.
However, it’s important to remember that the nature of sex crimes can vary greatly; not all of them are violent or involve physical contact, and not all convicted offenders will repeat their crimes. As the Child Rescue Network notes, some of the “disgust and contempt” we feel toward sex offenders is “generated from false assumptions and misplaced fear,” and that “the problem occurs when we paint all offenders with one broad stroke.”
Still, it is wise to know who your neighbors are and be aware of any sex offenders living in your area. Here’s what you need to know about sex offender registry laws and what you can do to stay vigilant.
What’s required of sex offenders in my area?
Upon release into the community, a sex offender is required to register on both their state’s sex offender registry and the FBI’s National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). These databases contain an offender’s current registered address as well as their dates of registration, conviction and residence.
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Under the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), sex offenses generally fall into one of three tiers. It’s important to note that each state has its own specific sex offense designations and reporting requirements that must be followed as well.
Tier I: Tier I crimes are generally non-violent offenses, such as possession of child pornography, voyeurism or indecent exposure. These offenders must register for at least 10 years (or longer, depending on whether they commit a subsequent crime) and must complete any required parole period or sexual offender treatment program.
Tier II: Tier II offenses include crimes such as sex trafficking, coercion or enticement, transporting with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, or abusive sexual activity with a minor. It can also involve the production or distribution of child pornography. Offenders that commit Tier II crimes must follow a 25-year reporting requirement.
Tier III: A Tier III crime is often violent in nature and typically involves sexual acts, aggravated sexual abuse or abusive sexual contact when committed against a minor under age 13. Kidnapping of a minor and additional sex offenses committed by Tier II offenders are also considered Tier III crimes. These offenders must register with local authorities every time they change address or move to a different jurisdiction for the rest of their lives.
In addition to registering for the NSOPW, a convicted sex offender will also have to follow laws about the sex offender registry program in their state of residence upon their release. Again, the specific laws vary from state to state, but in most cases, there are specific rules about who must register and when, how soon they must update the registry after moving and how far away they must live from schools (depending on the nature of their crime).
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As an example, here is a basic overview of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) requirements for convicted sex offenders living in New York:
- Offenders convicted of a sex offense and/or sentenced to probation, local jail or state prison on or after January 21, 1996 must register as a sex offender upon returning to the community.
- Sign and return an annual address verification form to DCJS within 10 days after receiving it. The highest-tier offenders and those with a sexual predator designation must personally verify their addresses every 90 days with law enforcement.
- Notify DCJS in writing of a new address no later than 10 days after moving.
- Report in person to a local police agency to have a current photograph taken every one to three years, depending on the level of their offense.
- Notify DCJS in writing of any institution of higher education they are attending, enrolled, living or employed. Any change in status must be reported within 10 days.
- Provide in writing their internet service providers, internet screen names and email addresses.
- If the offender is under parole or probation supervision, New York State laws may limit the offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or other facility caring for children.
Failure to follow sex offender registry laws at the state and federal level is considered a crime and may be punishable by fines and/or prison time.
What are my rights when it comes to sex offenders?
The purpose of laws like SORNA and its state equivalents is to inform residents of a community when a convicted sex offender moves to the area. Public notification of the offender’s name, current location and past offenses is typically done via each state’s sex offender website, although some states also send other forms of notice.
“Should a notice be received, it is to make people in the area aware that [an offender is] living there,” said James Banta, a former police detective and home security and safety expert at SecurityNerd. “The registry is also to aid law enforcement in the event a rise in certain crimes occur in that area.”
While it’s natural for public concern to arise following a notice announcing a sex offender moving to the neighborhood, Banta says most offenders simply want to move on with their lives following their release.
“When most [sex offenders] are released, they tend to stay with a family member until they can afford a residence of their own,” Banta said. “Most don’t stay at the original residence long and tend to move away from the area where the offense occurred.”
According to Banta, public sex offender notices often encourage the public to pay attention to any unusual behavior taking place in their area. Specific things to watch out for include:
- A vehicle constantly seen at a bus stop for school children with no children being dropped off or picked up from the vehicle.
- A person attempting to offer children something to get into their vehicle.
- A person offering children in the neighborhood treats or enticements to come into their home.
“The main thing that the public can do is remain observant to any unusual behavior and report the behavior to the authorities,” Banta said. “Do not take on any action yourself.”
Banta also cautions parents against making their children fearful of a sex offender.
“You don’t want to feel like a prisoner in your own home,” he added. “Just pay attention to what is going on with your children and within your neighborhood in general.”
As Banta noted, many convicted sex offenders simply want to get on with their life, and he says that most are not likely to be repeat offenders.
“For the few that still pose a threat, this is the reason for the registry,” Banta said. “My advice is to remain vigilant, but treat them as you would any other person in society until they show signs otherwise.”
How can I find sex offenders in my neighborhood?
State and federal governments offer a wealth of resources to help residents understand the number and location of sex offenders in the area. These include:
- The FBI’s directory of sex offender websites.
- The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW).
- Your state’s individual sex offender registry, which can be found by entering “[state name] sex offender registry” into a search engine.
You may also wish to try and utilize neighborhood and property search tools to attempt to cross-reference property owners with sex offender databases, which may give you a better idea of where offenders may live.
Sex offender registries are an important public safety tool that help law enforcement agencies and the public track the movements and location of sex offenders.
If you discover that a sex offender lives in your neighborhood, be aware of that person’s location and watch for suspicious behavior. However, engaging in fear mongering or ostracizing the offender is not necessarily the most productive or appropriate response. Instead, Banta recommends establishing a strong line of communication with your other neighbors.
“The more the rest of you communicate, the lower the risk is of any unusual or inappropriate behavior happening without anyone knowing,” he said.