Abstract: Fear as a Motivator for Consensual Offenses on Sex Offender Registries (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

60P Fear as a Motivator for Consensual Offenses on Sex Offender Registries

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Erin Comartin, MSW , Wayne State University, Research Assistant, Detroit, MI
Poco D. Kernsmith, PhD , Wayne State University, Assistant Professor, Detroit, MI
Roger M. Kernsmith, PhD , Eastern Michigan University, Associate Professor, Ypsilanti, MI
Purpose: Each year in the United States, an estimated 15,700 statutory rapes are reported to law enforcement (Troup-Leasure & Snyder, 2005). States vary in their definition of statutory rape; some consider the age of the minor and offender along with the sexual act, while others only the age of the victim. Federal sex offender registration policy notes that offenses involving consensual sex are not registerable unless the victim age is at least 13 and the offender is more than four years older (Adam Walsh Act, 2006). Even though federal policy suggests parameters for the registration of statutory rape, each state individually decides who is registered. Research has highlighted many unintended consequences of sex offender registration, including; loss of housing and employment, harassment and physical harm (Tewksbury, 2005). Considering these consequences, along with the resources and costs to manage sex offender registration, information surrounding public perception of registering such offenders is important for policy. The purpose of this study is to identify the factors that influence the public's agreement with registering individuals convicted of statutory rape.

Methods: Using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), 728 individuals in Michigan were surveyed regarding their views of sex offender registration. A likert-scale measure assessed agreement with the states statutory rape law. Predictor variables included: race, gender, education, income, marital status, knowing a victim of a sex crime and being convicted of any crime. The control variable related to fear of a statutory rapist was also included in the analysis. Bivariate analysis and hierarchical logistic regression were conducted to investigate the relationships between the predictor variables, fear of individuals convicted of statutory rape, and agreement with required registration of these individuals.

Results: 64% believed that individuals convicted of statutory rape should be required to register. Hierarchical logistic regression models significantly and correctly classified 64% of the cases in Model 1 (x2(11,N= 460)=26.314, p=.006); 75% after controlling for duration in the program (Model 2-x2(12, N=460)=120.113, p<.000). In Model 1, 8% of the variance was explained by the predictor variables; Model 2 showed 31%, suggesting that fear accounted for another 24% of the variance. Fear of individuals convicted of statutory rape, being previously convicted of a crime and income level significantly predicted agreement with registration. The odds of agreement with required registration decreased with higher income levels and previously being convicted of any crime. Respondents who noted that they were afraid of statutory rapists had eight times higher odds of required registration.

Conclusions and Implications: As sex offender registration has been drawn from high profile cases involving heinous child homicides, the public has experienced an increased awareness of crimes involving sex offenses (Lowry, 2003). This fear leads the public to include all forms of sex offences into registration policies. However, research shows that use of the registry does not cause the public to take safety precautions (Anderson & Sample, 2008). Due to the costs of sex offender registration it is suggested that registration be limited to statutory rape cases where the age difference is excessive.