Survey Shows Texans’ Use Of Sex Offender Registry Limited
July 9, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Beth Kuhles
Texas has the second largest sex offender registry in the country, but relatively few people are accessing it or using it to develop protective actions against future sex crimes, a study by the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University found.
Texas began its sex offender registry in 1991 to inform citizens about sex offenders living and working in communities throughout the state and to encourage the public to adopt preventive measures against sex crimes. The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains the registry, and as of October 2012, there were more than 72,600 active offenders listed. The registry, which can be searched by name, address, zip code, county or institute of higher education, is located at records.txdps.state.tx.us/SexOffender.
For the report, “Familiarity With and Uses of Sex Offender Registries,” researchers utilized an online survey of 652 individuals from a Texas university.
They found that while 74 percent of participants were familiar with the state’s sex offender registry, only 43 percent have ever accessed the service. The main reasons for using the registry were curiosity, followed by concern for their safety or the safety of children.
Of those who had used the registry, only 17 percent took any protective measures, such as regularly locking doors, advising others about a registered sex offender living in the neighborhood, or not walking alone in the neighborhood. Protective measures for children, including not allowing children to stay home alone or go outside unsupervised, were relatively uncommon; however, this may be reflective of the age and familial status of those surveyed.
“The sex offender registry can be an important tool for public safety measures when utilized; however, it is important to keep in consideration that the majority of sexual perpetrators are never prosecuted and, as a result, would not be found in the registry,” said CVI research associate Nicole Wilkes, who co-authored the study with associate professor of criminal justice Leana Bouffard. “A registry search in your neighborhood that does not identify any sex offenders does not mean that your area is safe from sexual violence. It is important that we are all aware of sexual violence in our communities.”
Crime victims were more likely to use sex offender registries and take protective measures, but victims of identity theft were the most active users, with sexual assault victims using it least, the study found.
This study revealed two areas in which findings were contrary to the hypothesized results: minimal effect on registry use when sex crimes occurred in neighborhood and sex offenders lived in neighborhood, and sexual assault victims accessed the registry less than victims of other crimes.
There was little or no difference in the reported use of the registry if participants knew of sex offenders living in their neighborhood or if a sex crime occurred while they were living there, although participants were more likely to use the registry when they knew someone in the neighborhood had been arrested on a sex offense. Most respondents learned about the sex offender registry through word of mouth, Internet searches or television reports.
As a result of these findings, the Crime Victims’ Institute recommended that strategies be developed to increase awareness about the sex offender registry and what residents can do to protect themselves if a sex offender is living in their neighborhood. The full report can be found at crimevictimsinstitute.org/publications.
The Crime Victims’ Institute was created by the Texas Legislature in 1995 to conduct research on the impact of crime on victims, their families and society and to inform policymakers and the public on victim-related issues.
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