The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of sex offender registration and community notification policies in reducing sexual violence against women and girls. Because registration and notification policies were federally mandated and have been implemented across the country, they represent the most comprehensive attempts at the prevention and reduction of serious sexual violence. To date, the effects of broad registration and notification policies (e.g., policies that do not distinguish between different offender risk levels and that apply for life) have been almost entirely exempt from empirical review. The present study will evaluate broad sex offender registration and notification policies as applied in South Carolina to determine whether these policies have deterred new sexual offenses (Aim 1) or reduced sexual recidivism (Aim 2).
Additionally, this study will examine whether an unintended effect has occurred: that is, whether the prosecution or conviction of individuals arrested for serious sexual offenses might have declined since policy implementation, perhaps due to perceived harshness of these policies (Aim 3). Because general crime rates have declined over the past decade, data on robbery and aggravated assault will also be examined in the context of some analyses to control for reductions in sex offenses that might be due to non-specific factors.
Data from 1991 to 2003 to be analyzed include all South Carolina 'registry' sexual offense charges and convictions; all robbery and aggravated assault charges and convictions (for comparison); and victim reports of sexual offenses (also for comparison purposes). Patterns of pre-policy (1991-1995) charges and convictions will be compared with post-registration policy data (1996-1999) and with post-Internet notification policy data (2000-2003).
This study will represent the first empirical examination of broad registration and notification policies, such as were implemented by approximately half of all U.S. states. These policies have been in effect for over a decade, and examination of their effectiveness is overdue.