Current sex crimes policies: Delivering sanity to the masses

A.R. Ackerman 1*, D.A. Harris 2

1 University of Washington, Tacoma – Tacoma, Washington, USA
2 Griffith University, Brisbane

*corresponding author:

The narrative about sex crimes in the U.S., and those who commit them, is formed by two sources. Media accounts of celebrated cases dominate the public discourse and misrepresent the vast majority of sex crimes and their outcomes. Television shows designed for entertainment value misconstrue offenders, offending, and the criminal justice process. From registration and community notification laws in the early to mid 1990s to residence restrictions, lifetime GPS tracking, risk assessment protocols, and a host of other unintended consequences, the United States has effectively created a “sex crimes industrial complex” informed by the misinformation offered to the public. Yet, the data are clear. Sex crimes legislation does not reduce rates of sexual violence (Ackerman, Sacks & Greenberg, 2012) In fact, the literature on collateral consequences suggests that there is a potential that such laws actually make communities less safe. Yet, the word “sex offender” drives such a visceral response that many people deem harsh punishments as the only viable option. Indeed, most, if not all, of our sex crimes policies are influenced by the assumption that individuals who commit sexual offenses will never stop engaging in this behavior (Gobbels, Ward, & Willis, 2012). If community members understood that sex crimes policies caused more harm than protection, would they still support them? We have long lamented the difficult conversations we have each had at hair salons, mothers’ groups, and dinner parties where we have each tried to disabuse one guest at a time of their CSI/SVU-informed beliefs about the reality of sex crimes, especially against children. We draw on our expertise in the field to create a conversation piece aimed at educating the masses. We use lessons from the United States sex offender industrial complex to inform current and future policy and practice in Australia and New Zealand.


Alissa R. Ackerman is Associate Professor in the Social Work and Criminal Justice Program at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She received her doctorate in Criminal Justice from City University of New York/ John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2009. Her work on sex offender policy and practice appears in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Justice Quarterly, Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Journal of Criminal Justice, Crime and Delinquency, and The Journal of Offender Rehabilitation. She co-edited Sex Crimes: Transnational Problems and Global Perspectives (Columbia University Press). Her research interests include: sexual violence and sex offender management.


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