Sex offender registries allow police and others in the criminal justice system track those individuals convicted of a sex offense. Public sex offender registries inform the public about registered sex offenders’ residences, school enrollment, employment and other information.
Every state and territory, the District of Columbia and many Indian tribes have a public sex offender registry. Every jurisdiction’s registry includes information about individuals who have been convicted of a sex offense and are required to register as a sex offender in that jurisdiction. The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) contains all sex offenders who are included in each individual jurisdiction’s public registry.
Once you know how sex offender registries work and what to do with registration information, you can learn more about how to keep you, your family and community safe.
In most jurisdictions, if you find that a registered sex offender is living close to you, or you find someone you just want to know more about, you can contact your local police department and ask about their potential risk and what level of monitoring is assigned to the registered sex offender. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement will actively notify communities and/or particular individuals that might be at risk — through a community notification meeting, a flier or a notice in a newspaper — about offenders convicted of more serious crimes to provide the public with information about a specific individual and how they will be monitored in the community.
Not all sex offenders are the same. Accordingly, sex offenders who commit different crimes are monitored differently. For public safety purposes, the most dangerous offenders who are sexually violent with multiple victims have the most intense registration requirements and are listed publicly. In some jurisdictions, juveniles who have committed sex crimes are registered but not listed publicly, while other jurisdictions do not register any juveniles. (Read more about research on sex offenders at the Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative; for an overview, read the SOMAPI fact sheets.)
Specialized approaches to sex offender management include a range of strategies that focus on the prevention of future victimization and the protection of victims and the community. These strategies include specialized supervision, polygraph tests, electronic monitoring, circles of support and accountability and civil commitment. Read more about sex offender management at the Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative.
Finding a friend, someone you know, employee or neighbor listed on a sex offender registry can bring up many different feelings. Community resources are available to help support victims and their family and friends, and to help support the community with safety strategies. If you feel unsafe or see problematic behaviors, contact local law enforcement. Keep in mind that threatening a registered sex offender is a crime. Threatening the offender could also increase their risk to the community by destabilizing them. Although it may be hard to think about, many sex offenders successfully go through the justice system and treatment and learn to live healthy, productive and safe lives. You can play a role as someone who watches their actions and supports their safe living in the community. It is in everyone’s best interest for the adult, teen or child who has abused to learn how to live safely and in control of their actions.
Registries are helpful tools, but they don’t list everyone who has sexually offended. Registries only include people who have been convicted of sex offenses — but might not include all people who have been convicted of sex offenses. Depending on the conviction and the laws of the specific state, tribe, territory or district, not all offenders have to register, registration lengths vary and not every name on a registry will be made public. Keep in mind that surveys show that most people don’t report sexual assault, and many perpetrators are never arrested or convicted. Because of this, it’s important to use general precautions and prevention practices in your community.
If you searched for a specific individual on NSOPW and didn’t find the person or need more information, you can call your local police department to find out if the individual is registered and not posted or is under supervision (i.e., probation or parole) and what the conviction was so you can better protect yourself, your family or your neighborhood. The police may be able to guide you to more information and local resources. Below are some precautions you can take.
To reduce the risks to children and teens, learn about the warning signs of sexually abusive behaviors in adults as well as in teens and children. Take the time to learn where and how to report sexual abuse, in case you need to call for help.
Consider creating a family safety plan. This is an opportunity to have everyone in the family on the same page and begin important conversations about boundaries, healthy interactions and how to talk about changing expectations as children grow older.
You may also want to look at the prevention practices of organizations working with your child or teen. Part of the commitment of these organizations should be to keep children and youth safe while in their care. If your child participates in organized sports, a summer camp, a youth group or an afterschool program, take the time to ask about their safety policies.