The call for public registries of convicted sex offenders is a kneejerk response to an entrenched problem of sexual violence in our country.

As reflected in the names of sex offender registration and community notification laws in the United States - the Jacob Wetterling Act, Megan's Law and the Adam Walsh Act - each was introduced in response to isolated, high-profile, horrific cases of sexual violence. But the overwhelming majority of studies find no evidence that public registries prevent sexual reoffending.

Most sexual crimes are perpetrated by offenders known to the victim who have no previous convictions for sexual offending. Public registries will do little to protect children from trusted adults - for example, fathers, coaches and cousins.

Worryingly, some studies have found increases in rates of reoffending after the introduction of public registries, and numerous studies have documented adverse consequences, including difficulties finding housing and employment, which might increase the risk of sexual reoffending.


About 90 per cent of sex offending goes unreported, but having a public registry will discourage families from reporting sexual offending, for fear that the offender and their family will be publicly "outed".

If we're serious about preventing sexual reoffending in Aotearoa New Zealand, we should heed knowledge generated from experiments overseas and invest in strategies that have demonstrated effectiveness. Better still, let's quit raising sexual offenders in the first place.

Dr Gwenda Willis is a clinical psychologist at Auckland University. Kim Workman is a former head of the Prison Service.
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