Sex offender laws are based on preventing the horrific crimes that inspired them-but the abduction, rape, and murder of a child by a stranger who is a previously convicted sex offender is a rare event.

The laws offer scant protection for children from the serious risk of sexual abuse that they face from family members or acquaintances.

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On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.

Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit.

Corinne Carey, former researcher for the US Program, undertook the original research for this report.

The report was written by Sarah Tofte with the assistance of Jamie Fellner, director of the US Program, who also edited the report. Patrick Vinck, director of the Berkeley-Tulane Initiative on Vulnerable Populations at the Human Rights Center, University of California-Berkeley, tabulated the data for Human Rights Watch's study of North Carolina's online sex offender registry.

While these beliefs may seem intuitively correct, they are predicated on several widely shared but nonetheless mistaken premises.

Given these faulty underpinnings, it is not surprising that there is little evidence that the laws have in fact reduced the threat of sexual abuse to children or others.

A growing number of states and municipalities have also prohibited registered offenders from living within a designated distance (typically 500 to 2,500 feet) of places where children gather-for example, schools, playgrounds, and daycare centers.

Human Rights Watch appreciates the sense of concern and urgency that has prompted these laws.

We want to acknowledge our special gratitude to Patty Wetterling, Alisa Klein, Jim Rensel, Nancy Daley, Dr. Levenson for providing guidance and insights in helping us to shape the research and writing of this report. Politicians have responded with a series of laws, including the sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws that are the subject of this report.

Federal law and the laws of all 50 states now require adults and some juveniles convicted of specified crimes that involve sexual conduct to register with law enforcement-regardless of whether the crimes involved children.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank all of the survivors of sexual violence, former offenders and their families, social workers, advocates, law enforcement officials, and attorneys who shared their experiences and perspective with us for this report.