AAP FactCheck

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Will a national public register of child sex offenders have a strong deterrent effect on pedophiles?

By Holly Nott

The Statement

“This will have a strong deterrent effect on offenders and ensure that parents are not in the dark about whether a registered sex ­offender has unsupervised access to their children.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton proposing the establishment of a public register of Australia’s child sex offenders. January 9, 2019.

The Analysis

A publicly-accessible national register of child sex offenders would act as a deterrent to pedophiles, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said while urging all states and territories to get behind the scheme [1].

AAP FactCheck has examined the veracity of Mr Dutton’s assertion that such a register would act as a deterrent to offenders.

The federal government dismissed the idea of a national child sex offender register in 2014 shortly after the Northern Territory began considering a bill proposing a state-based public register [2]. The NT bill, nicknamed Daniel’s Law in reference to Queensland 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe who was kidnapped and murdered by a serial child sex offender in 2003, stalled amid strong opposition and was withdrawn from the NT Parliament in December 2015. It was modelled on Megan’s Law [3], a US federal law with many state equivalents. Two reviews of Megan’s Law were summarised in 2007 by the Australian Institute of Criminology [4], which concluded: “There was little evidence of impact on sex offending, in particular, of offender recidivism rates being affected by community notification, or of reduced assaults by strangers on children”.

Further to this, the foreword of the 2006 research paper: Megan’s Law: Does It Protect Children? [5], commissioned by the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, states: “Although the law is popular with parents, there is no evidence that open access to sex offender registers actually enhances child safety. There is no evidence that Megan’s Law reduces reoffending. However, there is some evidence that it may have unintended negative consequences for children.” In 2008, the US Department of Justice published its own study on the impact of Megan’s Law [6]. It concluded: “Megan’s Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses. Megan’s Law has no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or first time sexual offense (still largely child molestation/incest). Megan’s Law has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses.”

Support groups in Australia that have spoken against Mr Dutton’s current plan have rejected the premise of his statement.

The Blue Knot Foundation, that supports people who have experienced complex trauma, said while a public child-sex offender register may “appear to reduce the likelihood of first time offenders they do not reduce recidivism for convicted sex offenders. In fact some studies have shown that they might increase the likelihood of re-offending, whilst non-public sex offenders registries do reduce offenders as they assist law enforcement.” [9]

In its response [7], Child advocacy group Bravehearts pointed to its November 2017 position paper: Community Notification of Sex Offenders. It said: “There is no current evidence that community notification reduces sex offence recidivism or increases community safety (Agan, 2011; Kruse, 2007; Maguire & Singer, 2011). [8]

In an early study of offenders who were subject to notification, Schram and Milloy (1995) found that 42% of adult offenders reoffended (offences included sexual and non-sexual crimes) and 79% of juvenile offenders subject to notification were arrested for new offences. This study also found no statistically significant differences in recidivism rates for sex offences between offenders who were subjected to notification (19% recidivism) and those who were not (22%).”[8]

Taking into account the above information, the assertion that a national public register of child sex offenders would have a deterrent effect on offenders cannot be supported.

The Verdict

False – The checked claim is false.

The References

  1. Article published in The Australian newspaper on January 9, 2019. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/dutton-spruiks-public-register-to-track-childsex-offenders/news-story/2335983e9467b0f0ca169c60f518bd70
  2. 2014 transcript of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott withholding support for a national child sex offender register. https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/3451262/upload_binary/3451262.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22Sex%20offenders%20public%20media%20pressrel%202010s%20abbott,%20tony,%20mp%22
  3. 2014 Daniel Morcombe Foundation statement about the bill for Daniel’s Law in the NT. https://www.danielmorcombe.com.au/blog/daniel-s-law
  4. 2007 Report: Is notification of sex offenders in local communities effective? Published by the Australian Institute of Criminology. https://aic.gov.au/publications/crm/crm058
  5. 2007 research paper by Kate Fitch. Megan’s Law: Does It Protect Children? (2). https://sosen.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/megans_law_review.pdf
  6. 2008 US Department of Justice paper: Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/225370.pdf
  7. 2019 statement from Bravehearts, in reaction to the proposed national, public pedophile register. https://bravehearts.org.au/paedophile-register-a-political-ploy-that-fails-the-child-protection-test/
  8. 2017, page 11. Bravehearts position paper: Community Notification of Sex Offenders. https://bravehearts.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Postion-Paper_Notification-of-Sex-Offenders_updatedNov2017.pdf
  9. Peter Dutton is pushing the states to sign up to a national child-sex offender register. By AAP. News.com.au. January 9, 2019. https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/peter-dutton-is-pushing-the-states-to-sign-up-to-a-national-childsex-offender-register/news-story/78cd6156f4a9ce4c4ed3fd39872696e7

Revision History

  • First published January 9, 2019 15:55 AEDT