Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy

Sex offenders and sex crimes provoke a great deal of anxiety in our society, and over the past decade, lawmakers have passed a variety of social policies designed to protect the public from sexual victimization. The purpose of this study was to examine public perceptions about sex offenders and community protection policies. Data were obtained from a sample of 193 residents in Melbourne, Florida. It was hypothesized that the public holds some inaccurate beliefs about sex offenders, and that there is strong public support for community protection policies. It was found that community members believe that sex offenders have very high recidivism rates, view sex offenders as a homogeneous group with regard to risk, and are skeptical about the benefits of sex offender treatment. The hypothesis that public perceptions contradict empirical research was supported. Community members were overwhelmingly in favor of public disclosure of information about registered sex offenders, although they did not express as much support for residence restrictions. Implications for public policy, and for the media's role in shaping public perceptions, are discussed.

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