American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 34, Issue 1–2, pp 54–68 | Cite as

Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders

  • Jill LevensonEmail author
  • Richard Tewksbury


The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact of sex offender registration and notification laws on the family members of registered sex offenders (RSO). An online survey was utilized to collect data from 584 family members across the U.S. Employment problems experienced by the RSO, and subsequent financial hardships, emerged as the most pressing issue identified by family members. The likelihood of housing disruption was correlated with residential restriction laws; larger buffer distances led to increased frequencies of housing crisis. Family members living with an RSO were more likely to experience threats and harassment by neighbors. Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers and classmates. More than half had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Unintended consequences can impact family members’ ability to support RSOs in their efforts to avoid recidivism and successfully reintegrate. Implications for criminal justice policy and practice are discussed.


Registered sex offender Family members Megan’s law Sexual abuse 


  1. Adam Walsh Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, (2006).Google Scholar
  2. Adkins, G., Huff, D., & Stageberg, P. (2000). The Iowa sex offender registry and recidivism. Des Moines: Iowa Department of Human Rights.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, A. L., & Sample, L. (2008). Public awareness and action resulting from sex offender community notification laws. Criminal Justice Policy Review. Online First, doi: 0887403408316705v1.
  4. Barnes, J. C., Dukes, T., Tewksbury, R., & DeTroye, T. (2008). Predicting the impact of a statewide residence restriction law on South Carolina sex offenders. Criminal Justice Policy Review. Online First, doi: 10.1177/0887403408320842.
  5. Brannon, Y. N., Levenson, J. S., Fortney, T., & Baker, J. N. (2007). Attitudes about community notification: A comparison of sexual offenders and the non-offending public. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 19(4), 369–380.Google Scholar
  6. Burchfield, K. B., & Mingus, W. (2008). Not in my neighborhood: Assessing registered sex offenders’ experiences with local social capital and social control. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35, 356–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chajewski, M., & Mercado, C. C. (2008). An analysis of sex offender residency restrictions in Newark, New Jersey. Sex Offender Law Report, 9, 1–6.Google Scholar
  8. Colorado Department of Public Safety (2004). Report on safety issues raised by living arrangements for and location of sex offenders in the community. Denver, CO: Sex Offender Management Board.Google Scholar
  9. Duwe, G., & Donnay, W. (2008). The impact of Megan’s Law on sex offender recidivism: The Minnesota experience. Criminology, 46(2), 411–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duwe, G., Donnay, W., & Tewksbury, R. (2008). Does residential proximity matter? A geographic analysis of sex offense recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35(4), 484–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Farkas, M. A., & Miller, G. (2007). Reentry and reintegration: Challenges faced by the families of convicted sex offenders. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 20(2), 88–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Faul, F., Buchner, A., Erdfelder, E., & Lang, A.-G. (2008). GPOWER version 3.0.10. Germany: Universitat Kiel.Google Scholar
  13. Grove, M. G., & Meehl, P. E. (1996). Comparative efficiency of informal and formal prediction procedures: The clinical-statistical controversy. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 2(2), 293–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hanson, R. K., & Morton-Bourgon, K. (2005). The characteristics of persistent sexual offenders: A meta-analysis of recidivism studies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(6), 1154–1163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hirsch, A. E., Dietrich, S. M., Landau, R., Schneider, P. D., Ackelsberg, I., Bernstein-Baker, J., et al. (2002). Every door closed: Barriers facing parents with criminal records. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.Google Scholar
  16. Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (1994) Public Law 103–322.Google Scholar
  17. Kruttschnitt, C., Uggen, C., & Shelton, K. (2000). Predictors of desistance among sex offenders: The interaction of formal and informal social controls. Justice Quarterly, 17(1), 61–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Laub, J. H., & Sampson, R. J. (2001). Understanding desistance from crime. Crime and Justice, 28, 1–69.Google Scholar
  19. Levenson, J. S. (2008). Collateral consequences of sex offender residence restrictions. Criminal Justice Studies, 21(2), 153–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Levenson, J. S., & Cotter, L. P. (2005a). The effect of Megan’s Law on sex offender reintegration. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 49–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Levenson, J. S., & Cotter, L. P. (2005b). The impact of sex offender residence restrictions: 1,000 feet from danger or one step from absurd? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 49(2), 168–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Levenson, J. S., & Hern, A. (2007). Sex offender residence restrictions: Unintended consequences and community re-entry. Justice Research and Policy, 9(1), 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Levenson, J. S., Brannon, Y., Fortney, T., & Baker, J. (2007a). Public perceptions about sex offenders and community protection policies. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 7(1), 1–25.Google Scholar
  24. Levenson, J. S., D’Amora, D. A., & Hern, A. (2007b). Megan’s law and its impact on community re-entry for sex offenders. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 25, 587–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lieb, R., & Nunlist, C. (2008). Community notification as viewed by Washington’s Citizens: A ten-year follow-up (No. 08-03-1101). Olympia: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.Google Scholar
  26. Mears, D. P., Mancini, C., Gertz, M., & Bratton, J. (2008). Sex crimes, children, and pornography: Public views and public policy. Crime & Delinquency, 54, 532–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Meloy, M. L., Miller, S. L., & Curtis, K. M. (2008). Making sense out of nonsense: The deconstruction of state-level sex offender residence restrictions. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 33(2), 209–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mercado, C. C., Alvarez, S., & Levenson, J. S. (2008). The impact of specialized sex offender legislation on community re-entry. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 20(2), 188–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mustaine, E. E., Tewksbury, R., & Stengel, K. M. (2006). Residential location and mobility of registered sex offenders. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 30(2), 177–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2008). Retrieved 8/14/08, from
  31. Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2008). Demographics of Internet Users. Retrieved 9/12/08, from
  32. Pokela, J., Denny, E., Steblea, I., & Melanson, F. (2008). Don’t hang up yet: A comparison of online and telephone survey methodologies. Strategic Health Care Marketing, 25(7), 4–7.Google Scholar
  33. Prescott, J. J., & Rockoff, J. E. (2008). Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior? Retrieved 6/6/08, from
  34. Raosoft. (2008). Sample size calculator. Retrieved 6/13/08, from
  35. Schulenberg, J. L. (2007). Predicting noncompliant behavior: Disparities in the social locations of male and female probationers. Justice Research and Policy, 9(1), 25–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tewksbury, R. (2004). Experiences and attitudes of registered female sex offenders. Federal Probation, 68(3), 30–34.Google Scholar
  37. Tewksbury, R. (2005). Collateral consequences of sex offender registration. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. (2006). Consequences of sex offender registration: Collateral consequences and community experiences. Sociological Spectrum, 26(3), 309–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. (2007). Perception of punishment: How registered sex offenders view registries. Crime and Delinquency, 53(3), 380–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tewksbury, R., & Levenson, J. S. (under review). Stress and collateral consequences for families of registered sex offenders.Google Scholar
  41. Tewksbury, R., & Mustaine, E. E. (2006). Where to find sex offenders: An examination of residential locations and neighborhood conditions. Criminal Justice Studies, 19(1), 61–75.Google Scholar
  42. Tewksbury, R., & Mustaine, E. (2008). Where registered sex offenders live: Community characteristics and proximity to possible victims. Victims and Offenders, 3(1), 86–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tewksbury, R., & Mustaine, E. (in press). Stress and collateral consequences for registered sex offenders. Journal of Public Management and Social Policy.Google Scholar
  44. Tewksbury, R., Mustaine, E., & Stengel, K. M. (2008). Examining Rates of Sexual Offenses from a Routine Activities Perspective Victims and Offenders, 3(1), 75–85.Google Scholar
  45. Travis, J. (2005). But they all come back: Facing the challenges of prisoner reentry. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  46. Travis, J., & Waul, M. (Eds.). (2003). Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.Google Scholar
  47. Uggen, C., Manza, J., & Behrens, A. (2004). Less than the average citizen: Stigma, role transition, and the civic reintegration of convicted felons. In S. Maruna, & R. Immarigeon (Eds.), After crime and punishment: Pathways to offender reintegration (pp. 261–293). Devon, UK: Willan Publishing.Google Scholar
  48. Vasquez, B. E., Maddan, S., & Walker, J. T. (2008). The influence of sex offender registration and notification laws in the United States. Crime and Delinquency, 54(2), 175–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Washington State Institute for Public Policy (2005). Sex offender sentencing in Washington State: Did community notification influence recidivism?. Olympia: Author.Google Scholar
  50. Willis, G. M., & Grace, R. C. (2008). The quality of community reintegration planning for child molesters: Effects on sexual recidivism. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research & Treatment, 20(2), 218–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wright, K. B. (2005). Researching Internet-based populations: Advantages and disadvantages of online survey research, online questionnaire authoring software packages, and web survey services. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10.Google Scholar
  52. Zandbergen, P. A., & Hart, T. C. (2006). Reducing housing options for convicted sex offenders: Investigating the impact of residency restriction laws using GIS. Justice Research and Policy, 8(2), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zevitz, R. G. (2006). Sex offender community notification: Its role in recidivism and offender reintegration. Criminal Justice Studies, 19(2), 193–208.Google Scholar
  54. Zevitz, R. G., & Farkas, M. A. (2000). Sex offender community notification: Managing high risk criminals or exacting further vengeance? Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 18, 375–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zgoba, K., Levenson, J. S., & McKee, T. (2008). Examining the impact of sex offender residence restrictions on housing availability. Criminal Justice Policy Review. Online First, doi: 10.1177/0887403408322119.

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lynn UniversityBoca RatonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Justice AdministrationUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations