The Aug. 25 editorial on stronger sex-offender laws referred to a "growing body of research" on recidivism.

Recidivism research measures crimes reported to law enforcement that result in arrest and conviction. But according to the Justice Department, crimes against children are the most underreported of all crimes. Researchers estimate that one in five girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually victimized in some way before they reach adulthood. Yet only one in three will tell anybody about it.

A recent arrest of a sex offender in California yielded his diary, which chronicled years of child molestations. He had been arrested numerous times. His diary, however, detailed more than 30,000 incidents.

Perhaps he is an extreme example. Yet for a segment of the nation's sex offenders, child molestation is a lifestyle.

No matter how effective we are at improving sentencing, treatment, supervision, etc., we must know where these sex offenders are. The editorial said these individuals have "already paid their debt to society." But that phrasing ignores the fact that the courts have held that registration is not punishment, but regulation. Registration is a necessary, common-sense tool to protect the public.

Most convicted sex offenders are not in prison; they are in our communities. We know that of the nation's 563,000 registered sex offenders, at least 100,000 are unaccounted for. It is reasonable to think that an offender who is not even willing to provide an accurate address is a potential danger.

We need a comprehensive system for sex-offender registration that includes better sharing of information between states and increased penalties for failure to register. We need stronger enforcement of these provisions. State and federal lawmakers are taking a serious approach to this problem with legislation that will improve the way we manage sex offenders in our communities.


President and Chief Executive

National Center for Missing

and Exploited Children