Research: Nebraska Sex-Offender Law Creates ‘Social Refugees’

Registrants and non-registrants alike are harmed while public safety is not served.

Preliminary findings from the largest qualitative research study of its kind show that Nebraska’s sex-offender law drives people from jobs and homes, harms families and damages people whose only “transgression” is living near a registrant.

“A neighborhood resident’s custody of her children was threatened because she lived in an area in which a registrant resided,” according to the preliminary report on the study by Lisa L. Sample, Ph.D., Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Click here to see the preliminary conclusions from Dr. Sample.
Dr. Sample, along with Tusty ten Bensel, Ph.D., University of Arkansas-Little Rock, and UNO graduate students Danielle Schultz, Robert Lytle and Rita Augustyn are conducting the study. Nebraskans Unafraid and FACTS aided in persuading Nebraska registrants and their family members to participate in interviews for the study. Dr. Sample reported that 266 individuals have come forward to be interviewed. So far, about 140 have been interviewed, including about 30 family members or friends of registrants.
The latest study, Desistance from Sex Offending and Consequences of Laws, is the second to scientifically examine Nebraska sex-offender statutes that were passed in a highly charged political/emotional atmosphere and which were found by a federal court to be harshly punitive. The study is separate from an earlier UNO study that found Nebraska’s LB 285 of 2009 fails in its stated goal of making the community safer and might in fact make the state more dangerous.
“Based on our review of the literature, this has already become the

Lisa L. Sample, Ph.D.

largest qualitative study conducted with registered sex offenders,” Dr. Sample said.

Among highlights in the preliminary findings:
  • Public notification — placing every registrant’s name, home address, family members’ vehicles and schools on an online shaming website — is cited as the most damaging aspect of Nebraska law.
  • Parents exposed to registry website shame are prevented by schools from participating in their childrens’ school activities.
  • Among registrants interviewed, not one has committed a second sexual offense. But only two said that is because of the law. The vast majority of registrants say emotional and financial support are the most important factors in avoiding reoffense.
  • Friends and family members of registrants are reporting that they are harassed, fired from jobs, harassed by law enforcement during “compliance checks,” and marginalized because of their relationships with registrants.
  • Mandatory reporting laws, which require certain professionals to report even the mere allegation of sexual misconduct, are preventing families from seeking counseling help for cases of sexual impropriety. And individuals who feel they need counseling help with sexual issues are not seeking out that help because they fear being arrested and jailed.
The research to date suggests that Nebraska’s law has created a set of “social refugees,” which includes not only registrants but many individuals who never violated any law in their lives.
“Community members not associated with registrants can be penalized simply by living near one. Sex offender laws have been used by ex-spouses/partners to manipulate women’s lives post-separation. Laws beyond registration and notification are interfering with sex offenders’, and their family members’, ability to seek help when needed, create the attachments that help people control their behavior, and participate in child-rearing practices,” Dr. Sample said.
The research is ongoing. We will continue to report results as they are developed.
Nebraskans Unafraid and FACTS fully endorse the work of Dr. Sample and her colleagues as they slowly bring sanity and a true interest in real community safety back into the Nebraska law and policy-making process.

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