Ashamed and Alone

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Ashamed and Alone: Comparing
Offender and Family Member
Experiences With the Sex
Offender Registry
Danielle J. S. Bailey
and Jennifer L. Klein
Originally intended to decrease sexual victimization by increasing community awareness of con-
victed sex offenders, sex offender registration and notification laws have been shown to produce
numerous unintended consequences for both registrants and their family members (FMs). In many
cases, these unintended consequences may actually increase sexual reoffending risk by reducing
offenders’ informal social control and inhibiting successful postconviction reintegration. The current
study examines two such consequences, shame and social isolation, using a sample of 109 registered
sex offenders and 116 sex offender FMs (N¼225). Although prior research has documented the
existence of shame and social isolation within both populations, to date, there have been no sys-
tematic attempts to examine variation between groups. We found that the degree of social isolation
and shame does significantly differ between registered sex offenders and their FMs, with registered
sex offenders reporting higher levels of both social isolation and shame compared to FMs at the
bivariate level. Using ordinary least squares regression analysis, we determined that attitudinal
variables (disrespect and unfair sanctions) were the most salient predictors of participants’ per-
ceived intensity of social isolation and shame.
sex crimes, crime policy, quantitative methods
Feared, stigmatized, and stereotyped as criminals who abduct and rape children (Sample & Kadleck,
2008), convicted sex offenders face a variety of postconviction restrictions in the community
including being listed on a sex offender registry and subjected to public notification of offender
demographic information. These policies are intended to increase community awarene ss of sex
offenders, thereby increasing the informal social controls applied to sex offenders in the community.
For the past two decades, these laws have been steadily increasing in scope and number of
Department of Social Sciences, University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Danielle J. S. Bailey, Department of Social Sciences, University of Texas at Tyler, 3900 University Blvd., BUS 228, Tyler,
TX 75799, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(4) 440-457
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818756486
requirements (Mancini, 2013). Expansions include increased minimum registration length, the
inclusion of juvenile sex offenders on state registries, and making failure to register violations a
felony offense (Adam Walsh Act, 2006). In addition to being perceived by registered sex offenders
as a “double jeopardy” style punishment and violation of their constitutional rights (Durling, 2006),
scholars have identified multiple unintended consequences, such as unemployment, housing issues,
and harassment, that are experienced by sex offenders as well as sex offender family members (FMs)
as a result of these legislative controls (Burchfield, 2012; Edwards & Hensley, 2001; Farkas &
Miller, 2007; Tewksbury, 2004, 2005; Tewksbury & Lees, 2006).
Besides being an unforeseen product of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) laws,
some unintended consequences may actually produce a counterproductive increase in sex offender
risk, most notably through the increased social isolation and shaming of sex offenders and sex
offender FMs. Research suggests that social isolation increases sex offenders’ recidivism risk by
reducing the quantity and quality of informal social bonds or controls between the registered sex
offender and society (Hirschi, 1969; Levenson & Cotter, 2005). Social isolation of sex offender FMs
may also increase recidivism risk, as scholars find isolation can impact a FM’s decision to leave or
withdraw from a socially supportive relationship with their sex offender loved one (Bailey &
Sample, 2017). Shaming of registrants and FMs may also contribute to increased recidivism risk.
Braithwaite’s (1989) reintegrative shaming theory suggests that if offenders are not sufficiently
accepted back into communities postconviction and are chronically vilified for their offenses, then
recidivism becomes a likely occurrence. Scholars researching sex offender populations argue the
severity of consequences associated with SORN laws creates such high levels of offender shame that
it becomes disintegrative in nature (Klein, Rukus, & Zambrana, 2012). While the current study does
not directly examine sex offender recidivism, we examine these earlier consequences (shame and
social isolation) that may contribute to the reduction or the increase of sex offender recidivism risk.
Scholars have documented the existence of both shame and social isolation in registrant and FMs
samples(Bailey & Sample,2017; Levenson & Tewksbury,2009; Tewksbury& Levenson, 2009; Tolson
& Klein, 2015),but to date there has been no systematicexamination of how shame and socialisolation
vary within both populations. Although FMs may be experiencing “courtesy stigma” (Edwards &
Hensley, 2001)similar to that of their sex offenderloved ones, it is reasonable to expectthat registrants
and FMs haveslightly differentexperiences due to differencesin direct and indirectassociation withthe
sex offender registry. The current study intends to explore that hypothesis using a sample of 109
registeredsex offenders and 116 sex offenderFMs (N¼225). We first comparethe perceived intensity
of social isolation and shame betweensex offenders and sex offender FMs.We then use ordinary least
squares (OLS)regression to compare the impactof demographic, sex offense,and attitudinal variables
on the perceivedintensity of socialisolation and shame inboth groups. The resultsof this study can help
social service agencies identify the individuals most at risk for physical and social isolation, in turn,
helping to reducesex offender risk by promotingstrong social bonds and reintegrativeshaming efforts.
The current study examines two consequences of SORN policies, shame, and social isolation. These
consequences were chosen due to their impact on offenders’ recidivism risk, through social control
theory, as well as offenders’ successful reintegration into the community postconviction, through
reintegrative shaming theory.
Social Isolation and Social Control Theory
Social control theory argues that prosocial bonds with FMs, friends, and other members of society
helps offenders conform to social norms and reduce criminal offending (Hirschi, 1969; Sampson &
Bailey and Klein 441

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