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They reflect a deep public yearning for safety in a world that seems increasingly threatening.Every child has the right to live free from violence and sexual abuse.

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Blanket residency restrictions should be abolished. Proponents of sex offender registration and community notification believe they protect children in two ways: police have a list of likely suspects should a sex crime occur in the neighborhood in which a registered offender lives, and parents have information that will enable them to heighten their vigilance and to warn their children to stay away from particular people.

Advocates for residency restrictions believe they will limit offenders' access to children and their temptation or ability to commit new crimes.

On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.

Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit.

Patty Wetterling, a prominent child safety advocate who founded the Jacob Wetterling Foundation after her son was abducted in 1989, recently told Human Rights Watch, I based my support of broad-based community notification laws on my assumption that sex offenders have the highest recidivism rates of any criminal.

But the high recidivism rates I assumed to be true do not exist.Sex offender laws are based on preventing the horrific crimes that inspired them-but the abduction, rape, and murder of a child by a stranger who is a previously convicted sex offender is a rare event.The laws offer scant protection for children from the serious risk of sexual abuse that they face from family members or acquaintances.Some politicians cite recidivism rates for sex offenders that are as high as 80-90 percent.In fact, most (three out of four) former sex offenders do not reoffend and most sex crimes are not committed by former offenders.Human Rights Watch would like to thank all of the survivors of sexual violence, former offenders and their families, social workers, advocates, law enforcement officials, and attorneys who shared their experiences and perspective with us for this report.

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