Effects of juvenile sex offender registration on adolescent well-being: An empirical examination

Elizabeth J Letourneau, Andrew J. Harris, Ryan T. Shields, Scott M. Walfield, Amanda E. Ruzicka, Cierra Buckman, Geoffrey D. Kahn, Reshmi Nair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For decades, commentators have drawn attention to the potentially harmful effects of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification policies. To date, however, these concerns have received limited empirical attention. This study is the first to compare registered and nonregistered children on several key domains in an effort to evaluate the unintended consequences of juvenile registration and notification. We surveyed 251 boys receiving treatment services for inappropriate or harmful sexual behavior, of whom 73 (29%) were or had been subjected to registration requirements. As predicted, Registered children reported more problems or fewer strengths on in the domains of mental health, peer relationships, and experiences with safety and victimization. Most notably, relative to Nonregistered children, Registered children reported significantly more severe suicidal cognitions and had higher odds of having recently attempted suicide in the past 30 days. Likewise, Registered children were 5 times more likely to have been approached by an adult for sex in the past year. Unexpectedly, Registered children also reported significantly greater perceived social support, perhaps reflecting efforts by family members and others to mitigate the harmful effects of registration. In combination with the available literature indicating that these policies do not improve public safety, the results of this study offer empirical support for the concerns expressed by those calling for the abolition of juvenile registration and notification policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-117
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Juvenile
  • Policy
  • Sex offender registration
  • Survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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