Low Income Neighborhoods and Sex Offenders: A Case Study in State Indifference

Richard G. Zevitz, Marquette University

Society's concern for protecting its most vulnerable members from being victimized by pedophiles and sexual predators has led to widespread adoption of sex offender notification laws. The policy of notifying communities about the placement within their borders of prison- released sex offenders has affected mostly low income neighborhoods. Notifying> residents and businesses of such areas that convicted sex offenders have been located near their premises has had consequences for these places. This paper reports on the second part of research conducted in 2001 that examines the impact of sex offender community notification on neighborhood life - specifically on perceptions of safety and quality of life, fear of victimization, and the will of residents and business owners to preserve and restore their neighborhood. The literature hypothesizes that neighborhoods are stable social entities that react to destabiliziing events by finding ways to resist unwanted change and bounce back to a semblance of their former selves. This resiliency factor may be problematic in those neighborhoods beset by a variety of social problems. Data for this paper were derived from tape-recorded interviews and an in-person survey of 121 households and businesses located within an area officially notified about a convicted sex offender living there. The findings suggest that the state practice of targeting already fragile neighborhoods for publicized sex offender placements may be destabilizing events of such magnitude as to weaker their ability to recover.


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Updated 05/20/2006