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In "Planet America extra podcast (PEP)" 25 Sep (At 1 hour 27 minutes) Dr David Smith made the following claim:

"The national sex offender registry is a disaster in all kinds of respects, the biggest disaster being the vast majority of people on it were children when they actually committed their crimes."

I have heard this claim before anecdotally but not from such a reputable source. Dr David Smith is "Senior Lecturer in American Politics and Foreign Policy, United States Studies Centre (School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney)".

The interviewer is Chas Licciardello. Host of an in-depth News show on ABC Australia specialising in American Politics (Planet America). You may also recognise him from his comedy days as the comedian who dressed as Osama Bin Laden to sneak into APEC in 2007


My own research doesn't reach "vast majority".

This 10 year old report says average age of being added to the sex offender registry is 33 (although they exclude offenders under 18).

I can also find news stories children being added to the registry, but nothing saying children are the majority of sex offenders.


Were the vast majority of people on the National Sex Offender Registry children when they committed their crime?

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The answer seems to be no, in the US the majority of people were registered as sex offenders as adults. (However, the number who were registered as children isn’t insignificant either.)

The Juvenile Law Center says that “[o]ver 200,000 individuals are on sex offender registries for offenses committed when they were children”, though I’m not sure how this number was arrived at. According to NCMEC, there were 859,500 registered offenders in 2016 in the US, so this would not be a majority.

The study Juvenile Offenders and Sex Offender Registries: Examining the Data Behind the Debate examined sex offender data from Texas and found that:

Of the 36,347 offenders in the study, 91.45 percent were adults at the time of disposition and 8.55 percent were juveniles.

Though they admit that some of the offenders who were adults at the time of disposition would have been under 18 when they committed the assault, it probably wouldn’t make enough difference to tip the scales.


Note: There is no longer a “National Sex Offender Public Registry“. It was renamed in 2006 to The National Sex Offender Public Website only a year after it was created. And it’s not really a single list: It pulls together data from different states, territories, and tribes in the United States, each of which has its own laws.

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    " it probably wouldn’t make enough difference to tip the scales." I'm not sure that can be backed up. Of minors who commit a sex crime the majority are probably 17 or 16, and it can easily take a year or two before a case is settled. – DJClayworth Sep 27 at 17:42
  • How long do they stay on the list? – gerrit Sep 30 at 7:57
  • @gerrit Depends on the state. Some states allow offenders to petition to be removed after a certain amount of time has passed, others never allow anyone off the list. See the JLC publication in my answer for more information. – Laurel Sep 30 at 10:36

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