I have already written about “Clare’s Law” and at that time I was concerned that any implementation should be slow, measured and considered. On the subject of the law itself I was more or less agnostic.
As the Home Office launches its consultation I am writing this blog to consider the merits of the law in more detail by reference to learning from Child Sex Offender Disclosure Schemes here in the UK, “Sarah’s Law” and in the US “Megan’s Law”. The consultation offers three options for Clare’s Law
- Right to Ask : for information about suspected abusers
- Right to Know : from police and Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARACs) proactively providing information to vulnerable persons
- Do nothing
Child Sex Offender Disclosure Schemes
Sarah’s Law is based on the concept of “Right to Ask” which enables members of the public to request information from the police about a person who has contact with a child.
Megan’s Law is based on the concept of “Right to Know” which requires community notification and access to information about convicted sex offenders (generally through sex offender registry websites such as here). This right to know is much wider than Clare’s Law anticipates that the police would proactively disclose information on a potential abuser which is held on police records to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), who would then consider whether to disclose the information to a potential victim and other third-parties.
Sarah’s Law was subject to a controversial evaluation (here) examined in detail by David Wilson here whose conclusions are obvious in his Strapline “There is no evidence that the News of the World’s ‘naming and shaming’ campaign protects children from predatory paedophiles.”
The NSPCC Study of 2006 find “Most states have very little evidence on the actual impact of community notification on their jurisdiction. Most of the understood benefits of the laws are based on assumptions about the nature of sexual offending and the behaviour of parents and community members. Such assumptions are rarely supported through research, but continue to legitimise the law for law enforcement workers and members of the public.”
- There is currently no empirical evidence that community notification has had a positive impact on offender recidivism rates.
- There is no evidence that community notification has resulted in fewer assaults by strangers on children.
- There is currently very little monitoring of vigilantism against offenders. Although there are few known incidents of harassment, it is likely that these crimes are under-reported and under-recorded.
- By focusing on a small number of known offenders, the system may detract attention from more common crimes such as intra-familial abuse, leaving parents and children vulnerable to abuse from people known to them.
- There are conflicting reports about the extent to which members of the community will take measures to protect family members, and increase the surveillance of known sex offenders.
- There is some evidence that victims of intra-familial abuse may be deterred from reporting crimes because of fears related to community notification.
- Practitioners speak of the success of Megan’s Law in terms of increased use of risk assessments, better information-sharing and additional funding for treatment and surveillance. However, these practices are distinct from the community notification element for which there are no evidenced benefits.
- The financial cost of implementing community notification is high.
The evidence in so much as it can be considered transferrable learning has highlighted for me the following concerns:
- The risk of false positives for these issued which often remain hidden for years.
- Risk of adverse impact on people’s willingness to report for fear of “suspected abusers” being put on some sort of a list or register
- Cost – this is a big one. The costs in the US have burgeoned with no demonstrable impact for reducing the number of or harm to victims.