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Position Statement
NASW, Iowa Chapter, believes the state of Iowa has a responsibility to develop comprehensive programs to interdict sexual predation, incarcerate and rehabilitate offenders, provide services to victims and families, and provide education to
help prevent future sexual crimes. Sex offender legislation should be designed, implemented, and assessed from an evidence-based ¡¥best practice¡¦ approach, with the goal of keeping children and communities safe from all offenders.

Sexual crimes, especially against children, are among the most horrific and damaging forms of violence imaginable. Two of society¡¦s most important goals are protecting children and preventing violence. To address the sexual predation of children, Iowa legislators enacted a residency restriction, barring persons convicted of sexual offenses against a minor from living within 2000 feet of a school or day care center.

While the law was laudable in its concern for child and community safety, it was based on flawed assumptions, has had unintended consequences, has been difficult to enforce, and offers little in the way of meaningful treatment.

-- Flawed assumptions
Iowa¡¦s residency restrictions are based on the assumption that children are most at risk of ¡§stranger danger¡¨ and that restricting the residency of known sex offenders is an effective means of limiting would-be perpetrators¡¦ access to children. Research suggests that both assumptions are flawed. Studies show that in 80-90% of sexual crimes, perpetrators were familiar with their victims (Roos & Rood, 2005; Iowa County Attorneys Association [ICAA], 2006). Family members, friends, baby-sitters, and persons who supervise or have authority over children or young people are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault. Additionally, many victims who are sexually assaulted by intimates, friends or acquaintances do not or cannot report these crimes to police. Nationally, only about 38% of sexual assaults against those age 12 or older are reported (U.S. Department of Justice, 2005). Sexual assault of children under age 12 is more difficult to measure, but it is generally assumed to be equally under-reported. Given the low rate of reporting, the number of convicted sex offenders who are subject to the residency restrictions represents a small percentage of those living in Iowa communities.

Research also has shown no correlation between the proximity of a sex offender¡¦s residence to a potential victim and his/her likelihood of re-offending (Levenson & Cotter, 2005; ICAA, 2006). Thus, residency restrictions may create a false sense of security that children are safely beyond an offender¡¦s grasp when that is not the case. When sex offenders in Florida were asked about the residency restrictions in that state, they commented: ¡§Living 1,000 ft away compared to 900 ft. doesn¡¦t prevent anything,¡¨ and ¡§It doesn¡¦t matter where a sex offender lives if he sets his mind on reoffending. . . . He can just get closer by walking or driving¡¨ (Levenson & Cotter, 2005, p. 174).

Parents, children, and community members must understand that the 2,000-foot residency restriction imposed on convicted sex offenders does not ensure child safety. ICAA (2006) recommends the development of education programs that not only focus on the risks of ¡§stranger danger¡¨ but also highlight the dangers of sexual abuse posed by family members and acquaintances with ordinary access to children. Additionally, any meaningful approach to the problem must include victim services to assist children and families in overcoming the impact of such trauma when it does occur.

For the remainder of this paper: by National Association of Social Workers (Iowa Chapter)

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