What Is a Sex Offender Registry?

It’s natural to want to take steps to keep your kids and family safe. One of the ways to be proactive about safety is by staying informed of who is living and working in your neighborhood. The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) allows you to search convicted offenders in every state, territory, and tribal area.

What is a sex offender registry?

A sex offender registry is a list of all convicted sex offenders in a state. You can search the entire country through the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW). Sex offender registries generally include the offender's address, physical appearance, and criminal history.

Who has to register?

All fifty states require individuals convicted of certain sex crimes to register. Those convicted of more violent crimes are typically required to remain registered for a longer period and to update their address more frequently.

How can I use a sex offender registry to keep my kids safe?

If you discover that a registered sex offender is living nearby, you can take steps to increase your family's safety.


  • Use this opportunity to have a conversation with your kids about interacting with strangers and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right.
  • If you decide that you want your children to stay away from someone who is listed on the registry, explain to them why it’s important to stay away. Phrases like, “this person isn’t safe,” or “mom and dad don’t know this person” can be helpful. Be specific about what it means to avoid this person. For example, tell your child “if you see this person in a store, come stand next to me,” or, “if this person asks you for a favor or offers you a treat, politely say no and come back home.”
  • Learn more about rules sex offenders must follow. Many states have laws that restrict where a sex offender can live, particularly with respect to schools or day care agencies. These laws vary from state to state. You can visit your state’s sex offender registry site to learn more about the details where you live. Many areas have community meetings where you can receive updates for registered or newly registered offenders.
  • If you have caretakers or babysitters who watch your children, give them a list of people who are not allowed near your children or in your home.
  • If you see suspicious behavior, you can report it. Contact local law enforcement or the probation/parole officer.

What role does the federal government play?

The federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) sets national standards for sex offender registration and notification throughout the country. SORNA was established through the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. These requirements serve as a baseline that all states are encouraged (but not required) to meet. State governments are also free to go beyond SORNA and create additional requirements.

What happens to an offender who does not register?

While failure to register as a sex offender is federal offense, the system for enforcing registration is imperfect—and there are many perpetrators who do not register or keep their information updated according to the terms of the sentence. In the event that an unregistered sex offender is convicted of a new violent federal crime, up to 30 years can be added to the sentence.

To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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