How to Use a Sex Offender Registry

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 01, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

To help protect yourself and your children, it's important to understand how to legally use a sex offender registry as an evaluative tool.

The National Sex Offender Public Website coordinates the sharing of information between the 50 states and a number of tribal jurisdictions, all of which allow sex offender registries to be searched online or in person.

Keep in mind that online and paper registries may not be up to date and accurate, so you should always verify information with local law enforcement before you use sex offender registry results as a basis for action.

As for what actions you may take, you can use a sex offender registry to:

  1. Evaluate a potential rental unit or home purchase
  2. Determine the safety of unknown neighbors
  3. Report the address of "missing" sex offenders
  4. Report a violation of registrant requirements
  5. Conduct a background check on a babysitter or business associate

However, you cannot use a sex offender registry to threaten, harass or intimidate a registrant, or misuse the information in a way prohibited by state law.

This means that, while you can choose not to socialize with a sex offender neighbor, you cannot wage a campaign to scare him or her from the neighborhood.

Doing so may be a federal or state crime.

However you decide to use a sex offender registry, always keep in mind that it exists solely as a means to help you make an informed decision about who you associate with, where you live, and where you play. Registries do not give you permission to mistreat another person.

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