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The research behind the benefits or otherwise of implementing a public child sex offender register is mixed – so should Australia go there?

Should Australia introduce a public, nationwide sex offender register? This is a question that has been asked for years and remains a highly fraught issue. In January, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton again raised this as a possibility, saying that “thwarting the exploitation of children” was a priority.

“It would have a strong deterrent effect on offenders and ensure that parents are not in the dark about whether a registered sex offender has access to their children,” Dutton said.

While details of the proposed register are scant – it could include photographs, full name, date of birth, past offences, and general location such as postcode – Dutton will need the approval and cooperation of all states and territories.

Western Australia was the first state to introduce a comprehensive public sex offender register, in late 2012. Called the Community Protection Register, it contains the names and photographs of convicted repeat offenders who live in the vicinity.

But a 2018 Australian Institute of Criminology report on US and UK sex offender registers found they provide mixed results.

“While public sex offender registries may have a small general deterrent effect on first-time offenders, they do not reduce recidivism,” the report states.

“The WA semi-public sex offender registry impact on recidivism has yet to be measured. However, interviews with key stakeholders, including police and practitioners, have raised concerns that public registration is counter-rehabilitative and could increase the risk of reoffending.”

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