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The sex offenders register contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offence against children or adults since September 1997, when it was set up. The register, which is run by the police, is not retro-active, so does not include anyone convicted before 1997. There are around 29,000 people on the register in the UK.
How do the police know where the sex offenders are?
Under the Sex Offenders Act 1997, as amended by the Sexual Offences Act 2003, all convicted sex offenders must register with the police within three days of their conviction or release from prison. This is monitored by the police, who receive notification from the courts following conviction, and both the prisons and probation service following an offender's release into the community.
Failure to register is an offence which can carry a term of imprisonment. Registrants must inform the police within three days if they change their name or address, and disclose if they are spending seven days or more away from their home. Convicted sex offenders have to register with their local police every year.
What else does a registered offender have to do?
Those on the register are required to notify the police if they change their name or address, and are also required to reveal any plans to travel outside the UK. Again, failure to comply is an offence.
The police can photograph offenders every time they register, and all forces exchange information about the movements of such offenders, with a national computerised database having been set up to facilitate this procedure.
Police forces can also apply for sex offender orders that bar offenders from certain activities and areas frequented by children. The most high-risk offenders are subject to further surveillance - which can include electronic tagging - by local multi-agency public protection panels which include police, probation, social services and other agencies. Offenders are given strict licence conditions and can be sent back to jail if they fail to cooperate.
How long do offenders remain on the register?
It depends on the offence. Those given a jail sentence of more than 30 months for sexual offending are placed on the register indefinitely. Those imprisoned for between six and 30 months remain on the register for 10 years, or five years if they are under 18. Those sentenced for six months or less are placed on the register for seven years, or three and a half years if under 18. Those cautioned for a sexual offence are put on the register for two years, or one year if under 18.
What checks are in place once someone is removed from the register?
An enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check, required for anyone who works with children, would flag up someone's presence on the register, or previous convictions or cautions, to a potential employer. It would also provide "soft" intelligence about allegations and concerns - for example if the police had been called round to their house due to a report of domestic violence.
How comprehensive is the register?
The Home Office says 97% of convicted sex offenders are on the register, but some offenders deliberately pursue an itinerant lifestyle in order to avoid registration. Furthermore, there is concern that many instances of sexual abuse - particularly against children - go unreported. This is because young victims are less likely to report abuse and can feel intimidated, embarrassed or guilty, and independent witnesses are rare.
Donald Findlater, the project manager of the child protection charity Stop It Now!, said because registration depends on the sentence an offender receives some people slip through the net as they do not spend long enough in prison. This means some convicted offenders are not registered.
What other criticism is there of the register?
The civil liberties campaign group Liberty has expressed concern about the range of offences covered by the register. Anyone cautioned or convicted under the Sexual Offences Act can be placed on the register. This potentially includes underage teenagers engaged in consensual sex, as well as adults convicted for child abuse and rape.
But Derek Green, the director of the child protection organisation RWA, opposes exempting people cautioned or convicted of certain sexual offences from being placed on the register. He says it is worth monitoring those cautioned for minor sexual offences in order to see whether they repeat their behaviour.
The sex crimes consultant, who works with the police, said: "For example, if a young person cautioned for indecent exposure comes before the police or courts again while being monitored on the register, then there may well be an ongoing problem there."
Who gets told about the movements of sex offenders?
Head teachers, doctors, youth leaders, sports club managers and others, including landlords, are notified of the existence of a local sex offender on a confidential basis, but a system of general disclosure is unlikely to happen in Britain.
What do other countries do?
In the US, parents have access to pictures and details of all registered paedophiles. This right is known as "Megan's law", named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was found strangled near her New Jersey home six years ago. Her parents campaigned for the police to notify communities when paedophiles moved in.