In 1994 the Jacob Wetterling Act established the first national sex offender registry law, and Indiana’s “Zachary’s Law” placed their state registry online.
In 1996 “Megan’s Law” was passed at the federal level, forcing states to maintain publicly accessible registries and allowing all levels of community notification.
In 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld civil commitment in Kansas v. Hendricks, and a year later, Delaware passed the first law requiring registrants to carry a special ID card
In 2005 strict mandatory minimum laws were created with the Jessica Lunsford Act followed by the Adam Walsh Act in 2006. (1)
These laws are the result of horrific acts of violence often resulting in murder and with actual or assumed sexual motivation against youth. They were driven in equal parts by grieving parents wanting justice, politicians who, for reasons both altruistic and self-serving, were willing to take up the cause, and a media fired by the sensationalism inherent in the issue.
The cases that drove the laws are rare anomalies; with instant telecommunications and every story being repeated beyond counting, the impression is easily given and received that these heinous incidents happen every day. They don’t. They represent the tiniest fraction of all sexual offenses, but the transition is easily made in the public’s mind: sex offender = violent, predatory pedophile and potential murderer.
And an industry was born—a multi-million if not billion dollar industry—containing but not limited to these branches; the only order attempted is alphabetical.