Protecting Our Kids?
How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us
by Emily Horowitz
April 2015, 181pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-3862-0
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-3863-7
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Nearly 800,000 people are on sex-offender registries in the United States.

This thought-provoking work raises important questions about sex offender laws, drawing from personal stories, research, and data to prove the policies promote fear, destroy lives, and fail to protect children.

Do sex offender laws protect children, or are they inherently unfair practices that, at their worst, promote vigilante justice? The latter, this book argues. By analyzing the social, political, historical, and cultural context surrounding the emergence of current sex offender policies and laws, the work shows how sex offenders have come to loom as greater-than-life monsters when, in many cases, that is not true at all. Looking at its subject from a fresh viewpoint, the book shares research and new analyses of data and qualitative evidence to show how sex-offender laws are not only ineffective, but engender destructive fear and anxiety.

To help readers understand the impact of these laws, the author presents interviews with sex offenders and their families as they describe the day-to-day reality of living on the sex offender registry. Citing research and statistics, the book challenges the idea that sex offenders must be continually monitored and publicly identified because they are incurably predatory. Most important, the study shows that undue sex offender panic is preventing policymakers from addressing the true threats to children—poverty and growing inequality.


  • Provides research-based evidence that the mean-spirited and panic-driven sex offender laws, aimed at branding a group of offenders as inhuman and unworthy of civil liberties and human rights, increases fear, destroys the lives of offenders and their families, and fails to protect children
  • Shows that emphasizing sex offenders and stranger-danger as the primary threat to child well-being and safety prevents focus on and attention to policies that prevent far more pervasive forms of child abuse, such as physical abuse, neglect, and maltreatment
  • Analyzes the sociohistorical context surrounding the emergence of current draconian sex offender policies
  • Challenges the idea that sex offenders must be continually monitored and publicly identified
  • Tells the stories of convicted sex offenders and their families and how they survive in a society that views them as the "worst of the worst"
Emily Horowitz, PhD, is chairperson and associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. She is the author of articles about inflammatory media coverage of sex offenders and child abusers and of miscarriages of justice related to panic about child safety. She serves as a researcher and advocate in criminal cases involving those falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of crimes against children. At St. Francis, Horowitz has developed courses on wrongful conviction and mass incarceration, and she recently started a pilot program that helps the formerly incarcerated complete college. She received her doctorate in sociology in 2002 from Yale University.


2015 Outstanding Academic Title—Choice, January 1, 2016


"The author should be applauded for her brave, well-researched stance. A highly readable book for criminal justice and social science collections. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries."—Choice, November 2, 2015

"My heart pounded as I read this book, it is that thrilling to see truth in print. In our admirable urge to protect our children, we have chosen the most destructive, least effective path possible—the path from concern straight to hysteria and cruelty. With Horowitz as our brilliant guide, we see how we got here and why we must turn back, for the sake of justice and our own precious kids." —Lenore Skenazy, founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids

"In this masterful account of sex crimes and sex offender legislation, Professor Horowitz elegantly mixes the stories of those convicted of sex offenses with clear-eyed social analysis. Professor Horowitz argues that too many sex offenders are caught in a tangled web consisting of personal and social pathologies that sex offender registries make worse. Over six chapters, Professor Horowitz carefully examines and explains the hysteria, the myths, and the sense of moral panic that surrounds sex offenders. In tackling such a complicated and contentious topic, Professor Horowitz demonstrates that it is possible to write a book suitable for both academics and those genuinely interested in the vexing problem of sex offenders."—Cary Federman, Associate Professor, Department of Justice Studies, Montclair State University

"Dr. Horowitz makes a persuasive case for why the current rash of draconian sex offender laws in the United States violate civil liberties, create an entire class of pariahs and outcasts, and above all, fail to protect children. Her interviews with offenders bring reality, insight, and clarity to a subject usually blurred by panic and hysteria. She compellingly shows that portrayals of offenders as predatory, incurable monsters do not advance our understanding—and no matter how politically popular a set of laws might be, popularity does not translate into effectiveness. Dr. Horowitz approaches this topic as no one else has: realistically rather than sensationalistically." —Gavin de Becker, bestselling author of The Gift of Fear

"Popular wisdom holds that there is no criminal reviled more than the child molester, no criminal so incurable and incorrigible, and no laws too harsh to punish and deter such people. What happens when such popular wisdom is exploited by cynical politicians? The answer to that question, and to so many others, is provided by Professor Emily Horowitz in this ground-breaking and important new book. Applying rigorous statistical methodology as well as detailed case studies, Professor Horowitz proves that we have badly failed our children by creating a broad and undifferentiated legal category of 'child sex offenders' that violates sacrifices civil liberties without any corresponding gain in protecting our children. Far from the stranger in the van with the puppy, Professor Horowitz demonstrates that the vast majority of child sex offenders have close family relationships with the children they molest. Worse, the very initiatives that could help prevent and deter child sex abuse, such as social programs and health care, are opposed by the very politicians who will spare no expense on prisons and punishment. The good news is that we can, and must, do better."—Ronald L. Kuby, civil rights lawyer

"This book focuses on the panic and hysteria that surrounds cases involving sex offenses and the particular madness that surrounds sex offenses involving children. Professor Horowitz shows how irrational sex offender laws came into being, how ineffective they are at protecting children or preventing sexual abuse, and how they trample over the civil liberties and human rights of those accused and convicted of sex offenses. I am impressed at the calm and focused way she presents legislative history, follow-up research, and the climate of intimidation that now controls and limits discussion of what has become a pervasive national problem."—Mike Snedeker, Attorney and President, National Center for Reason and Justice

"Protecting Our Kids? skillfully weaves the personal narratives of 'sex offenders' with the policies that impose social and economic exile on this growing, undifferentiated category of people. In it, Horowitz not only describes and analyzes, but also moves readers to decry—and hopefully to change—a regime that fails to protect children from sexual harm while it damages offenders, families and communities, and the criminal justice system itself."—Judith Levine, author of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex

"What is it like to be remanded to a residential sex offender treatment facility for having played doctor at the age of 12? What is it like to be on a sex offender registry, all but unemployable for life, stemming from a first, only, and nonviolent offense? Brilliantly weaving interviews, vignettes, and historical narratives with social analysis, Horowitz takes us deeply into the world of America’s sex offender laws, with their special provisions and perpetual punishments: public registries, community notification procedures, therapy with lie detectors, residency restrictions, civil confinement—and, effectively, banishment. Tracing the effects of these draconian laws through stories of personal wreckage and familial devastation, she shows in searing detail how such sanctions are incommensurate and ultimately ineffective."—Roger Lancaster, author of Sex Panic and the Punitive State
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