Websites displaying homes, photos of sex offenders: creepy

I stumbled on this website by way of yesterday: Family Watchdog is a site that promises to display the names, home addresses, mugshots and other data for convicted sex offenders near any given geographical location in the US. The site also offers a notification service — get alerts when a convicted sex offender moves near your home.

I entered my home address, and was thoroughly creeped out to see lots of little red, yellow, and green squares nearby. Each sqare represents the home address of a convicted sex offender, and each color indicates conviction type (rape, sex acts against minors under 14, sexual battery, kidnapping with intent to rape).

The creepiest thing of all, though, is seeing their faces: there are mugshots in each convict's pop-up window. Websites like this bring up all kinds of complex privacy arguments, and the consequences of potential errors. Wrong names, addresses or photos could happen, no system is perfect — not to mention possible wrongful convictions. Some argue that sites like this encourage vigilanteism and create risks for wrongfully accused or databased people; others argue they promote a false sense of security awareness (what about the rapist next door who isn't in this website's database?)

But right now I'm just stuck on the immediate, visceral, ick factor. You plug in "Starbucks" to Google Maps, you get little red dots on a map that show you where to buy a frappucino. Enter a search here, and instead you'll see these men (and women)'s faces and criminal records.


Reader comment: Jonathan Martin says,

It's interesting to note that (at least in my state) there's a higher concentration of "dots" in lower income areas. That says one of the following:

– sex criminals are more likely poorer
– poorer people are more likely to be sex criminals
– that richer people get away away with it (i.e.: hire better lawyers)
– that richer victims are less likely to report crimes, poorer more likely
– the higher concentration could be caused my denser population in those areas
– or none of the above

I'm certainly not suggesting a correlation between income and crime, just an observation.

Reader comment: Brandon Robinson says,

Thanks a ton. Me and my mom were checking offenders around our house, and we ran across a picture of a guy who asked out my mom to go on a date just a few hours before. He was convicted for rape. You possibly saved my mom for posting it, so I thank you.

Reader comment: Kyle Straker says,

I'd just like to point out that certain states do not share/store the addresses of sex offenders. This would include Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Boy do I love my home state, Pennsylvania.

Reader comment: Vince says,

Don't get too creeped out. In many states, including Florida, the law is so broad as to get you listed as a sex offender for urinating in public. Do it in an area where you even might be in view of children and you'll get the "offense against children" mark.

Drunken college kids doing a drive-by mooning? If convicted of indecent exposure, they get the same. You'll notice most (if not all?) sex offense criminal records don't bother to state the crime committed.

Reader comment: Joe says,

Here is a news story about a woman who puts a sex offender sign on the wrong house. It is illegal to harass these convicted sex offenders. The privacy issues are very complicated. Megan's Law is tricky because we all know how corrupt our legal system is with racist police and judges. It is supposedly a common frame-up for police to plant child porn on drug dealers' computers so they can send them away for longer. Link to story.

Reader comment: Brenda Carter says,

Although Family Watchdog (a great service!) does not currently include offenders from Pennsylvania, the state does provide public access to the registered sex offenders database at the Megan's Law website. While it doesn't provide a nifty interactive map, it is searchable by county, city, ZIP code, name and alias, and also includes creepy mugshots.

Reader comment: Bruce Hallman says,

Be aware that if you read the fine print of the source data for sex offender database, (in Californina at least), you find that the make no assurances that the data is correct. Sex offenders move, and the database of their registered address commonly is out of date with their actual address. This was the case for the address of the house next door to my own house for several months last year. Also, there have been reports, when the parent is the molestor of their own child, [and still resides with the child], that the address listed is actually the address where the child victim lives. In such cases, publicly listing the address is clearly wrong.

Reader comment: Father and Washington state resident Glenn Fleishman says,

Vis a vis Family Watchdog, Spokane apparently outdoes most of the rest of the US (including nearby cities) for child molesters and serial killers. No idea why.

Reader comment: chialynn says,

I ran the only convicted sex offender I know through this site — and his name's not listed. So I ran his address — and no, he's not there. Lives equidistant between two schools, he's got a history of sex acts with minors, but he's not on the list.

I have other problems with this site (many, many problems, which I'm trying to write up in something like a coherent format now), but this is the main one. It reads as though it's all you need to keep your family safe — but obviously it's not.