Public interest in sex offenders: A perpetual panic?

Keri Burchfield, Lisa L. Sample, Robert Lytle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


All 50 states have laws that require sex offenders to register with law enforcement and for that information to be made publicly available. The rapid passage of sex offender policy, coupled with increased media attention and sensationalized cases, suggests a moral panic. However, if it is a moral panic, we would expect it to expire as quickly as it appeared. But this does not seem to be the case. Political and media interest seem persistent, though the role of public interest is unclear. We use Google Trends data for the United States, employing an interrupted time-series design to analyze public interest in sex offenders before and after passage of the Adam Walsh Act in 2006. We found that such interest is fairly stable over time. Our results have implications for how we understand sex offenders, how we understand moral panics, and the ways in which laws are derived from them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-117
Number of pages22
JournalCriminology, Criminal Justice, Law and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Google data
  • Moral panic
  • Policy
  • Public interest
  • Sex offenders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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