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Sex Offender Placement and Neighborhood Social Integration: The Making of a Scarlet Letter Community

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Based on data from 147 randomly selected households and commercial enterprises located in a low income neighborhood of a mid-size Midwestern city, this exploratory study examines how the process of sex offender community notification (Megan's Law) affects the factors of social integration and fear of crime, especially that involving the anticipated sexual victimization of young children. It is hypothesized that social integration, defined as formal and informal social interaction that engenders a sense of belonging, is negatively associated with variations of fear, which is magnified by the publicized residential placement of a convicted sex offender. Using standard measures of social integration, the ­findings reveal that those people who maintained or even strengthened social ties to their neighborhood experienced no reduction in the fear that neighborhood children would be victimized. An analysis of the data suggests that social integration dissipates rather quickly when fear for the safety of neighborhood children is increased by the sudden disclosure of the resident sex offender.
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Keywords: Community Notification; Fear of Crime; Preventive Behavior; Sex Offender; Social Integration

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-06-01

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