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Life on the ‘sex offender register’ – identity, reintegration and the significance of de-registration

This research focuses on developing an understanding of ‘what life is like on the sex offenders register’ for the individuals and their relatives.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Name witheld
Police region
Level of research
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Sex Offender Register Notification (SORN) was introduced in 1997, with the original intention of supporting the police in knowing the whereabouts of an offender. The register was not designed as a punishment or a second sentence but as an ‘add on’ feature for public and child protection. 

The number of individuals being placed on the register has risen annually, and since 2009 there has been a consistent 7% annual growth. Registered Sex Offenders (RSO) in England and Wales now stand at 60,294 (Ministry of Justice, 2019), the majority serve their sentences within the community via community-based sanctions. Regardless of the severity of the index offence, all placed on the register are subject to mandatory notifications, with management and monitoring being undertaken by community-based teams.

Time on the register varies from 2 years for a caution, to life for individuals who have received a custodial sentence of 30 months or more. The effects of SORN on RSOs are such that strong familial and social bonds can be vital to support an offenders' successful desistance and reintegration.

Although these connections can often be detrimental to relatives’ wellbeing, little is known about how the register and the civil protection orders affect family life and subsequently impact on the re-integration process.

Amendments in 2012 to the Sexual Offenders Act (2003) stipulated that RSOs who had previously been subjected to life on the register could apply for removal after 15 years (8 years for juvenile offenders) given proof they were no longer a risk to the community. In 2017/18 & 2018/19, 334 and 300, respectively, RSOs were removed from the register. However, no official police or government data exists showing how many RSOs submitted applications to revoke their indefinite notification requirements although Freedom of Information Requests (FOIR) showed that approximately 1,230 men and women had been de-registered since 2012; approximating to 50% of requests (BBC, 2017).

The FOIRs found success rates in removal applications (de-registration) varied significantly between police forces. Little is known about the detail and complexity involved in the deregistration process for both adult and juvenile RSOs, or the criteria used by police forces when processing such applications.

Additionally, little research exists which examines how offenders navigate the de-registration process, how they prove they are no longer a risk, or how the police determine that an offender is no longer a risk to society. With more individuals joining SORN than leaving, it is timely to research the implications of ‘what life is like on the sex offenders register’ for society and to develop a greater understanding and knowledge of how this may impact on re-integration and de-registration.

Research aims

This research focuses on developing an understanding of ‘what life is like on the sex offenders register’ for the individuals and their relatives. Additionally, it explores opportunities for the individuals’ re-integration within the community.

An evidence-based understanding of the process of de-registration of RSOs across police forces will also be gained. A final element will be to understand the significance of de-registration for RSOs, their relatives and the wider community.

Research objectives

  1. How may RSOs’ identity affect their reintegration into their communities, and what is the significance of having their registration requirements removed.

  2. How does an RSOs’ status affect their relatives.

  3. What are the perceptions and experiences MOSOVO Officers (Management of Sexual Offenders and Violent Offenders) in relation to factors that support or challenge successful reintegration and de-registration.

  4. How do chief superintendents make decisions on applications to revoke indefinite notification requirements issued under the Sexual Offence Act 2003 and what are their perceptions of the impact of this process on RSOs and their families.

Research methodology

Research methodology design:

The research will use qualitative methods to explore the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about life on the SORN from the various perspectives of RSOs, their families, relatives, MOSOVO officers and the police forces within which jurisdiction they fall.

Qualitative methods will provide a more holistic understanding of the subject matter than quantitative approaches. Data will be gathered using a multi-method qualitative strategy employing questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and document analysis in order to gain a cross-sectional in-depth understanding of the contemporary situation, the ‘here and now’ of what life might be like on the SORN.

Analytical techniques:

The analysis will take a pragmatic approach to identify processes, experiences and practices. Pragmatism also allows a view to be taken regarding what ‘works’ as opposed to what might be considered absolutely and objectively 'true' or 'real'.

An iterative approach will be taken to analysis, examining previous evidence and existing theories while collecting new data ‘symbiotically’ to allow for explanations to be satisfactorily reached throughout the research process.

The pragmatic approach is part of an abductive philosophy which will allow the 'researcher to ground a theoretical understanding of the contexts...[of the subjects’] language, meanings and perspectives that form their worldview' (Bryman, 2012, p.401), (Charmaz, 2006), that is ‘what life is like on the SORN’.

Data collection strategy

Data will be gathered using a multi-method qualitative approach. This process will include questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis and will be conducted with the following groups.

  • Registered Sex Offenders (RSOs) – questionnaires and semi-structured interviews will explore, perceptions, interpretations and experiences in relation to the effect that the SORN label may have on their self-identity, opportunities for community re-integration and the importance of deregistration.

  • Management of Sexual and of Violent Offenders (MOSOVO) Officers – questionnaires and semi-structured interviews will explore perceptions and draw of the experiences of the MOSOVO officers regarding factors that can support or challenge successful re-integration and de-registration.

  • Document analysis – examining ‘Applications to revoke indefinite notification requirements issued under the Sexual Offence Act 2003’ – to identify any common themes and factors that affect the decision-making process to revoke indefinite notification requirements.

  • Chief Superintendents – semi-structured interviews will be conducted to examine perceptions and experience, impacts and factors regarding the process of: making decisions to revoke indefinite notification requirements issued under the Sexual Offence Act and the impact of these decisions.

Sample size, inclusion and exclusion criteria

The research will recruit 60 participants, or until the point at which theoretical saturation has been achieved, meaning there is no new information emerging from interviews that is likely to advocate the emergence of additional theory (Strauss and Cobin, 1998). To be eligible for voluntary inclusion, participants must all be adults (over 18).

The following sample size, inclusion and exclusion criteria will be applied when recruiting participants.

Sample size

  • 20 RSOs.

  • 0 Relatives of RSOs.

  • 20 MOSOVO officers.

  • 10 Chief Superintendents (or higher rank police personnel).

Inclusion criteria

  • RSO.

  • Relative of RSO.

  • MOSOVO officer with an RSO caseload.

  • Chief Superintendent or higher rank police personnel (the police personnel who is responsible within their force for making decisions to revoke SORN policies issues under the Sexual Offences Act 2003).


  • Juvenile RS0s.

  • RSO family members under 18-years of age.

  • Where there are safeguarding issues with RSOs.

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