Timeline of Sex Offender History
Compiled by Derek W. Logue from various resources
26 Dec. 2012, Last Update 18 Sept. 2020


This timeline is intended to provide a chronological guide to the major events that helped shape current sex offender legislation. The timeline is based upon the information contained in various resources, primary from of two comprehensive historical books, “Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America” by Philip Jenkins (1998), and “Sex Fiends, Perverts, and Pedophile: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America” by Chrysanthi S. Leon (2011). However, some dates and events were extrapolated from other sources.

While this timeline is intended to be comprehensive, there are a number of external factors not directly related to sex offender research and legislation which have had influences on the state of the current climate of sex offender policy, though many are
considered here.

The timeline is divided into four main eras recognized by the historians:

  1. The Construction/ Progressive Era (1880-1935): Advances in sociology and psychology creates and stereotypes the sex offender
  2. The Sexual Psychopath Era (1930-1955): Marked by waves of predator panic, this era is marked by the rise of psychiatric influence in policy-making as well as novel approaches like civil commitment and registration laws
  3. The Rehabilitative/ Liberal Era (1950-1980): Period marked by experimentation with sex offender policies, dialogue outside the dominant “monster-type” view of sex offenders, a period of distrust of law enforcement and psychiatry, and a growing social acceptance of certain “deviant” sexual behaviors
  4. The Containment Era (1980-Present): Marked by unparalleled punitive responses to sex crimes, revising old ideas while implementing newer, novel ideas

Despite some major differences in the four eras, one dominant theme remains a constant—the “monster” stereotype of the sex offender. This viewpoint has helped to shape public policy since the very beginning of the modern era.

Historical Developments (Before 1880)

  • 1830s: Ernst von Feuchtersleben coins the term psychopathology

The Construction/ Progressive Era (1880-1935)

  • 1885: Term “Eugenics” (forced sterilization/ selective breeding) is coined
  • 1886: Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard von Krafft-Ebing was published
  • 1887-1895: 22 states raised Age of Consent laws from as low as 10 to 16-18 yrs. old
  • 1888: The “Jack the Ripper” murders became the first sensational sex-murder case; the “ripper-type” definition used to denote sexual murderers stemmed from this case
  • 1893: HH Holmes became the second sensationalized sex-murder case
  • 1894: First claim of child sexual abuse as dominant form of sex crimes; First wave of laws enacted to prevent child exploitation; A System of Legal Medicine by Dr. Charles G. Chaddock became first American work on sexual crimes
  • 1896: Freud pens theory girls are traumatized from sexual abuse/ incest
  • 1899: Cesare Lombroso publishes Crime: Causes and Remedies, establishing the “Positivist” school of Criminology (belief physical traits were indicators of criminality)
  • 1907: Indiana passes first Eugenics law
  • 1908-1916: Recorded serial killings and sex-murders peaked in media coverage
  • 1910: The Mann Act Interlinked movements against forced prostitution, white slavery, and venereal disease; created the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI)
  • 1911: Massachusetts Briggs Act allowed for civil commitment of criminals
  • 1913: The American Social Hygiene Association is formed, and begins teaching youth to abstain from sex
  • 1917: William Moulton Marston developed the systolic blood pressure test and claimed it could be used to detect deception, precursor to the Polygraph test (he also invented the Wonder Woman comic hero)
  • 1921: John A. Larson of the Berkeley, CA police develops his own version of the Polygraph test
  • 1924: Leopold and Loeb child killers trial popularized the use of the term “psychopath” and rise of psychiatric role in managing sex offenders
  • 1925: Death Penalty was authorized as a penalty for rape in most of the US
  • 1927: Buck v. Bell—SCOTUS upholds sterilization in cases where proper Eugenics, not punishment, was goal
  • 1928-1933: Doshay Studies on youth sexual deviance concluded most juvenile “sex offenders” were unlikely to become lifelong sex criminals (noting such behaviors as engaging in consensual sex, viewing or creating obscene material, or homosexuality were all considered “deviant” behaviors)

The Sexual Psychopath Era (1930-1955)

  • 1931: The Scottsboro Boys rape trial spotlights the racial element in interracial sex crime cases (their sentences of death were overturned)
  • 1932: Bruno Hauptmann kidnaps the Lindbergh baby, “The Crime of the Century”
  • 1935: Albert Fish case cemented the stereotype of the sex offender as child killer; J Edgar Hoover made director of the FBI and begins campaigns to raise sex crime awareness and prosecution
  • 1937-1940: The first of the three peak panics of the Sexual Psychopath Era
  • 1937: Michigan passes first Sexual Psychopath Law (was later struck down in the courts); New York announced it was compiling a list of known sex offenders and “degenerates” and making periodic checks on their locations (precursor to modern registry); National Committee for Mental Hygiene issues the pamphlet “The Challenge of Sex Offenders”; Florida compiled a similar registry for three of its most populous counties; J. Paul de River establishes the LAPD Sex Offense Bureau
  • 1938: Illinois creates the first sexual psychopath law upheld by the Courts
  • 1940: New York City Mayor’s Committee for the Study of Sex Offenses devotes large section of study on debunking sex offender myths
  • 1942: Skinner v. Oklahoma decision strikes fatal blow to Eugenics Movement
  • 1944: Chemical castration first prescribed to control sex drive for sex offenders
  • 1947-1950: The second of the three peak panics of the Sexual Psychopath Era
  • 1947: California passed the nation’s first sex offender registration law in order to give police departments a way to keep track of known offenders by creating a list of suspects for use when new crimes occurred; “The Black Dahlia” (Elizabeth Short) murder case
  • 1948: Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male is published; Charles Jackson publishes novel The Outer Edges, a fictionalized account of a child sex-murder
  • Nov. 1949: “Horror Week”—three high-profile cases made headlines the same week
  • 1950: California’s Sexual Deviation Research Act funds a variety of state responses to sex crime; J. Paul de River is fired from the LAPD Sex Offense Bureau after questionable investigation tactics in the Black Dahlia case
  • 1953-1954: The final of the three peak panics of the Sexual Psychopath Era

The Rehabilitative/ Liberal Era (1950s-1980)

  • 1952: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), first edition, includes homosexuality, fetishism, pedophilia, transvestism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadism, masochism, and other unspecified sexual deviations
  • 1953: Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female published
  • 1955: Term child molestation first appears in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature; B.D. Glueck proposed term hebephilia (later ephebophilia) to differentiate sexual interest in adolescents; the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is published
  • ca. 1957: Kurt Freund develops the Penile Plethysmograph (PPG) to aid Czechoslovakian army in screening out homosexuals
  • 1958: Charles E. Israel published The Mark, a fictional novel about a man trying to live under the sex offender laws of the time
  • 1960: Novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published
  • 1962: The image of the “baby batterer” enters society; Illinois becomes first state to decriminalize sodomy
  • 1963: Dr. C. Henry Kempe’s The Battered Child Syndrome is published
  • 1965: Gladys Schultz’s How Many More Victims? went against norms at time, claimed rape widespread, victims suffer long-term damage/ trauma, child victims
  • 1969: Stonewall Riots brings national attention to the gay rights movement
  • 1970: US Commission on Obscenity and Pornography/ “Lockhart Commission” fails to find link between obscene materials and criminality
  • 1973: APA membership votes to exclude homosexuality from the DSM
  • 1974: Feminist rape awareness campaigns begin; Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) creates mandatory abuse reporting requirements; Diana EH Russell’s The Politics of Rape: The Victim’s Perspective is published
  • 1977: Term child sexual abuse overtook generic term child abuse; Kildee-Murphy Bill prohibits Child Porn production, distribution, possession; Child Abuse and Neglect journal formed; courts first determined “sexual harassment” was a legitimate concern
  • December 1978: National Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) forms in Boston, MA (the mere existence of the group helped solidify public fears of “pedophile rings”)
  • 1979- First national conference devoted to child sexual abuse created
  • 1979-1981: Stories of child murders permeated media; Adam Walsh, Etan Patz cases; John Wayne Gacy and Randy Kraft “gay serial killers” used to link homosexuals to pedophiles and child killers

The Containment Era (1980-Present)

  • 1980: Lawrence Pazder publishes the book Michelle Remembers, a book credited as laying the foundation for the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) panics
  • 1982: New York v Ferber: SCOTUS rules special standards of indecency applied to CP cases, Gov’t has “compelling/surpassing” interests in child protection; Bakersfield became the site for the first major claim of Satanic Ritual Abuse
  • 1984: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is formed; NBC’s influential documentary Silent Shame broadcasted; “Incest survivor” Katherine Brady declares “incest epidemic”; McMartin preschool accusations become public
  • 1985: “Meese (pornography) Commission”
  • 1988: U.S Parole Commission and many state and local jurisdictions began experimenting with the use of electronic monitoring (EM), precursor to GPS monitoring
  • 1990: Washington state creates the first “sexual predator” law, establishing a registry, community notification, indefinite sentencing, a tiered system of perceived risk, and civil commitment law in response to two high profile cases, starting a trend of “memorial laws”
  • 1991: Jack Olsen’s book Predator popularized the previously rarely used term “sexual predator”
  • 1992: World Health Organization (WHO) removes homosexuality from its list of diseases; Stop It Now! was founded by Fran Henry
  • October 1993: Polly Klaas murder became the “Murder of America’s Child”
  • 1994: NCCAN study discredited all SRA allegations; Jacob Wetterling Act establishes first national sex offender registry law; Indiana’s “Zachary’s Law” places their state registry online; California passes One Strike for [some] Rapists law
  • July 1994: Megan Kanka is murdered in New Jersey, inspiring the public registry
  • 1995: Amendments to the Communications Decency Act (CDA) first addressed the fear of “online predators”; Florida passes the first residence restriction laws against sex offenders; Louisiana becomes first state to reinstitute the death penalty for “child rape”
  • 1996: “Megan’s Law” is passed at the federal level, forcing states to maintain publicly accessible registries and community notification; California passes first modern chemical castration law
  • 1997: The US Supreme Court upholds civil commitment in Kansas v. Hendricks
  • 1998: Delaware passes first sex offender ID card law, marking state-issued ID cards with a “Y” (a similar law in Florida died)
  • 1999: Karl Hanson’s Static-99 is developed and becomes leading risk assessment test; Reform Sex Offender Laws creates “Call to Safeguard our Children and Our Liberties
  • 2000: SOHopeful Legal Defense Fund is established to fight Oregon’s public registry
  • 2001: In Seling v. Young, civil commitment is judged not to be second punishment
  • Summer 2002: The “Summer of the Abducted White Girl” is dubbed as three high-profile cases—Danielle Van Dam, Samantha Runnion, and Elizabeth Smart—dominated the media
  • 2003: SCOTUS upholds Megan’s Law in Connecticut Department of Public Safety v. Doe and Smith v. Doe decisions;
    PROTECT Act creates national AMBER Alert program among other “get tough” laws; Sex Offender Support and Education Network (SOSEN) begins as a Yahoo Group
  • 2005: Florida passes the “Jessica Lunsford Act” that included strict mandatory minimum laws. Other states later adopted their own versions of the bill.
  • 2006: In California, the Sex Offender Punishment, Control and Containment Act of 2006 is passed; nationwide, the Adam Walsh Act is implemented (followed by state implementations); The city of Miami, FL began forcing sex offenders to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway due to a 2500 foot residence restriction
  • July 2007: Ohio becomes the first state to become “substantially compliant” with the federal Adam Walsh Act;
  • December 2007: Anti-Registry activists conduct first successful public rally against the Adam Walsh Act in Columbus, OH (after an earlier attempt in Miami was stamped out by local officials)
  • 2008: SCOTUS rules in Kennedy v. Louisiana death penalty cannot be applied to rape cases where there is no murder; the first “state-specific” sex offender reform groups (such as Texas Voices) form;
  • 2009: Iowa becomes the first state to repeal residency restriction laws for most registrants in the state; National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws (then RSOL) holds first Conference
  • 2010: The US Supreme Court upholds the indefinite commitment of the Adam Walsh Act in US v. Comstock
  • April 2015: First major Anti-Registry Movement protest in Tallahassee
  • August 2016: Does v. Snyder, 834 F.3d 696 (6th Circuit 2016) declared the Adam Walsh Act is punitive and thus violates ex post faco. 
  • Feb. 2017: Obama signs “International Megan’s Law”, which forces registrants with offenses against minors to have a mark of infamy places on passports and requires 21-days notice for International travel.
  • July 2017: SCOTUS declares in Packingham v NC that sex offenders cannot be banned from social media