The research presented here empirically evaluates the claim that sex offender notification is positively correlated with the public's adoption of protective behavior, while considering the impact ecological context has on the decision to adopt protective behaviors. This study assumes that people make decisions about their personal safety behaviors after calculating their perceived victimization risk; risk that is based upon a number of both personal and ecological variables including one's sex, race, parent status, neighborhood type, and whether or not one has received notification about a sex offender residing in close proximity. Holding that these factors impact behavior, a person then acts—or does not act—according to his or her calculation of risk. Because community notification is often geographically specific and because it is well documented that known sex offenders are concentrated in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods this study gives primacy to measuring protective behavior differences between socially disorganized neighborhoods and socially organized neighborhoods. Specifically, this research asks:
- 1if notified residents undertake more protective behaviors on behalf of themselves or loved ones than do non-notified residents;
- 2if there is a difference in protective actions taken by notified residents of socially organized neighborhoods compared to notified residents of socially disorganized neighborhoods; and,
- 3if there is a difference in protective behavior between residents of socially disorganized neighborhoods who receive notification and those who do not.
To explore these relationships a series of regression analyses was conducted on data generated from an adaptation of Ferraro's (1995) Fear of Crime in America Survey (n =407). This study found no statistically significant relationship between receiving notification about a high-risk sex offender and the adoption of self-protective behaviors, controlling for differences in sociodemographics and neighborhood type. This has important implications as it undermines the very assumption upon which notification laws are based—that if people have knowledge of a person who poses a potential threat to their safety, they will change their behavior to mitigate this risk. This research project did not discern any significant group differences in response to notification, suggesting that—across the board—community members simply are not motivated by notification to change their personal safety habits. This study did find, however, that notified parents adopt more behaviors to protect their children than do non-notified parents. While the effect size is modest at best, this may not matter to the public and its elected officials as much of the traction gained by community notification laws has been in their potential to protect children and other vulnerable populations.