History of the Law and Federal Facts
Sexually based crimes strike at the very core of the human spirit. In
the wake of sexual violence are scarred victims, shattered lives, disrupted families
and frightened communities. Media accounts of previously convicted sexual offenders
committing new violent sexual assaults have become commonplace. A new approach to
dealing with the offender and protecting citizens was in order.
The genesis for this new approach was guided by four Federal acts. They are named
after the victims of violent/sexual assaults. These are the victims' stories:
In July 1981, Adam Walsh, age 6, was watching other children play videogames in a Florida
department store while his mother shopped in another area of the store less than 75 feet away.
In October 1989, Jacob Wetterling, age 11, bicycled home from a store with his brother and a friend
in St. Joseph, Minnesota. In September 1990, Houston real estate agent, Pam Lychner prepared to show
a vacant residence to a prospective
buyer. In July 1994, Megan Kanka, age 7, accepted an invitation from a neighbor
in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, to see his puppy. As they went about their daily
routines, Walsh, Wetterling, Lychner, and Kanka could not have known they were fated to
become crime victims, or that their names would become synonymous with Federal laws
mandating more stringent control of sexual offenders.
Walsh’s mother returned to the videogame area in under ten minutes, but she could not find
her son. Adam’s parents assisted local law enforcement with the dispersal of information
relating to their son’s disappearance, and thousands of fliers with Adam’s photograph were
distributed throughout the local area. However, sixteen days after Adam disappeared from
the store, his decapitated head was found. Adam’s body was never located. Adam’s death
garnered national attention, and his father became an advocate for victims of violent crimes.
Adam’s father later became the host of a National television program dedicated to the apprehension
of fugitives. There were no arrests made with Adam’s disappearance and murder.
In July 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
The Federal statute instructed states to apply identical criteria for posting sexual offender data on the Internet.
Wetterling's ride home was interrupted by an armed man wearing a nylon mask who
ordered the boy's companions to flee. Wetterling has not been seen since. Investigators
later learned that, unbeknownst to local law enforcement, halfway houses in St.
Joseph housed sexual offenders after their release from prison. Wetterling's disappearance
transformed his mother, Patty, a self-described "stay-at-home mom," into a tireless
advocate for missing children. She was appointed to a governor's task force that
recommended stronger sexual offender registration requirements in Minnesota.
The more stringent requirements were subsequently implemented on a national basis
when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender
Registration Act was included in the Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement
Act of 1994.
The Wetterling Act required states to establish stringent registration programs
for sex offenders – including life-long registration for a subclass of offenders
classified as sexual predators.
Awaiting Lychner at the vacant house was a twice-convicted felon who brutally assaulted
the former flight attendant. Her life was saved when her husband arrived on the
scene and interrupted the attack. The experience motivated Lychner to form Justice
for All, a Texas-based victims' rights advocacy group that lobbies for tougher sentences
for violent criminals.
U.S. Senators Phil Gramm of Texas and Joseph Biden of Delaware credited Lychner
with helping to craft the language of a bill that established a national computer
database to track sexual offenders. The bill was named the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender
Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 to honor the activist after she and her
two daughters were killed in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long
Island, New York, in July 1996. The Lychner Act amended the Violent Crime Control
and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to
establish the national offender database and to handle sexual offender registration
and notification in states unable to maintain "minimally sufficient" programs of
The neighbor who invited Megan Kanka to see his puppy was a twice-convicted pedophile,
who raped and murdered her, then dumped her body in a nearby park. Megan's grieving
parents said they never would have let their daughter travel their neighborhood
freely if they had been alerted to the presence of a convicted sexual offender living
across the street from their residence. Congress passed the Federal version of "Megan's
Law," another amendment to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of
1994, in 1996.
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration
Act (enacted in 1994), the Federal version of "Megan's Law" (enacted in 1996),
the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (also enacted in
1996), and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (enacted in 2006).
- - In brief, the statutes require states to establish registration programs
so local law enforcement will know the whereabouts of sexual offenders released into
their jurisdictions, and notification programs so the public can be warned about
sexual offenders living in the community (The Lychner Act also requires the creation
of a national sexual offender registry, and it requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation
to handle registration in states that lack "minimally sufficient" programs).
Governor Tom Ridge sought to address this issue during the 1995 Special Session
on Crime. During this session, legislation was introduced that would:
- IDENTIFY those sexual offenders who are truly predators and allow the
sentencing court to impose a lifetime registration on those offenders;
- REGISTER with the Pennsylvania State Police both sexual offenders and Sexually Violent
- NOTIFY the communities when those persons, identified as Sexually Violent Predators,
move into their neighborhood.
On October 21, 1995, Governor Ridge signed into law Act 24 of 1995, commonly referred
to as "Megan's Law," which became effective on April 21, 1996. There were several
amendments to Megan's Law as a result of court decisions.
Then, on November 24, 2004, Governor Edward Rendell signed into law Senate Bill
No. 92, which made significant changes to Megan's Law. Most notably, information
on all registered sexual offenders would now be available to the public through the
On December 20, 2011, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill No. 1183. S.B.1183
also known at the “Adam Walsh Bill”, brought the Commonwealth into compliance with The Adam
Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Pennsylvania now joins the coordinated and comprehensive
national sexual offender registry. Other noteworthy enhancements that were brought into law include:
Expanding the list of sexual offenses that require sexual offender registration; and Extending
sexual offender registration requirements to juvenile offenders who were adjudicated of Rape,
Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, Aggravated Indecent Assault or adjudication(s) of solicitation,
attempt, or conspiracy of the same.