When ‘message laws’ create perpetual panic: the case of sex offender registries


  • Roberto Cornelli Pensamultimedia
  • Oriana Binik
  • Lorenzo Natali




This contribution defines ‘Megan’s Laws’ as ‘message laws’, that is, those penal laws that carry a message not only coherent with the cultural impetus supporting their adoption but also anticipating something that is not (yet) acceptable to manifest openly in Western politics. First, we describe how this message is generally considered more important than the actual results produced by these laws in terms of efficiency, and how it also intervenes on issues causing waves of moral and perpetual panic. Second, we observe how, in the specific case of sex offender registration and notification laws, two important messages are at stake: that sex offenders deserve perpetual punitivity and that the community has the right/duty to control their behaviours. Finally, we suggest that ‘message laws’ can be considered a wake-up call on maintaining the democratic project.