In 2009 a sex offender public disclosure scheme was piloted in England and Scotland based upon political and policy assumptions about the public’s likely take-up of such a scheme. However, the pilots found lower than anticipated public use of the scheme. By drawing on the notions of instrumental and symbolic efficacy this article explores the potential implications of the current rate of take-up. Is the instrumental efficacy of the scheme, that is, its role in providing advice and information to the public about sex offenders mitigated by low take-up? Does the scheme offer symbolic reassurance to the public about sex offender management and how might this be affected by current take-up rates? The public response to disclosure is also examined through the lens of recent risk communication research, in particular Health Promotion models that critique a simplistic ‘hypodermic’ approach to risk communication. Finally, the symbolic efficacy of public disclosure is examined with specific reference to Jackson and Gray’s (2010) ‘functional fear’.
University of Strathclyde