On October 22, 1989, eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted as he, his brother, and a friend rode their bikes home from a convenience store in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Law enforcement authorities arrived on the scene within minutes. No sign of Wetterling or his abductor has ever been found, despite the involvement of local authorities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hundreds of volunteer searchers, and more than 50,000 leads.
Jacob’s disappearance spurred his family and supporters to found the Jacob Wetterling Foundation (JWF) in January 1990. The Foundation’s mission is to protect children from sexual exploitation and abduction, through prevention education, victims’ assistance, and legislation aimed at sex offenders. In 1991 JWF saw its first success with Minnesota’s State Sex Offender Registration Act. The law provided law enforcement authorities with a comprehensive list of sex offenders in the state, something authorities lacked when Jacob was abducted.
JWF’s agenda has included both state and federal legislative changes. In 1994, Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Bill. This legislation included the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sex Offender Registration Act. The law mandated that each state create a specific program to register sex offenders.
In 1996, the Wetterling Act was amended by Megan’s Law (discussed below), and the Pam Lychner Sex Offender Tracking and Identification Act. The Lychner Act called upon the FBI to establish a national database of names and addresses of sex offenders who are released from prison. It also required lifetime registration for certain offenders. Its purpose is to make it easier for authorities to track the movements of convicted sex offenders throughout all 50 states. The National Sex Offender Registry can be found at http://www.nsor.net.
In 1997 other changes were made to the Wetterling Act. Changes included heightened registration requirements for sexually violent offenders such as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Additional registration requirements were imposed for sex offenders who live in one state but go to school or work in another state.