This article examines why England and Wales have comparatively one of the most stringent systems for the governance of sexual offending within Western Europe. While England and Wales, like the USA, have adopted broadly exclusionary, managerialist penal policies based around incapacitation and targeted surveillance, many other Western European countries have opted for more inclusionary therapeutic interventions. Divergences in state approaches to sex offender risk, particularly in relation to notification and vetting schemes, are initially examined with reference to the respective theoretical frameworks of ‘policy transfer’ and differing political economies. Chiefly, however, differences in penal policies are attributed to the social and political construction of risk and its control. There may be multiple expressions of risk relating to expert, lay, moral or emotive aspects. It is argued, however, that it is the particular convergence and alignment of these dimensions on the part of the various stakeholders in the UK – government, media, public and professional – that leads to risk becoming institutionalized in the form of punitive regulatory policies for managing the dangerous.