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by Sandy Kennedy
Sunday, Nov. 09, 2008 at 2:33 PM
Clarifying the facts from the myths of sex offenders
Education: Key to Understanding and Peace of Mind
Americans crave education. Once educated, Americans are no longer victims to the scare tactics used by officials of power. It is time for Americans to be educated on the subject no one wants to talk about: Sex Offenders.
A colleague of mine recently had an encounter in a restaurant. The woman beside him started up a conversation concerning another man in the restaurant whom she recognized from the Sex Offender Registry. She asked a couple of questions: “I wonder what the re-offense rate of sex offenders is?” And “How many on the registry have been falsely convicted?” Long story short, when she found out the answers, she stated “I feel so stupid!” Like this woman, the facts will surprise you.
This article will attempt to answer to answers those questions and more for you. Listed below are 10 Myths and the Facts:
Ten Myths About Sex Offenders
Recidivism is defined as repeat criminal behavior among offenders.
Of all crimes, sex offenders are widely believed to have the highest level of recidivism. However, treatment professionals and criminologists have known for some time that once sex offenders are caught, only a small minority of them will commit another sex crime. Although some pedophiles, before they are caught, have many victims, most have a single victim in or about their own family. . In recent years social scientists and criminologists have combed through an immense accumulation of data from hundreds of studies, which have tracked tens of thousands of individual sex offenders for long periods of time, some even for decades. By 1994, 670 studies of sex offenders had been done and by the end of 2005 well over 700. Many of these studies have been systematized through a methodology called meta-analysis. The resulting data reveal that many common myths about sex offenders are simply false. We outline here some of them.
MYTH #1: "SEX OFFENDERS WILL ALWAYS KEEP OFFENDING."
Recently the Bureau of Justice Statistics published a study which tracked 9,700 sex offenders for three years, 2001-2004. Their findings concluded:
Only 5.3% of these people imprisoned for sex crimes were rearrested for a subsequent sex offense.
Where a child was involved, the re-arrest rate dropped to 3.3%.
Between two adults, the sexual re-offense rate was 2.2%.
A more multifaceted meta-analysis was done in 2004 by the office of Canada's Solicitor General, Karl Hanson. This analysis involved 95 studies tracking 31,000 sex offenders. These studies had an average follow-up period of 5 years and found:
The recidivism rate for once-caught pedophiles was 12.7%.
The overall once caught recidivism rate (includes adult victims) was 13.7%.
Contrary to widespread public opinion, once-caught sex offenders have a very low recidivism rate. With or without treatment, more than 87% of the once-caught do not commit another sex crime. With treatment, the likelihood of re-offending is even lower.
In contrast, according to the 2004 U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics study, 69% of all other types of criminals go back to prison, and they do so within five years. Over a longer period of time, other FBI statistics show, about 74% of all other types of offenders return to prison.
When that figure is compared to only 2% to 13%, the recidivism rate for sex offenders in reality is only a tiny fraction of what it is for other types of crime. This is not what the public believes and certainly not what they have heard. As the trackings of tens of thousands clearly attest, most people learn from their mistakes, and sex offenders are no exception. Just getting caught changes the behavior of most individuals.
MYTH #2: "TREATMENT DOESN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE."
The public has been told for years that treatment doesn't work, that "for sex offenders nothing works," but here too a myriad of major studies indicates otherwise:
The Campbell Collaboration analysis of 22,000 individuals found that treatment reduced recidivism by 37%.
Canada's Karl Hanson's 2000 analysis found a reduction of 41%.
Oshkosh Correctional's meta-analysis from 79 separate studies of over 11,000 sex offenders found that people who participated in treatment programs had a 59% re-arrest reduction.
According to Alexander's 1998 study, "Men arrested for having sex with children are usually overcome with shame and remorse and they want to stop. Since 1943 those who were treated in jails, hospitals and outpatient clinics found their way back to prison at a rate that was approximately one-third of those who had no treatment."
By 2005, most all preventative programs showed that re-arrest rates were being reduced by greater than half. With some of the latest deep aversion and victim empathy regimens, reductions were reported as high as 91%.
There is now a credible concurrence that "treatment works" and that new programs are becoming increasingly more successful., .
MYTH #3: "THE GREATEST THREAT TO OUR CHILDREN COMES FROM STRANGERS."
According to the most recent major study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2004), where 9,700 sex offenders were tracked, only 7% of such crimes against children were perpetrated by strangers.
The majority (93%) of molestations of children are not committed by strangers but by people who are known and trusted within or about the family.
Throughout the last decade, other arrest studies have found similar results. Most sex offenses are committed by a family member or guardian/family member (often some parental substitute).
It may be a trusted uncle, father, stepfather, mother, family friend, a teacher, coach or a priest; but in almost all cases the culprit is not a stranger.
If we keep in mind that 93% of the culprits are family or known to the family, and that 87% of sex offenders who are caught do not re-offend, then it would seem that most registries or residency restrictions or tracking of individuals will be very close to a waste of time. Such procedures will not make our communities any safer. In fact, there's evidence such measures will do the opposite.
MYTH #4: "BANNING SEX OFFENDERS FROM PLACES WHERE CHILDREN CONGREGATE WILL SIGNIFICANTLY PROTECT OUR CHILDREN."
To claim school yards, daycare centers and other places where children congregate need legislation or Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) geo-fence to keep sex offenders away may sound sensible, but again the facts do not fit the reality.
The fact is that most sex offenses take place in or near one's home and that only 7% involve strangers. Furthermore, only a tiny percentage of sex offenders have any history of kidnapping or molesting children unknown to them.
Perhaps among the safest places for children to be are those where they are together in numbers. School personnel are paying more attention than ever before, and older kids are keeping more of a watchful eye. People --even kids-- look out for each other in public places.
Finally, making it difficult for sex offenders to find places to reside means that they will have a much harder time re-integrating themselves into society, which is what most of them want to do.
MYTH #5: "TOUGHER LEGISLATION IS THE ONLY SOLUTION."
In the U.S., our judges are learned and principled and render few decisions without due diligence. Very stiff punishments for child murderers are certainly called for, but punishment is just only when it is proportioned to the severity of the crime. Such judgments should remain in the courts, subject to very specific deliberations --they should not be rendered in the legislatures, where careful deliberation is impossible.
If legislation is based on the false premise that recidivism is inevitable rather than rare, and if blurs the line between sex offense and murder, then it will result in laws that promote public shaming and permanent exclusion. These laws presume and promote lifelong guilt, ruling out all hope of change. Thus they not only clearly violate the Constitution, but they actually encourage more of the very crimes we are trying to reduce.
If we truly want fewer victims, we should adopt a more holistic approach to reintegrating sex offenders back into society. The focus should shift from more and harsher punishment to the funding of good treatment programs. Although such a shift may have little current appeal among the public today, treatment is the only sure way that we will see fewer victims of these types of crime.
Given all the degrees that sexual offenses can take, one type of sentence does not fit all. What do you do with a 17-year-old who had sex with a 15-year-old? What do you do if he was 19? What if it was consensual? Does he get registered for a lifetime as a sex offender? What about an 8-year-old who plays doctor? What if he's 14? That fact is that nowadays even juvenile sex offenders are being branded for life.
MYTH #6: "THE ONLY WAY TO DEAL WITH THEM IS PUT THEM BEHIND BARS."
Today, with two and quarter million inmates, our country has more people in jails and prisons than it does in all our colleges and universities combined. When three-quarters of all offenders are going back to prison, just funding more prison cells isn't the answer.
If our goal were to mass produce criminals, we couldn't be doing a better job. Without treatment programs, our prisons have become huge breweries, woefully turning out more of the same product, each generation more hardened and more dangerous than the last. If ever we're to make our societies more just and our communities more secure, our goal must be to make some serious changes and not just keep doing more of the same.
If we got more serious about funding preventative programs, then our courts could establish good treatment programs that would start from the first day of a criminal's first conviction. The result would be many fewer victims of all sorts of crimes, including sexual abuse of children.
Presently there is little or no rehabilitation taking place in our prisons; there is just more and more fruitless incarceration. We need to wake up about what we are brewing and start legislating intelligently, so that offenders can really get rehabilitated and contribute constructively to society.
MYTH #7: "MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES ARE EFFECTIVE AND WILL HELP PROTECT SOCIETY."
Although the public may believe that extremely stiff, mandatory minimum sentences and lock'em up strategies send a message that deters crime, history tells another story.
Criminologists point out that such laws, even when publicized, are not all that effective. Often, in the heat of actual violence, perpetrators do not even think about consequences. At such moments of blinding rage and confusion, there are generally few thoughts of penalties or sentences, severe or otherwise.
Conversely, we do know that extremely harsh mandatory sentences have prompted some of the very types of crime they are intended to stem. When a perpetrator is aware of particularly dire consequences if he's caught, that fear can lead him to cause even greater harm for the victim. A person facing a stiff sentence like a mandatory 25 years to life, or even a death sentence, may decide his chances are better if he eliminates the victim and any possible witness. What might have been a lesser crime then often gets even worse.
It may seem a paradox, but the stiffer the consequences, the more Jessicas, Megans and Polly Klaases will likely be the result. It is understandable that with such terrible murders come calls for tougher punishments. However, the problem with legislation launched in anger is that it invariably ends up punishing not only those who deserve punishment, but also those who do not.
MYTH #8: "SEX OFFENDER REGISTRIES ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT SOCIETY."
Posting names, addresses and photographs on a Sex Offender Registry is not only a risk to those on the list; it can also lead to unintended, inappropriate and destructive consequences for the whole community.
Registries tend to treat all sex offenders the same way, without reference to the severity of their offense, their responsiveness to treatment, or current assessment of the risk they pose. It is seen by some as an opportunity to harass the offenders and even worse.
While it is certainly in order to professionally monitor and discipline sex offenders for various prudent periods, we must also try to be fair about how offenders are handled. Permanently branding them on registries or making targets of them with conspicuous tracking devices will only aggravate the problems, not solve them. Unfortunately, when a partially informed public is allowed and encouraged to become watchdogs, sex offenders face greater risk of confrontations by the public, due mainly to anger and hostility. Some people even feel that they have a warrant to harass offenders and make life miserable for them.
Since the start of Community Notification, there has been a growing number of serious beatings, not only of sex offenders, but sometimes of their family members or people with whom they live. Some confrontations have led to tragedies. Two sex offenders were murdered in Maine. In this case, the victims were no longer likely threats; one was simply a young man who at 17 had a 15-year-old girlfriend. Had their names, addresses and photographs not been on the state's registry, had the two been simply monitored by probation and treatment professionals, they would not have been spotlighted by some zealot who apparently thought he was doing the work of God.
A little wall sign at one of NCIA's clinics gets a lot of applause from those in treatment:
"Permanent brandings may be all right for cattle, but they shouldn't be for people."
If we want to be humane, that sign is correct. If we want former offenders to regain their health and not be always on the run, we should not set them up to be stalked. Vengeful prescriptions that call only for more and more punishment will not produce a cure. Since so few of the once-caught remain a threat, there are smarter approaches than alarming communities with registries and turning all levels of former offenders over to the general public for surveillance.
MYTH #9: "TRACKING DEVICES ARE A PRACTICAL AND JUST MEANS FOR KEEPING SEX OFFENDERS UNDER SURVEILLANCE."
If we want fewer victims of sexual offenses, the primary goal should be to reintegrate former offenders peacefully back into society as law-abiding citizens. This cannot be done if we keep them in fear and on the run. Tracking devices that have to be worn conspicuously only make targets of the people we are trying to reintegrate into society.
When offenders are made to wear GPS bracelets, with one worn on the ankle and another on the wrist, they are big, bulky and hard to keep hidden. For anyone who has to wear them, they are a scarlet letter, a crippling stigma of shame.
If we want to keep sex-offenders on track, turning them into prey on registries or spotlighting them with bulky tracking bracelets on both arm and leg is not the answer. Making a dartboard of any human being is clearly more an act of revenge than an aid in stemming crime. The vigilante mentality is still strong in many places: one man on a sex offender registry found the severed head of his pet dog on the front porch of his house.
Sadly, the new legislation being created is aimed more at increasing punishment and appeasing the public than it is at actually making our communities safer. When the public is as misinformed and angry as they are, it is a perilous mistake to give them the addresses and photographs of all sex offenders, particularly without the background of their crimes or updated individual assessments of risk.
The monitoring of sex offenders will always be better handled by knowledgeable treatment professionals carefully coordinating their efforts with police and parole officers than by the varied mercies of an angry, upset and partially informed populace. If GPS devices need to be used, there now exist cell phones with GPS chips, which not only give the person’s precise location but allow immediate voice contact with the person.
Unless we want to go back two centuries to the ghoulish practices of Salem, we should not get caught up in the intoxications of revenge that only fuel harassment and witch hunts.
MYTH #10: “IF THEY ARE ON THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY, THEY MUST BE GUILTY”
A better question is “How many sex offenders are falsely accused?”
More than you realize. According to the Innocence Project, there has been 223 post conviction DNA exonerations in the United States alone. Common causes of the wrongful convictions were: poverty, racial issues, eye witness misidentification, corrupt scientist, corrupt police, corrupt FBI agents, corrupt prosecutors or inept defense counsel. Unfortunately for many, the Innocence Project only takes on cases where DNA can be tested. There are many innocent men and women, still being punished for a crime they did not commit. Why? Because they have been told that all the evidence collected when they were convicted in the 1970’s and 1980’s had been destroyed. So until we can find a way to help these people, we will never know the true number of innocent people who are paying for crimes they did not commit.
Copyright 2007-2008 ReformSexOffenderLaws.Org Group
As you can see, sex offenders are one of the least re-offenders. Surprising still, is the fact that it’s not strangers that we need to worry about harming our children, but someone you know and trust. Good to know around Halloween. And did you know, not even one sexual abuse has ever been committed during trick or treat.
So why are they in the news all the time? For one, all though some but not all offenses are against children. This makes it a front page story and acts as a very powerful scare tactic. A better choice for parents and for women in general would be to teach and practice safety. Why s it just during Halloween do we print, educate, and encourage safety? These are rules that should be followed every day. Women, you need to take it one step further: 1) Always lock your doors to your car, your home and even your windows. 2) Ask for an escort if you leave work or the mall at night. 3) Take self defense classes and practice until it’s a reflex. Self defense classes teach more than how to physically protect yourself, they teach you to act smart and think safe. I had myself and my daughter is self defense classes not once but twice. Once when she was 8 years old and again when she was 14. And we practiced. From the time she was a toddler, I preached safety and educated on strangers. We had a password when she was in school and we have one now even though she is 24 years old. It is what you do as a parent that makes your child safer, not what is posted on the internet, or on the doors during Halloween.
I hope this article helps you make more educated and informed decisions in the future. I also hope it helps you to distinguish what is just a scare tactic and what is fact.
If you need more answers, you may e-mail me at email@example.com.
Or you can visit the National website www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org
Education is the key to understanding and peace of mind.
Maryland Citizens For Sex Offender Justice
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