Thursday, March 1, 2018

Let's get the biggest bang for our sexual offense prevention dollar

From North Carolina comes this all-too-familiar story: Law enforcement is patting itself on the back for "tracking" those on the sex offender registry. In the typical it's-a-dirty-job-but-somebody's-got-to-do-it style of reporting, the journalist lauds Investigator J. Moore and the other two in the sex offender unit for spending all of their working hours verifying that Wake County's 800 registered sex offenders are where they are supposed to be. I guess when they finish with them all, they start over.

Congratulations, Mr. Moore, et al: it would appear that you are truly doing your share to keep people safe, but let's just look at the science: A Dept. of Justice study of all released sexual offenders in 1994, almost 10,000 persons, shows that 96.5% did not recidivate. 3.5% were convicted for committing another sexual crime.

Since child victims are normally the greatest concern with this issue, I have tried to find a study giving some indication of what percentage of sexually molested children were victims of repeat offenders. It appears those studies haven't been done. Instead, I find statements by law enforcement personnel that in years of dealing with child sexual abuse cases, not one, or maybe one or two out of hundreds, was committed by a repeat offender.

What I find are studies showing that virtually all of those who sexually abuse children, as high as over 98% for young children, are those close to the children in their everyday lives and people highly unlikely to be on a sex offender registry. And what I find is that, as horrible as it is, sexual abuse of children accounts for only 7.6% of the abuse that children suffer, almost always at the hands of those who claim to love them.

It would appear that, no matter how you slice it, the resources expended in “tracking” this specific category of individual, even if it actually prevented crime, are only addressing the tiniest percentage of the problem. How much is being expended on fact-based education and prevention initiatives that are shown to actually reduce the other 98-or-higher-percentage of child sexual abuse? How much is being expended on effective rehabilitative and re-entry initiatives for former offenders, things shown to bring down the already extremely low re-offense rate? How much is being expended on initiatives to reduce the other 92.4% of non-sexual violence and abuse of children as well as that of vulnerable adults? 

I wonder if the answer would show a concern for public protection that is in concert with the facts, or if it would show a topic that captures the public's imagination and earns public officials kudos for keeping children safe even though it falls far, far short of that noble goal.

Source image 1: Pub. 2003; "Recidivism of sex offenders released from prison in 1994" (NCJ198281)
Source image 2: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Statistical Briefing Book 2008
Source image 3: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and    Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families,Children’s Bureau.(2010).Child Maltreatment 2009.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Facts, not fear-mongering, work best for preventing child abuse

News bulletin: Sex offender arrested for violating his conditions and going to a school. The original header for this -- and what search engines "hit" on -- is "Sex offender arrested after trying to pick up children at Heber School."

The facts: A guy on the sex offender registry in Utah went with his girlfriend and her daughter to the girl's school to see her teacher and turn in some homework.

Now, this guy had done this previously, allegedly twice, and had been warned, so -- is he the brightest bulb in the box? Probably not.

However, this being treated like a potential child abduction by the more sensationalist-inclined media outlets is just nonsense. Encouraging parents to feel their children were at risk of harm is beyond nonsense; it is irresponsible. It feeds into the myth that individuals on a sex offender registry are roaming the streets and the halls of academia ready to snatch whoever crosses their paths, and it obscures the facts about actual child molestation.

After learning of the non-incident, one mother of two students at the school said she "felt sick" and credited the office staff as heroes for recognizing the man and saving the children. And an officer with the Heber City Police Department, bless his little heart, agreed. “The school staff around here, all of them are absolute rockstars at keeping our children safe,” he said.

The fact of the matter is that incidents of former sex offenders abducting children from schools are rare as hen's teeth. In fact, when I did a search for "sex offender abducts child from school," I got five hits of actual incidents spanning from 2007 to 2017, and only one of them occurred inside a school or even, as far as I could tell, on school property, and that was a situation in 2007 where a youthful-looking man actually enrolled in a school as a student. In none of the situations were children actually abducted or molested.

Are children molested in schools? Yes, we all know they are, and we all know who the perpetrators are. As sad as it is true, those who use the school setting to sexually abuse or manipulate students are those to whom their parents entrust with their care and safety.

There are fact-based prevention programs that teach children what to do if they are being molested or abused by adults that they trust. These are what the media needs to focus on.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What's "unusual" is removal from the sex offender registry

Kaitlin Durbin has written a touching story about a young man, David, who has been on the Colorado sex offender registry for over a decade for consensual teenage sex with his girlfriend. She tells, briefly, some of the difficulties that public registration posed for him in his attempts to live a normal life, and she shares his relief and joy that he has now successfully been removed.

The title given the piece -- and writers and journalists seldom select their own titles -- is "Colorado Springs man removed from sex offender registry in 'unusual' case." Several times in the article the fact that this case was so rare was referenced. The attorney spoke of the case as having no precedent.

From what I could tell -- and my legal acumen is somewhere down there with what I know about building rocket ships -- the only thing "unusual" is the fact that he was actually removed.

Young men being on the sex offender registry for consensual sexual involvement with a partner under the age of consent is quite common. David was 17 and his girlfriend turned 14 during their relationship.

Young men being on the registry for a decade, over a decade, and in some states for life, for such activity is common. Young men having their futures ruined due to such registration is common.

Often couples such as this remain together in a committed relationship or marry. One such couple in Texas has also had their share of media attention. In spite of marrying and raising a family, he will be on the Texas public sex offender registry for life for "sexual assault of a child." He was a high school senior and football star; she was a sophomore and a cheerleader when they started dating. Many years later, he couldn't coach his girls' soccer games. He couldn't take his family on an out-of-state vacation without the permission of law enforcement.

These two couples are representative of countless thousands. No one "wants" teenagers to have sex, but turning them into criminals because they do and making it difficult for them to go to college, be hired at meaningful employment, and exercise the rights of the productive citizens that they most likely would otherwise be is, of all possible "punishments," the most extreme and least productive imaginable.

No, teenagers having sex is not unusual. The boys ending up on the sex offender registry due to it is not unusual. Being removed from the registry -- now that is unusual.

And that needs to change.