Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The sex offender industry

Follow the money.

How often has this advice been given, and how often has the heeding of it led to the unraveling of an enigma or a crime.

The sex offender industry is both, and following the money trail reveals what lies at the heart and continues to drive this occasionally well-meaning but more often self-serving complexity of businesses, individuals, and motivations that comprise this billion dollar industry.

The industry is well diversified. It has three well-developed branches and a fourth smaller but highly important one.

The first, and certainly the lynch pin that holds it all together, is the appeal to the public for security and protection, especially for the need to protect our children. This branch encompasses, first and foremost, the public sex offender registries; it includes varied screening, monitoring, and alert products, from systems in schools and libraries to cell phone and email alerts that notify instantly if someone on the registry enters the building or moves into the neighborhood. It includes GPS bracelets and private sex offender registry
sites, many of which run a lucrative side business as blackmail sites, charging fees to remove people who are there “accidentally” or who have been removed from the Megan’s list registries. Like any successful product, these businesses employ those who sell and market them as well as those who design, manufacture, and create them.

The second, and even larger, branch of this industry is the management of those on the registry. Many of these are applicable to registered offenders living in the community, especially when they are on parole or probation. The first and most insidious is an industry unto itself, and that is the sex offender treatment industry. The polygraph runs a close second, and the demand for the polygraph creates a need for the polygrapher, and of course polygraphs must be manufactured and marketed. Many states found the day to day management of their sex offender databases, aka registries, too onerous and demanding for them to keep up with, and a new industry was born, the sex offender database management companies, who, for a fee, take care of all the day to day work of keeping the state online registry updated. 

Law enforcement has benefited as their budgets were increased to allow the hiring of new personnel to do parole compliance checks, take care of the constantly ongoing registration process, do home visits, and check on compliance with residence restrictions; in some cases entire sex offender task forces were created. Their image and public approval are enhanced with every “sex offender” they report violated for a parole infraction or arrested for failure to register. 

The management of sex offenders not yet released has spawned another group of
businesses. Civil commitment “hospitals” are among the most controversial, but in the states that allow civil commitment, they thrive. Other enterprising investors saw an opportunity, not limited to those with sex offenses but certainly aided by their numbers, and private prisons--prisons for profit—are on the increase. Not to be outdone, private probation companies appeared on the scene. Those who provide telephone and medical services to the incarcerated are finding those areas lucrative.

The third major branch of the sex offender industry is the role the federal government plays. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the Federal Marshals are empowered to track and capture “absconded” registrants, and they receive large grants each year with which to accomplish their work. Additionally, most investigation of electronic/computer sex crime, such as online solicitation, teen-age “sexting,” and viewing illegal images, falls under federal jurisdiction. Federally financed sting and “bait and switch” operations are infamous. Under some circumstances, the officers involved confiscate and keep the property of those they arrest. Special task forces have been created and well funded.  Some federal prisons are filled almost exclusively with those convicted of sexually related crimes.

Finally, rounding off the components of the sex offender industry are individuals who have and continue to benefit from their participation in the industry. Most notable, perhaps, is John Walsh. Certainly his involvement was thrust upon him in a way no one would ever choose, but it cannot be denied that he has built a career that has spanned two decades using his son’s murder. Other parents and some victims have to lesser degrees stayed in the limelight with activism, victim advocacy organizations— at least one of which has landed a contract as sex offender compliance monitors —and endorsement of harsher and harsher laws dealing with sex offenders. Additionally, political careers have been carved out of the
sex offender industry. One could not possibly count the number of those seeking political office or campaigning to be reelected who used some variation of, “I promise to crack down on those who sexually abuse our children.” Finally, as those charged with sexual crimes come to trial, the field of expert witnesses is proving quite profitable.

The offenses that require public registration run the gamut from the ridiculous to the heinous. Proper management of such a vast range of behaviors requires moving away from our “one size fits all” model and actually reading the research and listening to the experts in the field. Even more essential is focusing on the very real problem of child sexual abuse and those who really do sexually abuse our children and developing appropriate programs of education and prevention. But first we need to dismantle the sex offender industry; we need to remove the financial and personal incentives to keep the status quo; otherwise, nothing will change.


  1. John Walsh's career as a professional pedo-hunter/slayer spans three decades now, not just two. Also, we really do need to count the "public" sphere of law enforcement and incarceration as being a part of the "industry". That sphere has grown tremendously as has the power of such organizations as NCMEC who have only grown in power and influence without ever being held to account for their falsehoods.

    Good piece, thank you!

  2. Thanks Shelly this was the best of all your writtings . You truly did your home work, and yes things are changing every minute now that the truths of the truther are being revealed . A judge named judge Franks has seen the unconstitutional use of incarceration to civil committment useing sex offenders as financial future's of state funding calling them clients after time served to save their retirements .
    Has anyone ever looked at Mr. Walshs employment and occupation at the time of his sons abduction ? That was never sexually abused . Some say at the time was poor policeing and most could agree at that time, or was it ? but not once was there any mention of a possible ransom for the kidknapping . Is it possible after all these years he is still looking for closure ? or forgivness .
    As for listining to the experts -- I think we have all been fooled big time .
    Thanks . G.C.T.T.S.

  3. The industry has never been held to anything like critical scientific scrutiny nor has its statistical assertions ever been subjected to responsible media investigation. Any reform movement will have to pursue such lines of inquiry which will mean taking on deeply entrenched public credulity informed solely by decades of agenda-advancing disinformation.

    So long as the media is held in the industry's thrall, and continues to shirk its responsibilities to the public, this will be a very difficult battle.

    In other words, it's not for the faint-of-heart.

  4. How to dismantle the industry . Start by calling and writting state representative's on a daily basis explaining that not properly vetting the flood of refugee's and other's entering the united state's and those already here . The authors of the registry, legislators, government officials, along with accreditted agencies should redirect their efforts towards refugees, that falls in the same category of time served still registerd U.S. citizens . Stop the hypocrisy . End the registry after time served .

  5. Shelly,

    I wanted to start this reply off by saying how impressed I am with you and the work you do for our movement. You have this calm demeanor about you that when responding to hateful people on the internet that is amazing. You constantly represent our movement in the best way possible, using logic and statistics to try and get people to see the truth of the matter. One of your replies a couple years ago on a newspaper article is what sparked me to want to become more involved. This is all to say thank you for what you do, you do a great job.

    A little background about me, I made a horrendous choice as a young teenager was charged several years later as an adult. I did not serve time in prison but I was on probation and had to register. I am now married, finished college and have 2 four year degrees, have a full time decent job (though underemployed because of background checks), and I also live in a state with fairly good RSO laws, so I cannot complain and I feel very blessed.

    Having lived the registry and seen how it has grown, I find myself agreeing with some of your points and disagreeing with others. I agree that the registry is a multi-billion dollar business, and I like the way you showed all the players of the registry in this blog post. Your conclusion I agree with for the most part:

    “Proper management of such a vast range of behaviors requires moving away from our “one size fits all” model and actually reading the research and listening to the experts in the field. Even more essential is focusing on the very real problem of child sexual abuse and those who really do sexually abuse our children and developing appropriate programs of education and prevention.”

    I agree we need to move away from a “one size fits all” model. Research shows different offenses have varying levels of recidivism rates inside the sex offender label. Recidivism also varies depending on the age of the perpetrator and victim, the sex of the victim, the relationship of the perp to victim etc. To deal with all offenders the same way is not only burdensome on the system, it creates registry bloat.

    I agree it is essential to focus on the very real problem of child sexual abuse, I don’t need to tell you according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics that 92.9% of victims of child sexual abuse know their abuser and usually quite well. Prevention and education are paramount if we are ever to get ahead of child sexual abuse and have any hope of stopping it.

    However I disagree with your thesis and the last line of your closing paragraph.

  6. Thesis:
    “…following the money trail reveals what lies at the heart and continues to drive this occasionally well-meaning but more often self-serving complexity of businesses, individuals, and motivations that comprise this billion dollar industry.”

    Last sentence:
    “But first we need to dismantle the sex offender industry; we need to remove the financial and personal incentives to keep the status quo; otherwise, nothing will change.”

    While I don’t think these groups benefiting financially helps us at all trying to end the registry it is not the driving force of why the registry was created in the first place. The driving force of the registry is fear. The registry was built on the awful stranger danger cases of Jacob and Adam, Megan and Jessica. It was not built upon Washington, Lincoln, Jackson and Franklin.

    Let’s say it was possible and we could remove the financial aspects of the registry, I don’t know how you could possibly tell a private company not to make money on something but let’s for the sake of argument we can. Even if we were to remove the financial aspect of the registry, there is still a public that is scared to death of stranger danger when they really should be looking in their family portrait. If instead we were able to show the public the truth and they actually understood it (I know not likely to happen for quite some time!) and we could stop the fear the public has you would have a sex offender industry that would run out of clients.

    Here is how I see registry, I would love your feedback on this:

    Fear is generated by the 24-7 news and media. News organizations are in business to make money, and in order to do that they have to sell advertising space. They have a phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads” and I think this is truly to our detriment. I think based on our psychology we as humans tend to remember the negative things we see hear much more so than positive. If you actually look at the UCR and the NCVS crime rates have actually gone down yet the fear of crime has gone through the roof. I think that is a good picture of what happens with the general public and sex crimes.

    Someone like Valigator can share stories all day long and she believes she is right that all sex offenders need to be shot. She believes that in spite of what research says, she believes it so much she thinks the research is faked, that they are “cooking the books”. Unfortunately she is not an unusual example of this cognitive bias, she is just the loudest mouthpiece of it. Much of America thinks just like her--why? Because they see a news story every night of another sex offender. When a person does not step back and get a bird’s eye view of the situation based on statistics they end up with a warped sense of reality.

  7. Politicians see that fear the general public has and capitalizes on it. They see how easy it is to propose ever more draconian bills and their constituents not only like it, they LOVE it! Even if a politician wanted to help our cause right now it is just a terrible business decision to do so. However most politicians don’t really want to help us, they fall all over each other to propose even more restrictive laws to keep the community “safer” and to keep the votes rolling in. Their mantra is “If it only saves one child!” because who could be against saving children?

    So first fear from the media created a need for politicians to look tough and do something about it. Politicians then created all sorts of ridiculous laws to try and keep the country “safe”, it was in these laws that the sex offender industry you speak of erupted. I don’t believe the industry started as a heinous effort to keep sex offenders down. I think entrepreneurs saw a need and a guaranteed stream of public money for the long haul and set up shop.

    The sex offender industry is a billion dollar business with part of its contributions coming from sex offenders themselves but mostly it is doled out by the government. Which means John Q Taxpayer is paying for the brunt of the registry.

    So while I think the branches you mentioned are certainly powerful it is not the main reason the registry is not going away. Until the public can get the memo fear will continue to reign supreme, the politicians will continue to capitalize on that fear for their own gains and the industry will stay strong.


    1. If you go back and look at history. this is part of a long pattern of moral panics including drugs, alcohol, and drugs again. Already they're queuing up the next panic: sexting. On the bright side, courts are starting to push back on the more unconstitutional aspects of sex offender laws. And some media outlets are beginning to question the effectiveness of current policy. But it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

  8. we must begin financial discussion surrounding Regan's charter of the Center for Missing or Exploited Children(wiki) and the Byrne Grant. OMNIBUS acts of 68, 94, 2000

  9. Shelly, Shelly, Shelly- my poor deluded Shelly. Wonder how many days you spent on this angle? I'll make it easy for ya. All the dollars spent on your most "elegant" and "well written" post on the various aspects of "following the money" is still cheaper than incarceration. Our inadequate Department of Corrections and the Judicial always look to "trim the fat" at the expense of the public on a daily basis and therefore manufactured much of the industry you cited. It's no secret I prefer your buddies in a 8x10 or a needle in their arm , but that isn't likely to come to fruition so pick your poison Stow, Figure out to keep your freak's canteen account higher than base level for a few more years or schlepp to local law enforcement to register once or twice annually and go home to watch netflix . Your groups can huff and puff all day and night , but your convicts aren't going to get away without doing one or the other.

    1. Well...I suppose you have revealed yourself pretty completely with the viciousness of this post, and there's really nothing more that needs to be said. To you, anyway.

  10. The USA is not worried about saving any money on incarceration - if they were then we would not have the greatest number of incarcerated than any other country in the World ....

  11. It has been two years or so since I have been on any site about the sex offender and why is that it always depresses me as everybody seems to come up with something to help or try's to come up with some angel or something of that nature.
    As for me I tend to forget about it but than again I am a sex offender myself.
    If you really think about it all these posts are working against each other.
    Sure we want to help the person out but we don't know how but we don't know how to start or we don't know the Base ingredients of all these sex offenses nor do we understand the sex registry.
    The first and main ingredient is Sex is a Sin. Man wants to Combat the Sin or compound the Sin or punish you for the sin.
    Now how does man compound the sin if we all have sin?

    Well they can set up those internet sex sting operations, they can be busy bodies and investigate the young girl having sex with the older guy that got caught when one of the parents came in and caught them together and told authorities or I'm sure they will develop new methods such as Going into a porn shop and seeing a guy looking at a porn magazine and busting them on the sight as looking at sexual material for sexual purposes. Now the last example I came up with that one on my own as I'm sure they will think of that for there crusade.
    Now believe it or not about those wanting to wipe out sin by holding us in bondage for the rest of our lives for just a thought. Sure we are all guilt even those police for a thought and Sex or Sexual immorality is on the top of the list. These are basic's for everyone to learn from.
    You see Man has their faults and that includes police that oppress others.

    I think we all need a bit more studying on this as there are a lot of people on the registry that shouldn't be even after they have served their time. Also find out what Ministers of God use deception.
    I don't think one repays evil for evil does one.


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