Monday, December 7, 2015

Why Myths Are Dangerous

Most people know, realize, and understand that myths and stereotypes exist. Some people think these are inevitable, while others seek to correct the, while still others do not care. I have spent several posts attempting to dispel some of the myths surrounding child sex abuse, sex offenders, and pedophilia. There are also studies and other articles about these same things on the right-hand side of this blog.

However, I have never taken the time to explain why some of the myths on these topics are so destructive and dangerous. The biggest reason in my mind is obvious: If you are focused on the wrong threat to children, you may prevent some children from being harmed, but you will miss the real threats. I like to use a dodge ball analogy: If you are playing and your back is to the other team, you will get beamed by the ball and you will lose. If you are more military-minded, think of entering a gunfight facing towards your enemy's target.

But analogies aside, myths and stereotypes are dangerous not just because children end up being in danger, not only because children end up being abused because of it, but because policies and public opinion demands that action be taken on this issue. And if the policies and public opinion is being formed around 'facts' that are actually myths, stereotypes, and lies, well... it does not take a genius to understand that these policies will be completely ineffective at worst and shoddy at best.

For example, most people believe that sex offenders have a very high recidivism rate. Yet multiple meta-analyses involving tens of thousands of sex offenders, at varying follow-up periods, put the average sexual recidivism rate at around 13%, lower than any other criminal activity. According to the data, it is almost four times as likely that a sex offender will be arrested for not complying with probation, parole, or their registration than it is for them to victimize another person. An ATSA (Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers) study done on Halloween found, among 67,307 victims younger than 12, that strangers were responsible for 5% of their abuse.

Yet our current policies are aimed at keeping sex offenders away from schools, parks, day cares, and other places where children congregate. The facts, according to Darkness to Light, indicate that the majority- 85%- of child sex abuse occurs in one-on-one situations, most of the time in the victim or abuser's home. Not in a park. Not at a school. Not at a day care. So these broad, sweeping policies aimed at an entire population of criminals that only has committed a sexual crime- regardless of their actual risk to children- will only have an effect on around 5-15% of child sex abuse cases.

Obviously there are many other myths and stereotypes out there that follow the same line of reasoning: Homeless people in trench coats are sex offenders- as if what someone wears is any indication of their behavior (this is like saying that because multiple high-profile shootings have happened at the hands of someone in military gear, anyone wearing military gear is at risk of causing a mass shooting). Nevertheless, the bulk of these myths and stereotypes are in fact harmful- harmful to the subjects of them- sex offenders, actual pedophiles, homeless people, etc- but the very children these stereotypes were invented to protect.

The biggest way any average person can prevent child sex abuse is by knowing the facts, and helping to dispel the stereotypes and stigmas. There are a number of links on the right of this page that you can use to do just that. Another useful tool is the review of prevention training that I posted.

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