Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Annual Halloween Sex Offender Witch Hunt

It is that time of year again! The time of year when media outlets across the United States (and beyond) publish lists and maps of where sex offenders are in your community, ostensibly to keep children safe from sex offenders. The part they conveniently leave out is that Halloween puts children at a much higher risk of being injured or killed in traffic than they are for being kidnapped or molested by a registered sex offender.

Take a look at four facts and the studies they come from:

A study looking at 67,307 sexual offenses committed against 67,045 victims and found no significance between Halloween and the rest of the year in regards to sexual offenses.

One meta-analysis looking at 45,398 offenders across 16 countries found that the average sexual offender repeats their sexual crimes at a rate around 11.5%  45,398 offenders across 16 countries. A similar meta-analysis found a lower sexual recidivism rate for child molesters (12.7%) compared to rapists (18.9%), as well as lower nonsexual violent recidivism (9.9% for child molesters and 22.1% for rapists) and lower general recidivism (36.9% among child molesters, and 46.2% for rapists).

A New York study done in 2008 found that over 95% of sexual offense arrests were of first-time offenders with no criminal history on no registry. Studies done in other states have found a similar 95-99% rate of the same.

A study looking at crimes against juveniles found that 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by those known to the victim, not strangers.

In light of these four facts, there is no evidence to support the idea that sexual crimes against children are a higher or lower risk around Halloween compared to any other time of the year. In fact, these facts indicate that the biggest risk to children does not come from sex offenders, but from those trusted in the community with no criminal record. That holds true on any day of the year. That begs the question: What can you look for? Behavioral signs are the best bet.

Because of these facts, I believe it is time to stop using "sex offender" so commonly and openly, and use the more accurate "sexual abuser" instead, or some other term that does not imply that the majority of those who commit sexual crimes are registered sex offenders. That implication is a myth that flies in the face of the above facts, and puts communities in more danger by focusing their attention on a population that commits less than 5% of sexual crimes against children, and indeed, sexual crimes in general.

In short, because of the facts about sex offenders, child sexual abuse, and the rates of crime around Halloween, it is time for our fear over sex offenders nabbing children off the street to end. Strangers present minimal danger in terms of sexual crimes, and Halloween is a time for some to celebrate all that is spooky and scary... but sex offenders are not the scary part of sex crimes. The scary part is how we focus on the people who are not threats at the cost of detecting those who do present risks.