Friday, June 2, 2017

Moore Center Sex Abuse Symposium: Part Two: Effective Public Health Prevention And Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

In case you missed the other parts for this series, please see part one, three, four, or five.
As a refresher...

So, What Is This Symposium?
The Moore Center Symposium is a "meeting of the minds" on the prevention of child sexual abuse. It offers professionals (and advocates) an opportunity to learn more about the issue of child sexual abuse and how it can be prevented. The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a subset of Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, which is a major educational institution in Maryland that is well-known for its work in the public health sector (as its name should indicate). The Moore Center is currently being directed by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, who used to be the president of The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), and is a researcher that studies a myriad of topics within the realm of sexual abuse prevention. I am watching these admittedly dry and boring speeches to pull the essential parts out and communicate them to you. If you want to view them yourself, by all means, just be forewarned that they are dry and can be triggering.

Beginning Introductions

The symposium starts with an introduction by Johns Hopkins' President, Ronald Daniels, regarding some of the reasons for the symposium and the keynote speaker at the symposium, Patrick McCarthy, who is the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving the lives of children in a variety of ways.  Other speakers at the symposium were Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau, Dr. Bruce Taylor (an expert in criminology), and Jill Levenson (expert in sociology and social work), followed by a showing of the film Untouchable, which I have talked about on this blog before. Following the film, there is a panel discussion about the film and closing remarks by Stephen and Julia Moore, the founding donors of the Moore Center.
Copyright note: The images of this post are copyrighted to Johns Hopkins University, which I have emailed approval for.

Elizabeth Letourneau's Speech

Dr. Letourneau's speech starts with acknowledgements and a brief discussion of prior symposiums. The topic of her speech, as with Patrick's, was to focus on policy's impact on prevention. Her speech focuses on juvenile sex offender registration and notification policies. She starts by looking at how someone would ordinarily solve a problem using a public health approach. First, you would do "surveillance" to determine what the problem is, then you would do "risk factor identification" to determine the cause of the problem, then "intervention evaluation" of what works to solve the problem, and finally, you would "implement" or take action to solve the problem. In that order, of course.

She points out that many issues have been resolved using this model, such as violence, environmental issues, infectious diseases, etc... yet child sexual abuse does not use this model. Instead, policy reactions to child sexual abuse are focused around the idea that abusers are sexually and morally deviant and at high risk to abuse the rest of their lives. She counters this notion with an incomplete list of causes for harmful sexual behavior in juveniles:

  1. Traumatized children reacting to their own abuse
  2. Persistently delinquent teenagers
  3. Otherwise normal adolescents acting experimentally but irresponsibly
  4. Generally aggressive and violent youth
  5. Immature and impulsive youth
  6. Adolescents engaging in normal but illegal consenting sex
  7. Youth who take what they want because they are indifferent to others
  8. Youth imitating what they see in the media
  9. Youth misinterpreting what they thought was mutual interest
  10. Youth ignorant of the legality of their actions or the possible ramifications
  11. Youth imitating what is normal in their family background
  12. Youth who get a thrill out of violating the rules
  13. Socially isolated youth who use younger children as substitutes for peers
  14. Seriously mentally ill youth
  15. Youth responding to peer pressure
  16. Youth preoccupied with sex
  17. Youth using drugs or alcohol
  18. Youth who get swept away by a moment of sexual pleasure
  19. Youth with sexual deviance problems

She also points out that sexual crimes committed by juveniles have less duration and severity than adult offenses, and that juveniles are highly responsive to evidence-based treatment. She points out the findings of a study done in 2016 (Quantifying the Decline in Juvenile Sexual Recidivism Rates, Michael F Caldwell, full text available). That study looked at 106 studies and 11,000 cases and found that the general recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders from 1980-1995 was 34.47% and the sexual recidivism rate for that period was 10.3%. Contrasted to the period of 2000-2010, which found a 30% general recidivism rate and a 2.75% sexual recidivism rate, Dr. Letourneau highlights that recidivism rates have declined, and that 97% of juvenile sex offenders will not reoffend with a new sexual offense.

She points out that sexual recidivism among juvenile abusers almost never happens once a child has been caught. She also cites a study she and her colleagues did sampling all of the juvenile offenders in Maryland, Oregon, and South Carolina who were in the legal system and they have the same findings as the above study: 3% reoffend sexually. She highlights this as a single example for the plethora of other studies with similar findings on the subject.

She discusses the restrictions placed on juveniles, such as residential treatment programs, sex offender registration, public notification, residence restrictions, employment restrictions, and education restrictions. She states that 38 states subject children adjudicated as minors to sex offender registration, and all minors adjudicated as adults. She gives the example from a juvenile offender featured in a New York Times article. That offender, named Johnnie, was caught at age 11 receiving oral sex from his younger sister. From there, the mother contacted the police, and Johnnie was arrested, charged, and convicted, then sent to a residential treatment program for a year and four months. Then, he was required to register as a sex offender in Delaware and put on their public list: His first suicide attempt was 2 weeks after being publicly listed (just shy of age 13, if you did the math).

They list some of the requirements of sex offender registration to illustrate what it is like:

  1. Verify registry information in person at a state or local police station
  2. On the offender's birthday, register every 90 days (tier three offenders), 3 months (tier two offenders), or 6 months (tier one offenders).
  3. Register in each jurisdiction where someone resides or works.
  4. May be handcuffed or put into a cell while waiting for processing
  5. A sign may indicate that the offender is at the "Sex Offender Registration Desk"
  6. Adult offenders and juvenile offenders may be registered in the same place (children in the same room as adult sex offenders)
  7.  Agents that process registration can be in any frame of mind: Angry, sad, happy, etc.
  8. Provide 75 separate pieces of information, like SSN, internet identifiers, email address, vehicle registration/description, addresses for residence, work, or school.
  9. Must report any change within 3 business days
  10. Registration may be distributed online, or released to schools and other child-centered organizations, or law enforcement only, depending on risk level.

Note/Aside: Is this reminding anyone of Nazi, Germany? I never watched many Holocaust movies, and this seems eerily familiar...

She talks about this young man being just one example out of many hundreds, and references a Human Rights Watch report on the subject.

One Study On Juvenile Sex Offender Registration And Notification

Then she overviews a study that she did with the funding and collaboration of several other researchers and organizations, and begins discussing the recent follow-up study she did with the same collaborators to expand on it. The aims of their study were to examine the effects of registration and notification on six domains: Mental health, victimization, feeling of safety, feeling of social support, behavior, and association with peers. The demographics of the participants were discussed: Most were male, and the sample size was between 200 and 300 with an average age of 15.1 years old. Most were attending school, and most were heterosexual.

She discusses characteristics of the offenses, and compared those who were required to register with those who were not and did an analysis to control for any differences between the two groups. Registered offenders were more likely to be older, have a formal charge/adjudication, have a victim, and be caucasian.

The results of their analysis, without and with controlling for demographic differences found a variety of impacts on each of the six domains they were studying. They found that registered offenders were more likely to have mental health issues like suicide attempts/thoughts, depression, anxiety. They also found that registrants were more likely to have been victimized by someone sexually, were less likely to feel safe, and that non-registered offenders felt less social support than registered offenders.

Does Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Work?

She then asks the question, if even with all the collateral consequences of juvenile sex offender registration, does registration still work? Does registration make anyone safer? The research answers with a resounding no: There is no baby in the bathwater of juvenile sex offender registration, and every published study (yes, every one- if you want to challenge Dr. Letourneau's claim, by all means) has found no evidence of preventative or positive effects from juvenile sex offender registration. Many studies, by contrast, have found unintended and even harmful effects on juvenile offenders. She points out that registration has nothing to do with the causes of child sexual abuse and does not fit the realities of adolescence.

She talks about how rare it is in research to find such consistent findings across research literature on a particular policy. She agrees with the findings of Patrick McCarthy in his own mission, and states that juvenile registration is a failed policy that must end. She states three points to support this assertion: That few US policies have such wide research consensus regarding the effectiveness of a policy, that registration is like youth imprisonment where the message is that registered youth are dangerous, feared, and worthless with no real future, and that holding children accountable and providing them with evidence-based treatment can reduce the likelihood of future offending where sex offender registration cannot reduce that likelihood.

She then discusses some of the progress that is being made nationwide towards reforming juvenile sex offender registration: On a federal level, the Attorney General dropped juvenile notification requirements from federal policy and as of last year permits discretion in the registration of juvenile sex offenders; On a state level as of last year, Oregon and Delaware have replaced automatic juvenile registration with discretionary policies; The State Supreme Courts of Ohio and Pennsylvania have ruled against some components of juvenile sex offender registration.

She closes by stating that the time has come to abandon juvenile sex offender registration as a failed policy.

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