Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why The Statistic Matters: Part Three, Sex Offenders

This is part of a miniseries about why the statistics on this site, and the upcoming website, should matter to you, not only in your everyday life, but in preventing child sexual abuse... before it can happen.

Statistic 1: Most Who Commit Sex Crimes Are Not Sex Offender Registrants

You have heard me cite this time and again: 95% of new sex crimes are committed by those new to the criminal justice system, stemming from a study on 21 years of arrest data in New York. Another 2015 study out of California is also significant, finding that just .6% of the 56.1% three-year return-to-prison rate were new sex crime convictions. Unless other criminals are committing sex crimes (which is not supported by the rest of the report, or general trends among sex crimes in general), it is safe to conclude that, nationwide, upwards of 95% of sex crime is committed by those with no criminal background.

Why does that matter?

Well, if the bulk of our policies on "preventing" sexual crimes are aimed at sex offenders, who are not responsible for a very high percentage of sex crimes... and we spend lots of money on these policies... then our policies are simply ineffective, and costing lots of money we could spend on more effective methods. This does not just refer to sex offender registration: Notifications of sex offenders, residency restrictions, civil commitment, and of course, juvenile registration and notification. If it targets sex offenders, the policy does very little to protect communities because it is not registered sex offenders who commit sex crimes.

Statistic 2: Juveniles Commit Sex Crimes Too... 

Specifically, juveniles commit 35.6% of sexual offenses against minors. Researchers such as Elizabeth Letourneau and Jill Levenson have said that half of sex offenders were juveniles during the commission of their sex crime. Regardless of the specific figure, it is safe to say that a statistically significant portion of sexual crimes are committed by juveniles, not adults.

This matters almost as much as the first statistic, because it means that the bulk of our policies are aimed at people who committed their crimes as juveniles. While these crimes absolutely were harmful to the victims, one must wonder if punishing juvenile perpetrators for life is aiding prevention, particularly if most of them never commit another sexual crime (97%, to be precise).

Statistic 3: General Recidivism Is High, But Lower Than Other Criminals On Average

Recidivism is a much-discussed statistic, and before I touch on why a somewhat high recidivism rate for general crime (both sexual and non-sexual crimes) is high, we must first understand recidivism rates. Some studies look at rearrests, which are considered the most liberal picture of recidivism. Some studies look at returning to prison, which are considered the most conservative picture of recidivism. Still others look at reconvictions, which are a middle ground between the two. As with any crime, any recidivism statistic paints an incomplete picture of new crimes committed by offenders.

If you recall the 56.1% return-to-prison statistic from the study mentioned in the first section, it should be noted that most studies find, on average, a general recidivism rate around 30-40% for sex offenders. This means that California has a rate that is much higher than what would be considered "the norm" for sex offenders. While the very term "sex offender" encompasses a wide variety of crimes and offenders, this also means that specific types of offenders that commit specific crimes have varying rates of recidivism specific to that type or crime.

This matters, because it means there is room for much improvement in rehabilitating and successfully reintegrating sex offenders back into our communities. It means there are barriers for successful reintegration, and a need to change how we treat criminals in general. While recidivism statistics can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways depending on the study, offender, and offense, it is safe to say that in most cases, sex offenders do not reoffend, whether that is with a sexual crime or any other crime.

Statistic 4: Population Of Sex Offenders, Victims

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (whose figures are somewhat disputed among some advocates and state leaders), there are 861,837 registered sex offenders living in the United States. That is 264 sex offenders per 100,000 people. If you have followed the rest of the statistics to this point, then you can probably guess what I am about to say: Focusing our policies on nearly 1 million Americans to protect children, when most of those .862 million people are not responsible for further sex crimes means that we are creating much more damage than we are solving. How do I figure that? The math is simple.

Restated from part two, child sexual abuse, according to this source, there are 73.8 million children in the United States, and the known victim-reported prevalence is pegged at 8% for boys and 19% for girls, which translates to roughly 3,011,040 boys and 6,870,780 girls, or 9,881,820 children. The estimates that attempt to account for underreporting translate to 6,273,000 boys and 9,040,500 girls, or 15,313,500 children. In other words, our best data and estimates indicate that 13.39-20.75% of children are sexually abused (which is a big deal).

Running the estimates, 494,091-765,675 children are sexually abused by registered sex offenders, or repeat sex offenders, in other words. If somewhere between .6% and 5% of these 861,837 sex offenders are repeat offenders, that means that there are between 5,171 and 43,092 sex offenders that are repeat offenders.

This means that there are between 818,745 and 856,666 sex offenders who are being needlessly registered, and if we assume that each of them have 5 family members and 10 friends, that is 12,281,175-12,849,990 people that are affected by the sex offender registry without sufficient basis. Compared to the 494,091-765,675 children that are victimized by repeat sex offenders, that is a very disproportionate number, and while sexual abuse is not trivial, this means that we punish and indirectly affect about 12-14 times the number of people we need to. When you remember that somewhere between 35-50% of these people are juveniles at the time of the offense, you get an appalling number of children that are being harmed by the very laws that were formed to protect them.

Closing Thoughts

I have re-written the overview of sex offenders for the website three times now, and each time, I wonder if I am covering all of the bases or giving an overly simplistic view of sex offenders. Even writing this one post has taken me two weeks for similar reasons.

"Sex offender" is a term that encompasses a wide variety of crimes beyond rape and crimes against children, though together, these crimes make up the majority. However, the mere commission of these crimes, as discussed in the first and third statistics, does not mean the person committing them is an ongoing danger to children. Even the commission of a "child sex crime" would not appear to indicate such a danger because most such crimes are committed by first-time offenders. Covering each segment of restrictions against sex offenders is likewise complex.

Thus, any attempt to tackle the issue of sex offenders from any angle, research-based or journalist-based, will lead any reader to misleading conclusions about sex offenders.

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