Sex Offender Myths: The Foundation for Sex Offender Laws

Logue, Derek W.; Mar 01 2011

Compiled Dec. 5, 2007, Last Update March 1, 2011

Myth #1: The “Stranger-Danger” Myth:

  • “…the FBI (in the 1950s) distributed a poster that epitomized this attitude. It showed a man, with his hat pulled down, lurking behind a tree with a bag of candy in his hands. He was waiting for the sweet little girl walking home from school alone.” (Kenneth V. Lanning, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis,” National Center for
    Missing and Exploited Children, 2001, p. 13).

  • Who is the archetypical sex offender?

  • The archetypical sex offender is NOT a “demented, dirty trench coat wearing, candy waving, bush-dwelling stranger…”

  • Sex offenders can be anyone: parents, teachers, politicians, pastors, police, neighbor, etc.

  • Sex Crimes are becoming more prevalent among our youth

  • AP Study as noted by John “Jack” Tefler, “Obsession With Sex, Violence Impacting Our Kids.” Midland Daily News, July 1st, 2007

  • Juvenile Sex Crimes Increased 40%, Adult Sex Crimes Decreased 56% between 1993 and 2004

  • Most sex offenders are first time offenders:

  • Only 14% of inmates in prison on sex crimes had prior sex crime convictions

  • In short, 86% in prison were first-time offenders, or about 6 out of 7.

  • How prevalent are high-profile “stereotypical” kidnappings? Very rare- around 100 a year in US

  • “Stereotypical” kidnappings in the US: 115

  • Number dead/ permanently missing: 46

  • “Non-family Abductions” (Including acquaintances and friends, and voluntary leaves if the child is under age 15): 58,200

  • Total # missing incl. Runaways: 797,500

  • “Raw emotion is also the greatest of obstacles to understanding the reality of sex offenses, because we are trained into thinking “sex offender = predator = raped and murdered child.” (Logue, “Once Fallen,” 2007)

  • A Really good article on the "characteristics of child molesters" can be found here: Essentially, sex offenders can be ANYONE

  • Most sex crimes are committed by someone the victim knows:

  • Victims under 18: Strangers committed 6.7% of crimes; Family Member, 46.5%; Acquaintances/friends, 46.8%

  • Victims over 18: Strangers committed 34.4% of crimes; Family member, 10.6%; Acquaintances/friends, 55.0%

  • CSOM Myths and facts:

  • Adult Victim Fact: Statistics indicate that the majority of women who have been raped know their assailant. A 1998 National Violence Against Women Survey revealed that among those women who reported being raped, 76% were victimized by a current or former husband, live-in partner, or date (Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998). Also, a Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that nearly 9 out of 10 rape or sexual assault victimizations involved a single offender with whom the victim had a prior relationship as a family member, intimate, or acquaintance (Greenfeld, 1997).

  • Child Victim Fact: Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child's family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

Myth #2: All Sex Offenders are “Pedophiles” or “Predators”

  • Pedophilia: a mental disorder that signifies sexual attraction to children under age 12 (DSM-IV)

  • Bureau of Justice Statistics: Inmate Study 1997 (Noted on DOJ Recidivism study, p. 39)

  • 70.5% of sex crime victims are under age 18

  • 51.6% of sex crime victims under age 18 are under age 12

  • 2 out of every 3 people who committed a serious sex crime would not meet the base DSM-IV criteria for pedophilia.

  • “The sex offender registries are filled with ‘drunken mooners,’ public urinators, 18 or 19-year-olds who impregnated their 15-year-old girlfriends, and other socially unacceptable but relatively minor offenses right alongside the multiple rapist or child molester.” (Logue, “Once Fallen” 2007)

  • Very few sex offenders, even those with underage victims, are "pedophiles" (Okami and Goldberg 1992)

Myth #3: Sex Offenders have a high recidivism rate

  • Sex Offenders have a low Specific Recidivism rate (I.e., rate of committing a second sex crime)

  • 9,641 sex offenders released in 15 states (Three-year follow-up period)

  • 262,420 non-sex offenders released in same 15 states in 1994

  • 517 sex offenders (5.3% of all sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within 3 years, 3.5% of sex offenders re-convicted

  • 3,228 non-sex offenders (1.3% of all no-sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within the same three year period

  • 8% of sex offenders were recommitted in the 10-year period

  • 3% of sex offenders committed a sexually-related violation of probation/ parole

  • ½ of recidivists re-offended within two years of release

  • 2/3 of recidivists re-offended within 3 years of release

  • 129 total arrests; only 5 men (3.8% of total) had prior sex offense arrests

  • Sex Offenders have a lower recidivism rate than other offenders

  • Follow-up Period: 4 years                 Recidivism Rates

  • Sex Offenders                                        2.46%

  • Forgery                                                    6.86%

  • Burglary                                                  10.56%

  • Drugs                                                      6.42%

  • Robbery                                                  5.17%

  • Larceny                                                  12.65%

  • All statistics above are SPECIFIC recidivism, meaning re-offending of the same type of crime; many studies include a GENERAL recidivism rate, which is a specific offender committing a new crime of ANY kind. Thus, a sex offender who later steals is a general recidivist but not a specific recidivist. Many mythologists quote the general (usually higher) stat implying a higher sex crime re-offense rate.

Myth #4: Sex Offenders are 4 times more likely than non-sex offenders to be re-arrested for a sex crime

  • 9,641 sex offenders released in 15 states; 517 sex offenders (5.3% of all sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within 3 years

  • 262,420 non-sex offenders released in same 15 states in 1994; 3,228 non-sex offenders (1.3% of all no-sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime in the same three year period

  • 5.3% divided by 1.3% = about 4, thus, the myth

  • 3,228 non-RSO sex crime divided by 517 RSO re-offenders = 6.3

  • Percentage wise, more sex offenders than non sex offenders will commit a sex crime, but in actual numbers, non-sex offenders committed six times as many sex crimes!

Myth #5: Sex Offenders “Sex Offenders cannot be cured”/ “Treatment doesn’t work”

  • 7.1% of sex offenders who went through treatment recidivated

  • 16.5% of sex offenders who did not undergo treatment recidivated

  • 16.5 divided by 7.1= 2.32 or 232%

Myth #6: "Internet Predators"

  • The 50,000 Internet predator myth

  • Attributed to controversial Chris Hansen and "To Catch a Predator;" Hansen admits he conjured the number out of thin air (Benjamin Radford. “Predator Panic: A Closer Look.” Skeptical Enquirer, Sept./Oct. 2006)

  • FBI Profiler Kenneth Lanning calls 50,000 the "Goldilocks number," meaning the number doesn't sound like too much or not enough. The number 50,000 has been applied for many unknown numbers, from Koran War casualties to deaths and annual deaths from second hand smoke to the number of children allegedly sacrificed to Satan during the satanic cult scare of the 1980s (Brook Gladstone,***MUST CHECK WAYBACK MACHINE*** “On the Media: Prime Number.” NPR/ WNYC radio, May 26, 2006)

  • Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS)

  • 19% received a broad  term "sexual solicitation;" which included anything from sexual spam to someone asking if a person got lucky on a date (Skeptical Inquirer, "Predator Panic")

  • Only one in 33 experienced an "aggressive sexual solicitation," or a request to contact offline

  • 24% came from adults, 48% came from other juveniles, and 24% from unknown people

  • One cannot assume all solicitations came from "online predators" (E-Advocate,***MUST CHECK WAYBACK MACHING*** "Why The Hysteria?")

  • "The publicity about online 'predators' who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate. Internet sex crimes involving adults and juveniles more often fit a model of statutory rape—adult offenders who meet, develop relationships with, and openly seduce underage teenagers—than a model of forcible sexual assault or pedophilic child molesting. This is a serious problem, but one that requires approaches different from those in current prevention messages emphasizing parental control and the dangers of divulging personal information" (Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Michele L. Ybarra. "Online 'Predators' and their victims." American Psychologist, Vol. 63 No. 2 February-March 2008)

Myth #7: Sex Offenders have hundreds of victims

  • The myth has no definite source, but is sometimes attributed to the National Institute for Mental Health and/ or Dr. Gene Abel and a later study by Sean Ahlmeyer. However, there is no exact study that validates the myth.

  • In the Gene Abel study "Self-Reported Sex Crimes of Non-Incarcerated Paraphiliacs " (1986), there are a number of problems with the study-- few offenders were voluntary (which would compel false admissions), inclusion of non-criminal paraphilias such as consensual homosexual relations,  and Abel DOES NOT list a number of victims, but an estimated number of acts over a lifetime. Abel states the study suggested paraphiliacs, “through coercion or varying degrees of compliance, repeated acts are carried out with the same victims or partners”

  • A similar study by Sean Ahlmeyer (2000) also relies on self-reporting and includes non-criminal paraphilias but adds POLYGRAPHS. “Comparatively, conclusions cannot be made on the frequency of sexual offending for inmates and parolees, because of the unique external confounds present for each setting.” The end result was the belief that polygraphs influenced more self-reporting because the inmates believed they worked.
    However, in a polygraph study, researchers found that participants reported a relatively low incidence of false indications of both deception (22 of 333 tests) and truthfulness (11 of 333) tests, suggesting that clients agreed with examiners’ opinions 90% of the time. About 5% of participants reported that they responded to allegedly inaccurate accusations of deception by admitting to things they had not done (Ron Kokish, Jill S. Levenson, and Gerry D. Blasingame. “Post-conviction Sex Offender Polygraph Examination: Client-Reported Perceptions of Utility and Accuracy” Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2005). In other words, the interpretation of the test relies solely on what the researcher believes in the hearing.

  • No other study has validated these outlandish claims.

  • If all 700,000 Registered Offenders had 100 to 300 victims like the myth claims, there would be around a 70 to 280 million victims. The USA only has 300 million individuals and around 70 million minors

Myth #8: The 100,000 Missing Sexual Predators Myth

  • The often-quoted myth of 100,000 missing sexual predators originated from a flawed 2002 Parents for Megan's Law survey in which only 32 states participated and very few states kept accurate records, thus giving only rough estimates of non-compliance. PFML concluded 24%, or about a fourth, of registrants were unaccounted for. In 2002 there were roughly 400,000 registrants, so a fourth equals 100,000 (eAdvocate, "The Saga of 100,000 Missing Sex Offenders: Now the truth." Sex Offender Reports, Charts, and Other Papers, May 31, 2009., Retrieved Nov. 27, 2010)

  • A 2010 study by Dr. Jill Levenson has found that of 445,127 registrants from 49 states, "only 17,688 RSOs who were designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant, or whose address or whereabouts are otherwise unknown. Nationwide, a total of 5,349 offenders were officially listed as absconded; 1,264 were listed as missing/unable to be located and 4,152 were listed as having failed to comply with registration requirements. We had no way of specifically confirming the number of fugitive sex offenders, since states had a wide variety of methods for classifying absconders, registration violators, and others whose locations are uncertain." (Jill Levenson, "Guest Blogger- Jill Levenson on 'Fugitive Sex Offenders'." Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment Blog, Nov. 16, 2010., Retrieved Nov. 27, 2010)

Myth #9: Harsher Sex Offender Laws will reduce sexual offenses

  • Psychologist John Q. LaFond points out a Washington state study that found notification laws do not prevent crime; instead, it leads to quicker arrest times, either by the constant scrutiny, or by disrupting employment, housing, and support for the sex offender, causing stress and increasing the likelihood of recidivism ("Preventing Sexual Violence." APA 2005)

  • As former offenders are denied opportunities to reintegrate into society and stigmatized, they lose hope.
    Stigmatized offenders are more likely to recidivate than reintegrated offenders, as the resistance to recidivate diminishes among offenders who are ostracized. On the other hand, a “pro-social identity,” including concrete recognition of their reform, is integral to reducing recidivism (Hollida Wakefield, “The Vilification of Sex Offenders: Do Laws Targeting Sex Offenders Increase Recidivism and Sexual Violence?” Journal of Sex Offender Civil Commitment: Science and the Law, 2006, p. 141-149)

The Myths have influenced societal views and public policy on sex offenders

  • (Dan Gunderson, “A Better Approach to Sex Offender Policy.” Minnesota Public Radio, June 18th, 2007) “Lisa Sample, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, says…”

  • “Misinformation and a lack of information often shapes sex offender policy…Most of the legislators in her study said their primary source of information was the news media.”

  • In most cases, lawmakers didn’t read studies/ reports relevant to legislation they supported.

  • She says it’s clear most sex offender legislation follows the abduction and murder of a child, and the resulting public outrage.

  • Few people are aware a child is at greater risk of sexual abuse from family than strangers. If people understood that, they would support more programs to prevent sexual abuse.

  • In Minnesota, a panel of experts recently completed a comprehensive report to serve as a guide for sex offender policy in the state. One of the report’s authors says the biggest challenge is just getting lawmakers to read it.

  • “…[Sexual predator laws]-- although well-intentioned-- are ill-conceived, bad policy. They are sold as innovative approaches to finding and incapacitating the worst of the worst, but there is little evidence they have succeeded in that important task. It is not simply that these new laws have not been able to solve the problem of sexual violence. It is that our way of thinking about sexual violence is increasingly distorted. The distortion had led us to the predator laws, and that the predator laws strengthen the distortion.” (Eric S. Janus, “Failure to Protect,” Pg. 3)

  • “Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope With Sex Offenders” (John Q. LaFond, 2005, American Psychological Association p. 57): “ appears that most sex offenders are not dangerous and will not re-offend. Society’s fear that all sex offenders pose an ongoing threat of committing more serious sex crimes is incorrect, and more important, self-defeating… moreover, in painting with such a broad brush, we
    may be creating a public hysteria that is unnecessary and even counterproductive.”

  • It is important to note how often we use the words “violent,” “habitual,” “predator,” and “pedophile” in speaking of sex offenders, especially ones deemed ‘high-risk.” even in legal terms, there is some misnomers in usage.
    Regarding the words violent and predator in sex offender legalese, the age of the victim alone determines whether or not a sex offender is considered either or both. In the case of the word habitual, the legal usage can be applied to a one-time offender if the victim claims multiple offenses.

    The most misused word is pedophile. The psychiatric definition denotes strong sexual arousal and urges for pre-pubescent children; the legal usage is applied to all offenders with a minor victim, which is misleading since not all “child molesters” are “pedophiles” (“Sex Offenders: Flaws In The System and Effective Behaviors.” SOHopeful International, Aug. 12th, 2006)