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What More Might be Done to Improve Knowledge of Sexual Reoffending?

It is widely believed that the incidence of reoffending of serious sexual offenders is very much higher than studies such as this, which only count reconvictions, may suggest. However, by how much reconviction rates under-represent the true rate of reoffending remains at present a matter of speculation. For instance, the fact that there are a large number of hidden sexual victimizations does not tell us what proportion of such offences is being committed with impunity by already convicted sexual offenders. 

It is well known that there is a strong relationship between frequency of offending and the probability of being reconvicted at some time. 
On the other hand, it is important to recognize that one cannot infer from 

(a) the fact that some offenders when arrested admit to a large number of hidden offences over a long period of time; that 

(b) the majority of released sex offenders who have not been reconvicted are also 'hidden' multiple offenders. 


As Don Grubin (1998) has pointed out, it is probable that predatory sex offenders who commit offences against a very large number of victims 'are not typical' (see also Broadhurst 2000), Furthermore, the longer offenders are followed-up the more likely it will be that hitherto hidden offending will come to light through convictions.

The ultimate challenge is to obtain better knowledge of 

the relationship between re-offending and reconviction, 

of the 'real' rate of reoffending, 

of the circumstances which lead to sexual reoffending, and 

of the protective factors which might reduce that propensity. 


We agree with Friendship and Thornton that efforts should be made (as in the recent study of the risk posed by psychiatric patients by John Monahan and Henry Steadman 2000) to obtain information from other sources in addition to records of reconviction (see also Lidz et al. 1993). However, the ethical and practical problems of doing so will be formidable, especially because such studies would run the risk of 'outing' sex offenders who no longer were involved in sexual crime.

The findings of the current study have challenged a number of preconceptions about the risks posed by sex offenders emerging from long-term imprisonment. In particular, it has been shown that much is to be gained by 'disaggregating' the category 'sexual offender'. However, the validity of the findings will need to be tested through further studies, based on larger samples, more complete information, and even longer follow-up periods.


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