Wednesday, September 22, 2010
About writing those articles on registered sex offenders ...
Lately, I’ve been doing research for a series of articles on sex-offenders. Why? Because in thirty years involvement in child protection, I’d never once sat down and talked to the ‘doer,’ the offender, which is probably just as well considering my frame of mind after working with their victims. I had long unanswered questions, such as “how could you?” asked in appropriate tones of moral outrage, of course.
I confess to this perverse curiosity over the subject, specifically the motivation, psychology and moral compass of ‘the other side.’
I contacted local law enforcement, introduced myself and my project, and asked for assistance. And I must say, they were extremely helpful and not only met with me, but arranged for me to speak with a Corrections Officer who supervises the highest level of sex offenders: Level 3 or Predators. He agreed; an article on the subject would be a good idea, and an appointment was set for interviews to begin in two weeks time.
In the meantime, I threw myself into background research. This involved a study of the laws regarding the sex offenders registry (there have been a flurry of laws in the past decade,) and a review of many sex offender support sites, and email contact with some of the more outspoken faceless names I found there.
"I must try to take a balanced look at this issue", or so I instructed myself. I had as many preconceptions as anyone else going in: sex offenders were the lowest of the low, monsters lurking about playgrounds waiting to pounce and attack our children, self-centered psychopaths who deserved the worst punishments society could dish out. I had a somewhat new view coming out.
What I thought would be a straight forward job turned out to be the study of a can of worms, a wriggling mass of, misguided intentions, zealous and blind-minded implementation, contradictory results, misinformation and enough hysteria on all sides to float a hot air balloon.
Here are some of the bitter facts. No two sources of statistical information agree, but here are some rounded figures common to all studies we can deem reliable. 90% of all sex offenses against children are intra-familial, meaning the offenders victimized members of their own family, extended family or family circle; 8% are against children known to the offender. Only 2% represent the much publicized and dreaded by all parents crime of attack by a prowling stranger.
Add to this, 95% of new sex offenses reported are committed by someone without a previous record, someone unregistered. Another interesting fact, contrary to popular myth, sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate of all categories of crime: 5.3%.
Granted a true pedophile will always be a pedophile, and a danger, but familial sexual abuse is rarely about pedophilia. Sex abuse within the family is generally more motivated by domination and control, not sexual orientation.
An even more troubling statistic is the estimate by professionals in the field that perhaps only 20% of all child sex abuse cases are reported, and the true scope of sex offenses against children is uncertain. The best estimates put together by a conference of world-wide professionals is 7 of 10 girls, and 4 of 10 boys. Compare this to the ‘official’ numbers (none of which agree) of 18-30% of girls and 6-14% of boys.These official statistics are based on reported cases, and as we all know...
Now, on the other hand, I learned that while the registry is an excellent resource for tracking the predators, those that represent an ongoing danger, and for informing the public as to their presence and whereabouts, in our zeal following some highly publicized and horrific crimes, perhaps the nets have been cast too wide. There are many on the registry paying a very high price,enduring a punishment that far outweighs the severity of their crime (if crime is the appropriate word.)
Offenders in some states now register for twenty-five years, even if they are deemed a Level One offender, that is, unlikely to re-offend and some whose offenses might be considered victim free. Many law enforcement professionals consider the swollen ranks of the registry as counter-productive.
How does registering as a sex offender affect the lives of those ordered to do so? With the information easily accessible on the internet, and society’s misconceptions about what the term sex offender may mean, no employer will hire anyone registered. Housing choices can be affected. Some have been targeted for harassment, abuse, vandalism of their homes, assaulted and even killed.
In fact, the more I read, the more disturbed I became. A twenty-year-old fellow who meets a girl who says she is eighteen but turns out to be fifteen, will end up registered as a sex offender for twenty-five years. And we all know of many cases of fifteen and sixteen year old girls with boyfriends more than four years their senior. Are we ruining lives over this?
Oh my! – I published the first article, and the comments starting pouring in. I was ‘spanked’ by someone claiming to be in law enforcement specializing in sex offenders for any hint there may be some injustice in the registry. In fact, says this person, they are all liars, and anyway, it is all worthwhile if one sex offense against a child is prevented. (Though why the welfare of a child was worth more than the welfare of a man was beyond me. It should be equal.)
Then, on the other side, registered offenders left comments suggesting my hints of injustice didn’t go far enough, and regaling me with instances of gross injustice, and stories of those as young as 16 being ordered to register (though in Florida, no one under the age of 18 is registered.) No, they felt my article was too soft, and look at the numbers now registered, and for which offenses – impossible! Unjust! A crime!
Parents left comments expressing their emotional outrage. “These monsters are unspeakable, and should be locked up forever!” “No punishment is enough for these terrible crimes.” “They should be castrated/executed/put on another planet.” All those easy outbursts that do nothing more than fuel our moral outrage.
Like I said, enough hysteria to float a hot balloon.
Truthfully, I think this is one issue we should examine with cooler heads. Let’s put away our emotional outrage. Need help cooling off? Well then, think on this:
If 95% of sex offenses are committed by someone not registered, then it isn’t helping all that much. IF 90% of offenses against children occur within the family circle, then publication of these names does nothing to protect the public, and much to destroy the family – including the victim.
And while law enforcements points to the declining number of sex offenses over the past decade as an indicator such measures are working, is it not more likely the only decline has been in the reporting of the crimes? Considering the consequences to the family and the offender who may be the support of that family, it’s more likely victims are either choosing or are pressured into remaining silent.
According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the registered sex offenders in the United States constitute 232 for every 100,000 people, or .232%. Is it possible that such a small fraction of the population is responsible for the number of sex offenses each year? Even the mere 20% that are reported?
Of course not.
Seven out of ten girls, four out of ten boys and one in three households. Let’s be real.
Here are links to the first two articles in the series on Registered Sex Offenders.
Feel free to share your opinion on this issue in the comment section.