Are we getting the biggest bang for our sexual offense prevention dollars?

By Shelly Stow . . . From North Carolina comes this all-too-familiar story: Law enforcement is patting itself on the back for “tracking” those on the sex offender registry. In the typical it’s-a-dirty-job-but-somebody’s-got-to-do-it style of reporting, the journalist lauds Investigator J. Moore and the other two in the sex offender unit for spending all of their working hours verifying that Wake County’s 800 registered sex offenders are where they are supposed to be. I guess when they finish with them all, they start over.

Congratulations, Mr. Moore, et al.: it would appear that you are truly doing your share to keep people safe, but let’s just look at the science: A Dept. of Justice study of all released sexual offenders in 1994, almost 10,000 persons, shows that 96.5% did not recidivate. 3.5% were convicted for committing another sexual crime.

Since child victims are normally the greatest concern with this issue, I have tried to find a study giving some indication of what percentage of sexually molested children were victims of repeat offenders. It appears those studies haven’t been done. Instead, I find statements by law enforcement personnel that in years of dealing with child sexual abuse cases, not one, or maybe one or two out of hundreds, was committed by a repeat offender.

What I find are studies showing that virtually all of those who sexually abuse children, as high as over 98% for young children, are those close to the children in their everyday lives and people highly unlikely to be on a sex offender registry. And what I find is that, as horrible as it is, sexual abuse of children accounts for only 7.6% of the abuse that children suffer, almost always at the hands of those who claim to love them.

It would appear that, no matter how you slice it, the resources expended in “tracking” this specific category of individual, even if it actually prevented crime, are only addressing the tiniest percentage of the problem. How much is being expended on fact-based education and prevention initiatives that are shown to actually reduce the other 98-or-higher-percentage of child sexual abuse? How much is being expended on effective rehabilitative and re-entry initiatives for former offenders, things shown to bring down the already extremely low re-offense rate? How much is being expended on initiatives to reduce the other 92.4% of non-sexual violence and abuse of children as well as that of vulnerable adults?

I wonder if the answer would show a concern for public protection that is in concert with the facts, or if it would show a topic that captures the public’s imagination and earns public officials kudos for keeping children safe even though it falls far, far short of that noble goal.

Source image 1: Pub. 2003; “Recidivism of sex offenders released from prison in 1994” (NCJ198281)
Source image 2: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Statistical Briefing Book 2008
Source image 3: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and    Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families,Children’s Bureau.(2010).Child Maltreatment 2009.

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This post was written by someone, or multiple people, within NARSOL.