Let’s talk sexual offense recidivism

By Sandy . . .  Arguments centering around recidivism or reoffense rates are problematic at best and useless at worst. Understanding all of the factors includes the vocabulary and the definitions. Are we talking any offense, including parole violations, that results in a re-arrest, or only a repeat sexual offense? Are we talking re-arrest, re-conviction, or re-incarceration before it is labeled “recidivism”? Was the study group a cross-section of all offenders, or did it focus on special populations? Were control groups in place? Was proper procedure followed? Was there peer review?

Proponents of ever-increasing stringency and monitoring of former offenders claim that most studies track recidivism only for three years, and that with each year, the rate increases. However, while it is true that, due to the cumulative nature of studies, recidivism increases a little each year for the group, for every individual in the study group, and actually for individuals everywhere, the risk or chance of re-offending goes down every year they remain in the community offense-free. Even high-risk individuals reach the point where their risk to reoffend is no greater than someone who has never been charged with a sexual crime.

Invariably, when discussing sexual recidivism, the issue of unreported offenses is brought up, as though that totally changes the numbers.  It seems to me to be totally irrelevant. Since approximately 95% of new sexual crime [p.15] is committed by those with no previous sexual crime convictions, unreported offenses have little to no impact on reoffense rates. Indeed, if every sexual crime were reported, there is no evidence that the rate of reoffense would alter in the slightest. The very reason that so much sexual assault goes unreported is that it is often committed by those with family or other close connections to the victims.

When you add to this the fact that the vast majority of those who are committing sexual offenses right now and will in the future are those not on a sexual offense registry, and this is even more true in cases of child sexual abuse, the focus and resources expended on maintaining a registry is money, time, and, by this point in time, millions of lives wasted.

The real bottom line, however, is regardless of whether the recidivism rate is high, low, or unknown, public notification and registration do not reduce it. A plethora of evidence supports this. What reduces it is a combination of victim support services, meaningful re-entry initiatives for registrants, and research-based education/prevention programs in schools and communities, including the use of relevant PBS programming initiatives.

In the food-for-thought category, these are two accurate statements about chances and risks as they involve children and persons on the registry.

The person who will sexually molest your child is many times more likely to be found sitting around your table at holiday meals than on a sexual offense registry.

Your child is more likely to end up on a sexual offense registry him or herself than he or she is to be harmed by someone on the registry.

Sandy Rozek

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Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.