One of my favorite quotes is, “It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” Unfortunately, when it comes to the sex offender registry, what the public doesn’t know often gets other people into trouble. To help combat this glut of misinformation being trumpeted as truth in the media and in the courts, The Registry Report presents our very own version of “Registry Myth-Busters.”
Myth: Sex offenders have a “frightening and high” rate of recidivism.
Reality: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense.”
“Recidivism studies typically find that the older the prisoner when released, the lower the rate of recidivism. However, although this study did find the lowest rearrest for a sex crime (3.3 percent) did belong to the oldest sex offenders — 45 years old and older — other age group comparisons were inconsistent. The percentage rearrested for another sex crime after their release was 6.1 percent of those ages 18-24, 5.5 percent of those ages 25-29, 5.8 percent of those ages 30-34, 6.1 percent of those ages 35-39, 5.6 percent of those ages 40-44 and 3.3 percent of those ages 45 or older.”
“The data are from a study that documented levels of recidivism among all 272,111 men and women released from state prisons in 15 states in 1994. The 272,111 included 9,691 male sex offenders. The 9,691 are two-thirds of all the male sex offenders released from state prisons in the United States in 1994. The study represents the largest followup ever conducted of convicted sex offenders following discharge from prison and provides the most comprehensive assessment of their behavior after release. The report, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994″ (NCJ-198281), was written by BJS statisticians Patrick A. Langan, Erica L. Schmitt and Matthew R. Durose.”
These graphs for Alaska and Michigan are consistent with recidivism rates across the United States.
The origins of the “frightening and high” myth can be traced to a “widely cited quote from Justice Anthony Kennedy, which comes from the plurality opinion in the 2002 case McKune v. Lile, was based entirely on an unverified claim in a 1986 Psychology Today article by a therapist who has repudiated it, saying he is “appalled” at the lingering impact of his three-decade-old estimate.” (Reason.com: Writing Sex Offender Laws Based on Fake Recidivism Numbers Is Rational, Court Says April 11, 2018)
For more on this, check out New York Times: When Junk Science About Sex Offenders Infects the Supreme Court.
Myth: “Stranger Danger” is a serious and pervasive threat to our children.
Reality: “Stranger Danger” is largely a myth. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization,
- Of child sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement, 93% of juvenile victims knew the perpetrator:
- 59% were acquaintances
- 34% were family members
- 7% were strangers to the victim
- Of adult sexual assaults reported to law enforcement, 7 out of 10 assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.
Myth: The Sex Offender Registry Makes Our Communities Safer
Reality: There have been dozens of studies which have attempted to prove that registries make us safer but, in fact, they have all shown exactly the opposite.
A 2008 study concluded: “Despite the fact that the federal and many state governments have enacted registration and community notification laws as a means to better protect communities from sexual offending, limited empirical research has been conducted to examine the impact of such legislation on public safety. Therefore, utilizing time-series analyses, this study examined differences in sexual offense arrest rates before and after the enactment of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration Act. Results provide no support for the effectiveness of registration and community notification laws in reducing sexual offending by: (a) rapists, (b) child molesters, (c) sexual recidivists, or (d) first-time sex offenders. Analyses also showed that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders, casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders to meaningfully reduce sexual offending.” (Source: Sandler, J. C., Freeman, N. J., & Socia, K. M. (2008). Does a watched pot boil? A time-series analysis of New York State’s sex offender registration and notification law. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 14(4), 284-302.)
Another widely cited study from 2010 concluded: “there was no significant decline in the six year period after 1999, which was the year that South Carolina implemented its online sex offender registry, indicating that online notification did not influence general deterrence of adult sex crimes.” In fact, the study goes on to say that the registry may actually be making communities less safe: “South Carolina’s SORN policy does exert unintended effects on judicial decision making with respect to adult sex crime cases. An increased number of defendants were permitted to plead to nonsex charges following the onset of South Carolina’s SORN policy and following its modification to require online notification. The net effects of this change could be to reduce community safety by increasing the likelihood that defendants guilty of sex crimes pleaded to nonsex crimes or were aquitted altogether.” (Source: “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policies for Reducing Sexual Violence against Women,” Sept. 2010, Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Ph.D., Jill S. Levenson, Ph.D., Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., Debajyoti Sinha, Ph.D., Kevin S. Armstrong.)