Sex offenders, talk radio, and statistics

OK, so lately for some reason I’ve started listening to talk radio. I suppose I expect them to be at least as enlightening, if not entertaining, as the SDMB.

I was wrong. :smack:

I’m listening to Rick Roberts on the way home, and there was an abduction and molestation of an elementary school girl a few days ago. :frowning: Tragic, appalling, and I hope the fucker fries.

Rick has a tidbit (which I found on his website) that if you call in with your zip code, he will let you know how many registered sex offenders there are you in your area - all part of the public record, as we’ve got a Megan’s Law kind of thing in place where convicted sex offenders must register with law enforcement, and that information is freely available to the public.

So he looks up the number of registered sex offenders in the zip where the abduction occurred - about 150ish. Then someone calls in and says the area where it occurred was actually the border between two zip codes, so he looks up that one as well - about 130ish.

So we’re up to 280ish registered sex offenders in that area, about 225 of which are considered “serious” (as opposed to other classifications such as “an immediate threat” or “not a threat,” or something along those lines - “serious” being the middle classification).

So out of 280 potential sex offenders (that we know of), a molestation occurred. (I will also concede that more molestations occur than are actually reported to authorities, and more pedophiles exist than have committed crimes, but I’m trying to work with known quantities for the sake of argument.)

It’s horrible. It’s tragic. I hope the fucker comes to justice.


Are odds any better or worse for other kinds of crime? You hear a lot about recurrence rates among child molesters, which seems to be the driving force behind these laws. So is 1 out of 280 any better or worse than other kinds of crimes? If the odds of having your lawn gnomes kidnapped were, say, one in 50, should we start talking about having a lawn gnome stealer registry? I mean, it’s more likely to happen then a child molestation, right? Or even if we go by the actual number of incidents, robberies and assaults are probably more prevalent than child molestations (and I’m sure someone will give me cites to correct me if I’m wrong), but for the sake of argument let’s say that there are more assaults with a deadly parasol, and let’s also say that parasol attackers have just as high a recurrence rate as child molesters. (Are there any other statistics out there about recurrence rates among other types of crimes? It seems to me that sexual assault, robbery or other such crimes that are easier and just as tempting to commit would be at least more likely to reoccur.) Does that mean all people who once used a parasol should be required to register with the police? What next, big scarlet letters around their necks? (I know, useless hyperbole, so sue me.)

I’m no fan of these Megan’s Laws. I’ll of course agree that child molestation is wrong and that the people who commit these crimes deserve severe punishment and psychological help, but I don’t agree with these registries. I know there have been a million threads already about these laws, and I’m sure this will turn into another one, but what I’m looking for is statistics and a justification of why, when compared with other crimes, this one warrants a public registry when others do not. Is it just a public hot-button (“Won’t someone please think of the children?!?!”) or is there a statistically justified public threat here that is set apart in some way from other public threats? And the inevitable follow-up questions: do these registries work in reducing the number of molestations; do they help in any way to cure child molesters; and/or do they unjustly increase the stigma and/or punishment of those child molesters who have already “done their time” because of a previous crime?

And if I’ve gotten any of my facts wrong, somebody correct me. (Wait, I didn’t need to tell you that, did I? :wink: )


String the Gnomeburglar up by the nearest tree, I say!

It is more important to know the location of sex offenders than to know that of petty thieves or murderers. Sex offenders, IMHO, are more dangerous when it comes to likelihood of reoffence.

A murderer, as a prison official I knew used to put it, usually one has only one murder in him. Something happened, he snapped, and most likely, he wouldn’t do it again. (YMMV) Serial killers are rarely released, so having one in the neighborhood isn’t something you would need to be warned about.

A thief is a danger to property, but a rapist is a danger to a person’s mental well-being. One recovers from a robbery much quicker than a rape, which can scar a person for life. Sure, petty thiefs have a high recidivism rate, but it’s not as serious a crime as sexual assault.

Megan’s Law-style registries are not meant to “cure” sex offenders, nor are they necessarily to punish them. They serve in the following capacities:

  1. To inform parents of whether a sex offender lives nearby. A lot of sex offenders don’t look like perverts. They’re good at building rapports with children, and often, they seem like really nice people. After a while, trust can be built. Parents may allow their kids to swim in his pool, or may ask the man to watch their son while they run to the grocery store, sometimes with tragic results. It’s better if parents are informed of dangerous people in their neighborhood.

  2. The very nature of a sex criminal gives a higher probability that they will re-offend. Rapists and child molesters have a sickness. It’s about power and dominence, not necessarily sex. These people feel powerless in their every day lives, and the way they make themselves feel better is to force someone weaker than they to do their bidding. There is no “cure” for pedophelia. Perhaps some will never re-offend, but the desire will always lurk within them. They must be kept away from children and temptation.

  3. Sex crimes and abductions are difficult to solve. Having a registry of known sex offenders gives police a start on likely suspects. Pedopheliacs tend to have friends who have the same tastes, and often, if they’re not the perpetrater, they can give the police leads that could be very helpful.

  4. Parole, and potential violations. Forcing sex offenders to register whenever they move allows the law to keep a closer eye on them. With other types of offenders, they sometimes get “lost,” jumping parole, or through lack of interest of parole officers. Sex offenders can be tracked more easily through a registry. With the puch of a button, the parole officer knows where the offender lives, and can make visits to check up on him, and ensure that he is doing what his parole stipulated. By keeping a closer eye on the offender, the parole officer can ensure that the offender is not working in a job which involves contact with children. Residents who are aware of the offender’s status can also report potential violations such as “prowling” around playgrounds to the parole officer.

First of all, I want to say that I don’t agree with these registries for reasons unrelated to the rights of those required to register.

Secondly, I want to point out that it’s not always only “child molestors” that have to register. In at least some places it’s all sex offenders, which would include the rapist who preys on adult victims.

But the reason for the registry is not so much to prevent the sort of random abduction and molestation described in the OP which is very rare, but to allow people to find out that nice old man down the street, who seems so friendly, isn’t the person to ask to watch your child while you run an errand. And maybe it’s not a good idea to let your daughter play at Susie’s house since her brother molested one of their cousins a few years ago. Both of which are much more likely to happen than a stranger abduction. (although still not common) I’m not saying it does any, but that’s the idea.

Do I sense a candidate for understatement of the year? :stuck_out_tongue:

There’s another, related, concern about the “sex offender registration laws.” In some jurisdictions, all sex offenders have to register, and appear on the lists, regardless of their offenses. So the 18-year-old who got into trouble for dallying with a 15-year-old (or such and such) is on the same list as your aforementioned child molester. And the 18-year-old stays on the list, there to be seen when he/she applies for a job, moves into a new house, etc. It doesn’t seem like an equitable treatment.

This is GD, so I can’t accurately describe my feelings about Megan’s Law. So I’ll use asterisks.


I meant to post more than that, but accidentally hit enter, which apparently is equivalent to hitting submit.

Megan’s Law punishes people beyond what their sentence was. Think sex offenders are habitual? Then go through the process, extend the sentence. Don’t come up with this bull whereby you can label someone as your personal, permanent scapegoat for all you think is wrong in the world.

Why the hell do we have a criminal justice system if people are just going to assume everyone accused is guilty (which they already do in sex offense cases) and assume that everyone convicted is going to repeat the crime as soon as they get out (which is what Megan’s Law and it’s evil relatives do.)

I may have a chance to work with the Missouri State Public Defender’s system. We have an entire division dedicated to fighting things like Megan’s Law, fighting for the right for criminals to atone and wipe the slate clean, fighting for the right to have a criminal justice system that provides justice not just to vengeful and bitter victims, but also to the criminals we are supposedly “reforming.” Hopefully I can someday dance upon the grave of such atrocities and abominations to justice as Megan’s Law.

[b Rex, **

While I admire you for your struggle to defend people’s rights, I don’t necessarily agree with you.

A conviction for a sex offence is likely to follow a person around for the rest of their life, even without Megan’s Law-type registration. Any time they apply for a job they must divulge their criminal record. People will be unlikely to hire them. Is this punishing them beyond their sentance?

When it comes to children, it’s actually more difficult to get a conviction than with other crimes. I don’t think there is a definate “guilty 'till proven otherwise” metality which keeps them from justice. A child witness is notoriously difficult and unreliable. They’re easily confused and influenced. Often there is no physical evidence of abuse, especially if the abuse occurred some time ago. This is why a good deal of cases are pled down to things like Gross Sexual Imposition when the offense was actually something much worse.

You say that if we think they will reoffend, the sentances would be lengthened. I would love that. In a perfect world, I think all child molesters should be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole, but there’s two problems with this: prison space, and the difficulty in conviction. Sometimes, prosecuters have to chose between an all-or-nothing scenario: they can put the guy away for X number of years for sure with a plea, or they can take their chances with a jury, an unreliable witness, and a lack of physical evidence. A good defense attorney can punch holes in that case large enough to drive a semi through. If the sentances were harser, suspects would have no reason to “cop a plea,” which is sometimes the only way we can get them to serve time at all.

Given the recidivism rates for those who are convicted of child molestation crimes, I think it’s smart to keep an eye on them. It is not a crime of desperate situations (like thievery) or of momentary anger (like murder) but of a sickness, a compulsion that some pedopheliacs have difficulty controlling. There is no cure.

Possibly, some will not reoffend out of fear of going back to prison, but others definately will. I know people who work in “treatment” programs for sex offenders, and in some cases, there is no reform. Sometimes, the people do not want to reform. Having their slates wiped clean is dangerous. People do have a right to know if someone who preys upon children moves in next door. Megan’s Law assures that these types of people cannot slip out of sight, and move in on an unsuspecting neighborhood and abuse children.

These people need to be watched, and watched by a well-informed neighborhood. Not only can they then protect their own children, but they can watch for signs that other children are at risk, as well.

Given the possible reasons for the ricidivism rates for those who are convicted, I think it may be smarter to change how we treat them in the first place. From the moment they enter the system they are told over and over and over again that they are incurable and will most probably reoffend. They are treated by people that are hired only if they are of the mindset that such people are incurable, and then they are released into a society with a big note stapled to their foreheads that reads “I am not to be trusted. I am sick. I will reoffend.” They are then told by the powers that be to go out and become a productive member of society, while the same powers that be, in an effort to at least appear to be effective, go out into society and warn everyone about the big bad offender.

There is no cure. Maybe because looking for one would cost someone in law enforcement a promotion or an election. Maybe because if someone were cured they couldn’t be punished anymore. Hell, maybe there is a cure already, but it just isn’t politically expedient to persue it.

Considering the possibility for recidivism to be sufficient to justify something like Megan’s Law seems tragically unjust to me. Suppose the next thing we identify as a “disease” is kleptomania, so all former thieves should be watched closely and surveyed after release. Or the next thing is “anger addiction”, so everyone who ever hit anybody else needs to be kept watch over, to ensure he doesn’t let out his emotions with violence again. Thus lays the road to Big Brother, the road to the police state, the road to a world wherein everyone thinks they know the nature of everyone else.

Think a neighbor may be a pedophile? Take the time, look it up. Megan’s Law serves only to create new pariahs, new scapegoats, new devils to which we can cry “there lies evil!!” Everyone deserves a second chance. Everyone deserves the right to exonerate themselves. Everyone who enters the penal system is entitled to the chance of reform, the possibility of a clean slate, the chance to make something of themselves in the outside world. If we can’t do that for the convicted, we may as well just kill them because we aren’t giving them a life worth living. We’re giving them a life of accusatory stares, a life of constant suspicion, a life of a man condemned without possibility of retribution.

Labels are strong things. By putting people under the scrutiny of Megan’s Law and its equivalents, we are essentially defining people by their past wrongs. This is a tragic turn of events, one that a just penal system should have no part in.

It’s rendered even more tragically unjust when you know that some (I don’t know what proportion, but I know it’s at least a few) of the people on those sexual offenders lists who’re labelled as “child molestor” were caught having consensual sex with their teenaged girlfriends or boyfriends.

Lissa, do you have any statistical evidence to back up your claims?


Exactly. How do we know that people on those lists aren’t…

A) Man who had sex with other man, sodomy
B) 17 year old man, had sex with 16 year old girl, statutory rape (in Missouri)

Neither of those are situations in which recidivist behaviour should really be a concern. There’s nothing really “wrong” with those actions, they’re illegal only through the momentum of antiquity.

I don’t have any statistics, only personal experience (used to be a parole officer, now I prosecute parole violators), but in my view, the problem is not exactly an uncontrollable compulsion to molest children. The problem is that many child molesters don’t believe they did anything wrong. They don’t deny the action, but give reasons for it. Among the less sickening reasons are “She’s my kid and I can do what I want with her” and " Seven year olds don’t have diseases". And these reasons were given after serving prison time. The only other crime this happens with is domestic violence. Other criminals either deny or minimize their involvement, claim self-defense , or acknowledge that it was wrong to commit the crime.
Regarding Lissa’s point about the difficulty of prosecution, it is very difficult to prosecute a case with a child victim, and the younger and more vulnerable the child, the more difficult it is.If there isn’t medical evidence including DNA , testimony from the victim will usually be necessary at least to establish who the perpetrator is . If there’s no physical evidence (and there won’t be in some types of molestation) , the case will rest entirely on the victim’s testimony. Children don’t make good witnesses.Given a choice between a plea that will definitely keep the guy off the street for a while, and or rolling the dice with a shaky case, I’ll take the sure thing every time .Before I roll the dice, I’ve got to know I have a very strong case. If every sex offense conviction got a life sentence, there would be no incentive for a defendant to ever plead guilty to any sex offense.
And now, the reason I am against these registries- They provide people with a false sense of security. People believe they will be able to protect their children better if they know that the man they see hanging around the the schoolyard at dismissal time every day for no apparent reason is a sex offender, or if the neighbor down the street is a sex offender.The problem is that not being on the list doesn’t mean a person is not a sex offender, and believing it’s better to know implies that the knowledge will change your actions. The guy hanging around the schoolyard at dismissal shouldn’t be treated differently because he’s a convicted sex offender - that’s suspicious behavior regardless of his history. If you don’t know and trust neighbor X, you shouldn’t allow your child in that house or to go places with that person , even if he hasn’t been convicted of a sex offense. If the soccer coach’s behavior makes you suspicious, you shouldn’t ignore the suspicions because he wasn’t convicted of a sex offense. The only possible way the registry could help is if a parent found out that someone they already knew and trusted was on it, but realistically, I don’t think people are checking to see if their friends are on the registry. I think they’re checking on people they don’t know.

As I said before, crimes of property are much more easily recoverd from than molestation or rape. The damage done by a thief or man who’s beats people up is infantesimal compared with the horrors of what a victim of sex crimes must deal with for the rest of their lives.

We must always balance public safety against invidual’s rights. Sex offenders pose a significant risk to public safety and well-being. Their “right” to put their past offenses behind them must be weighed carefully against what risk their release poses to the community. Sex offenders have proven themselves to be a danger, and thus must be treated differently than property criminals. In the realm of possible sanctions which could be imposed against those who commit such horrendous crimes against their fellow man, Megan’s Law-type registries are the least restrictive. Furthermore, given the fact that recidivism studies are typically based on individuals who have been covicted of a second offense, it is highly likely that the actual numbers of convicted sex offenders who re-offend is two to three times higher than has been reported, according to this site . This site calims that the re-conviction rate for sex offenders over 25 years is 52%

Admittedly, this is lower for re-offence in property crimes, but the repercussions to the victim of a sex crime are much worse. Of course, this only covers those who were actually convicted. Many more may have gotten away with sex crimes which were never reported, or “beat the rap,” and were acquitted.


Where is it written in the great scheme of things that we should not take people’s past behavior in judging them in the present? For example, if you have loaned money to a person who never repaid you, would you loan to them again? If I know that my neighbor goes wild and breaks things when he is drunk, should I invite him over to my backyard kegger? If I know someone has molested children in the past, should I hire him to work in my daycare center?

How many chances must we give people? As with any criminal, thief, or molester, this person has most likely gotten away with it before. The offence for which he is caught is not likely the first time he has ever done something like this. He is likely to do it again.

Many states only require registry of sex offenders for ten years, unless the person has ben determined to be a sexual predator. After which, if the person has not re-offended, his slate is essentially “wiped clean.”

Labels are strong thing, but I think that the nature of sex crimes require that an offender be labled as dangerous. As I said before, the victim of a simple assault, or property crime will recover much more quickly than the victim of a sex crime. The risk to the public is much higher, and the repercussions much more serious. Whereas murder kills the body, rape or molestation ruins the rest of a person’s life. Victims never truly recover.

Niether does the offender. “Treatment” prorgams in the penal system are laughable. Knowing someone who has worked in one, I can say that they’re viturally useless. The first step is getting the offender to admit to what he did, which most refuse to do. Either they’re afraid that admitting their crime will ruin their chances for a successful appeal, or they sincerely feel that they did nothing wrong. When they do admit it, trying to get them to see what they did as wrong is the next hurdle. For someone who fully intends to repeat his crime, there is no treatment.

I agree fully that it’s tragic and wrong to register a 17 year old male who had sex with his 16 year old girlfriend. The only ones who should be registered are those who engaged in forced acts.

Amen. I was thinking that this would be a better idea if there were no names released to the public - just the numbers. If you knew 300 sex offenders lived in your immediate area, you’d be cautious of everybody, not just the one guy listed on your block. I think that would be a more effective wake-up call to parents, IMHO.


Lissa - truly excellent and well-written post.

Being as sociopathic as a child molester is as thankfully a foreign concept to most people as a fungle growth on Mars…The problem with the registers is for me, a purely constitutional conundrum. The fact that one must uequivocally present themselves as anti-pedophile before stating any opposing viewpoint toward this subject is clue to the level of “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” irrationality this hot button issue has come to generate( And I don’t advocate throwing out babies, I swear!)

Nothing is easier to hate nor less demanding of provocation than some despicable child predator. And no current subject is easier to utilize and accentuate by uninspired politicians and a lazy press either. Keep the Constitution out of the argument.

I have no data on the current prevelence of this crime as opposed to the past, but I’m willing to hazard a guess that there were just as many perverts in the good ole days as now…and possibly more since the family members of the Victorian era were considered more or less patriarcial property, and subject to the least perverted whims of the master.

PS… Keep yer garden gnomes off the street!

In the past, there was a very different outlook on “child molestation.”

Firstly, the very definition of “child” was different. With parental consent, people as young as twelve could be married. It wasn’t all that unusual in wealthy families to see a girl of fourteen married off to a sixty year old man. Marriages that we would consider incestuous today wew also not uncommon, especially among European royalty. Catherine the Great, for example, was almost married to her uncle. From her memoirs, it appears that he molested her to an extent (kisses and petting) with which no one really seemed to have much of a problem.

Child prostitutes were not uncommon, up until the end of the Victroian era. (One account I have read cites girls as young as eight years old being “auctioned” at bordellos.) “Rescue Societies” condemned the practice, but not much more strongly than they condemned adult prostitution.

Child pronography was more common as well than it is today. Lewis Carrol, the beloved author of * Alice in Wonderland * had an extensive collection of nude photographs of young girls. He often struck up correspondence with young fans (some of which was mildly erotic) and would ask the children to come for a visit. Apparently, the parents were aware that Carrol was taking the nude photographs, but didn’t raise a fuss about it. Carrol was not isolated in this practice, either. (Some of the child porn that Pee Wee Herman was recently busted for was very old indeed.) Some advertising also had images that we would consider indecent today. One ad I have seen pictures a naked little boy holding a garden hose between his legs, spraying a corset.

In middle and upper class families in which children were kept ignorant of sexual matters, many children who were molested might not have realized what was happening to them. In higher classes in which virginity was prized, most likely female children were not penetrated, because this would lower their value on the marriage market.

Of course, in the past, matters such as child molestation were mostly “kept within the family,” without outside authorities being alerted because of the shame. The victim would have been deemed unmariagable, and the family would have had to support her for the rest of her life. Shame would be brought on the entire family if the molestation would become publicly known, especially if incest was involved.

  • Posted by ** Esprix: * **

In some states, for certain offenses this is exactly what is done. The offender must register with the police, but his name is not released to the public.

For example, see this site as an example.

Sex offenders are classified by three levels. Most first time offenders that the corrections department deems to be of the lowest risk for re-offense (such as a fellow that has sex with his underage girlfriend) are classified as level one, and their information is only released to law-enforcement agencies, not to the general public unless specifically requested. “The law does not allow us to publicly distribute information regarding Level 1 Offenders.” Only if the offender is deemed a substantial risk (level two is a moderate risk, and level three is a high risk, or sexual predator) is the information made public.

Arizona does not register juvinile sex offenders at all and for level one offenders, only informs the people with which the offender resides of his criminal record. Ohio registers those known as “sexual predators” and informs those who live adjacent to the offender’s home and the local schools. New York has a 900-number line, which only distributes information about level two or three offenders. I picked a few states at random for examples, but you can find out about the laws in your state at this site.

In the past, there was a very different outlook on "child molestation

An excellent little overview of the history Lissa…Goes to show the malleability of the preceptions and taboos of society from just one generation to the next…Thank you for the sites also.