|Sex Offender Myths: The Foundation for Sex Offender Laws
Derek W. Logue
Compiled Dec. 5, 2007, Last Update Sept. 4, 2013
Sex Offender MythBusters: Notes from Once Fallen’s 2013 RSOL Conference Presentation
[SEE THE PRESENTATION HERE or you can DOWNLOAD THE SLIDESHOW HERE]
Part I: Myths Are Deeply Ingrained In Our Brains
- A popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially: one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society
or segment of society
- "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." -- Popular saying
- Not all myths are pure fiction; some are misrepresentation of facts, facts taken out of context, or exaggerations of facts
- Dan Gunderson, “A Better Approach to Sex Offender Policy.” Minnesota Public Radio, June 18th, 2007
- “Misinformation and a lack of information often shapes sex offender policy…Most of the legislators in [a study by Lisa Sample of Univ. of
Nebraska- Omaha] said their primary source of information was the news media.”
- In most cases, lawmakers didn’t read studies/ reports relevant to legislation they supported.
- Sample: Most sex offender legislation follows the abduction and murder of a child, and the resulting public outrage
- In Minnesota, a panel of experts recently completed a comprehensive report to serve as a guide for sex offender policy in the state. One of the
report’s authors says the biggest challenge is just getting lawmakers to read it.
- In short, it is OUR job to educate the public
- Watch out for these common logical fallacies:
- Ad hominem: Personal attacks, “Only pedos reject SO laws!”
- Appeals to emotion: What ifs, “What if it was your child raped/ murdered, If it saves just one child!”
- Ad ignorantiam; You can’t prove OR disprove myth, “Sex offenses are notoriously underreported.”
- Appeal to authority: “The NCMEC/ Oprah states that….”
- Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, “Sex crime rates dropped in the 90s, therefore the registry works.”
- Red herring: Misleading/detracting from the issue, “Vote for the Senate Farm Bill, or you give food stamps to pedophiles, and pedophilia harms
- Cherry picking: Narrow focus on one supporting area in a study while neglecting other parts of a study
- The Moving Goalpost: Moving the standard of proof or setting impossible boundaries, “Even 1% recidivism is too high”
- Straw Man: Ignoring a person's actual position and substituting a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position, “You say
reoffending is low. I disagree entirely. Reoffending is high because pedophiles are clever and most go undetected!"
- “Twististics:” Intentionally showing a stat in the most misleading way possible, a “false light;” “Sex offender reoffending is low BUT they are
four times as likely to reoffend than non-sex offenders”
- “Data Soup:” Throwing a bunch of loosely related stats together, implying a great danger in high numbers (Sex is the #1 search term online,
porn is a $20 BILLION a year industry, the average SO commits 117 sex crimes, etc.)
Part II: The “Dirty Dozen” S.O. Myths
Myth #1: High Recidivism Rates
- “The risk or recidivism posed by sex offenders is ‘frightening and high.’” (Smith v. Doe, 538 US at 103)
- SCOTUS relied on the Prentky study as well as part of the US Dept. of Justice as “proof” of high recidivism rates.
- The bad news: SCOTUS, for now, declares high recidivism rates a “settled” or established fact. They are WRONG.
- Understanding recidivism:
- Recidivism means the rate at which a person previously convicted of a crime commits another crime
- Recidivism studies use varying standards for measuring recidivism—re-conviction rates, re-arrest rates, informal reports to child agencies, self-
reporting, violations of conditional release, or simply being questioned by police. The broader the definition, the higher the number [I
recommend “re-conviction rates” as the Gold Standard]
- Recidivism (sometimes called General/ Baseline Recidivism) means person commits a offense of any type, include parole violations, traffic
violations, other crime types.
- Re-offense (sometimes called Specific/ Sexual Recidivism) means the sex offense committed a new sex offense. Some studies include “Failure
To Register” as a sex crime
- US Department of Justice, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released into the Community in 1994.”(Study released in 2003)
- Three-year follow-up period of 9,641 SOs released in 15 states in 1994
- 517 sex offenders (5.3% of all sex offenders) were arrested for a sex crime within 3 years, 3.5% were re-convicted
- Nearly 1/3 of those arrested were not convicted (Falsely accused? Not enough evidence?)
- Advocates For Change Recidivism Handout (from 2012 RSOL Conference) “A Composite of 27 studies from 24 states and countries involving
69,307 sex offenders released from prison and followed for an average of 4.2 years show 3.68% were convicted for a new sex offense.”
- Factors affecting recidivism rates:
- #1: The longer someone is out, the less likely that person will reoffend: 5 year recidivism rate for offenders who have been out of prison five
years was 7%; among offenders out 10 years, 5%; and among offenders out 15 years, 4%. [Harris, A. J. R., Hanson, R. K. (2004) “Sex
Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question.”]
- #2: Of those who do reoffend, about 2/3 do so within three years of release -- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, “Ten Year
Recidivism Follow-up of 1989 Sex Offender Releases.” This is why short term studies are sufficient for determining recidivism and re-offense
- #3: Sex Crime recidivism among Sex Offender sub-groups: From the Harris and Hanson study 2004 study (in parentheses, recidivism rates
after 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years):
- Extended Incest Child Molesters (6%, 9%, 13%)
- “Girl Victim” Child Molesters (9%, 13%, 16%)
- Rapists (14%, 21%, 24%)
- “Boy Victim” Child Molesters (23%, 28%, 35%)
- #4: One time offenders (10%, 15%, 19%) recidivated lower than those who had two or more prior convictions (25%, 32%, 37%) -- Harris
and Hanson 2004 [Note: All totals from Harris and Hanson study are cumulative.]
- Understanding perspective: “Cumulative” totals can easily lead to misuse
- Cumulative totals break the law of gravity: What goes up keeps going up, never down
- Harris and Hanson study gives a TOTAL re-offense rate in 5 year increments (14%, 20%, 24%)
- People will ASSUME 14% PLUS 20% PLUS 24%; thus, assume the longer one
- The truth: In the first five years, overall re-offense rates were 14%, but between years 5-10, 6% reoffended, and between 10-15 years, only
- Overestimating Risk: Understanding the Prentky and Langevin Studies
- The “Prentky Study” [Prentky, R., Lee, A., Knight, R., & Cerce, D. (1997). “Recidivism rates among child molesters and rapists: A
methodological analysis.”] claims a 52% recidivism rate. Problems with the study: The sample consisted of those released from civil
commitment centers with multiple offenses, the author has declared the sample is not representative of all SOs, the 52% rate is an estimate
rather than the actual rate of recidivism
- “Lifetime Sex Offender Recidivism: A 25 year Follow-Up Study,” by Ron Langevin claims a 90%-94% re-offense rate. This study has been
universally rejected by the experts because the researchers intentionally removed non-recidivists from the study once they remained offense-
free for 15 years. “Nearly 100% of reoffenders reoffend.”
Myth #2: Sex Offenders are “Four Times More Likely to Re-offend”
- “When convicted sex offenders reenter society, they are much more likely than any other type of offender to be rearrested for a new rape or sexual
assault” McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24, 34 (2002) [citing U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders 27 (1997); U.
S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1983, p. 6 (1997)]
- US Department of Justice, “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released into the Community in 1994.”
- 9,641 SOs released, 262,420 non-SOs released in same 15 states in 1994
- 517 sex offenders (5.3%) were arrested for a sex crime within 3 years;
- 3,228 non-sex offenders (1.3%) were arrested for a sex crime in same 3 years
- Six times as many sex crimes were committed by non-RSOs released from prison as RSOs in the same period
- All offenders tend to specialize, but re-offense rates for registrants are lower than other crimes
- Michigan Parole Board, Recidivism Stats 1990-2000
- Follow-up Period: 4 years Recidivism Rates
- Sex Offenders 2.46%
- Burglary 10.56%
- Drugs 6.42%
- Robbery 5.17%
Myth #3: Stranger Danger
- “…the FBI (in the 1950s) distributed a poster that epitomized this attitude. It showed a man, with his hat pulled down, lurking behind a tree with a bag
of candy in his hands. He was waiting for the sweet little girl walking home from school alone.” (Kenneth V. Lanning, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral
Analysis,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2001, p. 13)
- FACT: Most sex crimes are committed by someone known to the victim
- Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, 1997 (US DoJ)
- Only 6.7% of victims under 18 and 34.4% of victims over 18 were victimized by strangers.
- Victims under 18: Strangers committed 6.7% of crimes; Family Member, 46.5%; Acquaintances/ friends, 46.8%
- Victims over 18: Strangers committed 34.4% of crimes; Family member, 10.6%; Acquaintances/ friends, 55.0%
- Adult Victim Fact: Statistics indicate that the majority of women who have been raped know their assailant. A 1998 National Violence
Against Women Survey revealed that among those women who reported being raped, 76% were victimized by a current or former
husband, live-in partner, or date (Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998). Also, a Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that nearly 9 out of 10
rape or sexual assault victimizations involved a single offender with whom the victim had a prior relationship as a family member,
intimate, or acquaintance (Greenfeld, 1997).
- Child Victim Fact: Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child
or the child's family (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child,
or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.
- FACT: The younger the age, the less likely a stranger is involved. Stranger offenses by age group (Source: OJJDP Briefing Book 2008)
- Victim Age < 7: 1.8%
- Victim Age 7-11: 2.7%
- Victim Age 12-17: 5.7%
- FACT: Most juvenile sex crimes are committed by other juveniles. Offenses committed by juveniles by victim age group (Source: OJJDP Briefing
- Victim Age < 7: 42%
- Victim Age 7-11: 43%
- Victim Age 12-17: 30%
- FACT: “95.9% of rape arrests and 94.1% of child molestation arrests were of first time offenders.” Source: Sandler, Freeman, & Socia, “Does a
Watched Pot Boil? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law.
- NISMART-2 [National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children]2002: 797,500 Missing children reports:
- 357,600 runaway/ throwaway
- 340,500 benign reasons
- 61,900 Missing involuntarily/ lost/ injured
- 56,500 Family Abduction
- 12,100 Non-family Abduction
- 115 “stereotypical kidnappings,” of those 45 permanently missing/ dead
- In 2002, there were 73.1 Million kids under 18 in the US, 45 killed/ permanently missing, or 1 in 1,624,444. American Academy of Pediatrics stated in
2010 that 77 kids a year die from choking to death on a hot dog. Should we register Oscar Meyer?
- Most sex crimes are committed in the home (Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., "Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim,
Incident, and Offender Characteristics." National Center for Juvenile Justice, July 2000): "Most (70%) of the sexual assaults reported to law
enforcement occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender, or the residence of another individual."
Myth #4: All Sex Offenders are “Pedophiles” or “Predators”
- “Pedophile” is a clinical term, "Sex Offender" is a legal term; You cannot be convicted of “pedophilia” but you can be convicted of a sex offense.
There is no such thing as a “convicted pedophile.” You can be a pedophile without committing a offense. You can commit a sex offense and not be a
- There are a myriad of derogatory terms: Predator, pervert, sex beast, sex fiend, monster, kid toucher, baby-raper, chicken hawk, kid fucker, Sexually
Violent Predator (SVP), even “predophile”
- Only a small portion of convicted sex offenders against minors are actually preferentially attracted to children. In spite of this fact, studies typically use
the word “pedophile” interchangeably with terms such as “child molester,” “sex offender,” “abuser,” and “rapist.” – Source: Okami, P. & Goldberg,
A., “Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?”, Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1992, pp. 297-328.
- Diagnostic criteria for 302.2 Pedophilia
- Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a
prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).
- [And:] The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies caused marked distress or interpersonal difficulty.
- [And:] The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A.
- Note: Do not include an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 12- or 13-year-old.
- Situational versus Fixated Offenders
- Situational/ Opportunistic/ Regressed Offenders: Not attracted exclusively to children, more amenable to treatment, more capable of feeling
remorse, less likely to have multiple victims, mostly within family or close circle of friends, often motivated by reasons other than sex, triggered
by stressors (more common)
- Fixated/ Preferential Offenders: Exclusively attracted to children, premeditated behaviors, more likely to abuse multiple victims, less amenable to
treatment (very uncommon)
- Only 4% of sexual offenders in Montana prisons are classified as “Pedophiles” -- Facts, Figures and Estimates Regarding Treatment for Incarcerated
Sex Offenders in Montana (01/06/2011)
Myth #5: Sex offenders cannot be cured
- “There seems virtually no evidence predators can actually be ‘cured.’ Discussions about this sound like alcoholism in that you can never be cured but
the key is to control the urge.” – Anderson Cooper, “Can sexual predators ever be cured?” CNN.com (2007)
- Assumption #1: All sex offenders have an “incurable illness.”
- Assumption #2: All sex offenders pose an equal and high risk (they are “homogeneous”)
- FACT: Sex offender treatment greatly reduces recidivism
- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, “Ten Year Recidivism Follow-up of 1989 Sex Offender Releases.”
- 7.1% of sex offenders who went through treatment recidivated
- 16.5% of sex offenders who did not undergo treatment recidivated
- 16.5 divided by 7.1= a 65% decrease
- “Sexual recidivism by COSA Core Members is 70% lower than that of the matched comparison sample, and is less than one-quarter of the
actuarial sexual recidivism rates projected by the Hanson and Thornton STATIC-99 survival curves - a statistically significant result.” -- Robin
J. Wilson, Janice E. Picheca & Michelle Prinzo. "Circles of Support & Accountability: An Evaluation of the Pilot Project in South Central
Ontario." Correctional Service of Canada, May 2005
- Facts, Figures and Estimates Regarding Treatment for Incarcerated Sex Offenders in Montana (01/06/2011):
- Recidivism (returning to prison for any violations): 25% of treatment complete inmates return to prison, 49% of treatment non-complete
inmates return to prison
- Re-offending (returning to prison for a new sexual offense): 2% of treatment complete inmates re-offend, 20% of treatment non-
complete inmates re-offend
- We use the term “treatment” rather than “cure” – most people are amenable to “treatment.”
- Not all treatment programs are equal– programs that shame the offender/ negative actions/ techniques that are based on distrust and shame (such as
use of the polygraph and plethysmographs) are examples of bad programs. Some good programs: Stop It Now! Circles of Support and Accountability,
Faith Based Initiatives
Myth #6: Sex Offenders have hundreds of victims
- “The average serial child molester has between 360-380 victims in his lifetime… The average adolescent sex offender will, without treatment, go on to
commit 380 sex crimes during his lifetime.” (From Laura Ahearn’s “Parents For Megan’s Law” Statistics Page)
- Main source: Gene Abel "Self-Reported Sex Crimes of Non-Incarcerated Paraphiliacs" (1986): There are a number of problems with the study-- few
offenders were voluntary (which would compel false admissions), inclusion of non-criminal paraphilias such as consensual homosexual relations, and
Abel lists an estimated number of acts and victims over a lifetime. Abel states the study suggested paraphiliacs, “through coercion or varying degrees
of compliance, repeated acts are carried out with the same victims or partners”
- Mean -- 281.7
- Median -- 10.1
- Female Victims, # of acts
- Mean -- 23.2
- Median -- 1.4
- Male Victims, # of Victims
- Mean -- 150.2
- Median -- 4.4
- Female Victims, # of victims
- Mean -- 19.8
- Median -- 1.3
- Specific claim that “sex offenders have 117 victims on average”
- “The typical offender is male, begins molesting by age 15, engages in a variety of deviant behavior, and molests an average of 117 youngsters,
most of whom do not report the offense.” – Attributed to Gene Abel (1985) “The Evaluation of Child Molesters: Final Report to the Center on
Antisocial and Violent Behavior.” Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health. No one has a copy of the original study! But…
- “The Stop Child Molestation Book: What Ordinary People Can Do In Their Everyday Lives To Save 3 Million Children” by Nora Harlow and
Gene G. Abel “On average, a pedophile molests 11.7 children compared to a non-pedophile molester, who molests, on average, 2.9 children…
On average, a molester with pedophilia commits 70.8 molestation acts. On average, a molester without pedophilia commits 6.5 acts.” Misplaced
decimal point is the likely cause
- Self-Reporting and polygraphs overestimate risk:
- “The Impact of Polygraphy on Admissions of Victims and Offenses in Adult Sexual Offenders” by Sean Ahlmeyer, Peggy Heil, Bonita McKee,
and Kim English (2000): Also relies on self-reporting and includes non-criminal paraphilias but adds POLYGRAPHS. “Comparatively,
conclusions cannot be made on the frequency of sexual offending for inmates and parolees, because of the unique external confounds present
for each setting.” The end result was the belief that polygraphs influenced more self-reporting because the inmates believed they worked.
- Kokish, Levenson, and Blasingame. “Post-conviction Sex Offender Polygraph Examination: Client-Reported Perceptions of Utility and
Accuracy” (2005): Researchers found that participants reported a relatively low incidence of false indications of both deception (22 of 333
tests) and truthfulness (11 of 333) tests, suggesting that clients agreed with examiners’ opinions 90% of the time. About 5% of participants
reported that they responded to allegedly inaccurate accusations of deception by admitting to things they had not done. In other words, the
interpretation of the test relies solely on what the researcher believes in the hearing.
- No other study has validated these outlandish claims. If 700,000 Registered Offenders had 100 to 300 victims like the myth claims, there would
be around a 70 to 280 million victims. The USA only has 300 million individuals and around 70 million minors
Myth #7: The Underreporting Myth
- “The majority of sexual assault are not reported to the police (an average of 54% of assaults in the last five years were not reported). Those rapists, of
course, will never spend a day in prison. But even when the crime is reported, it is unlike to lead to an arrest and prosecution. Factoring in unreported
rapes, only about 3% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison.” [Source: The R.A.I.N.N. website’s “Statistics” page]
- Since under-reporting is an "unknown" factor, many victim advocates claim astronomical numbers, such as "90%+" in claiming how many sex crime
cases go unreported.
- The current largest and best measure of under-reporting comes from the National Crime Victimization Surveys (NCVS). The NCVS is a “self-report
study” that includes “attempted” as well as “completed” acts, including “verbal threats.” The study relies on the survey taker, not a trained law
enforcement official, to determine whether an act is an “unreported crime.”
- FACT: The unreported numbers have been steadily declining over the years:
- 2003 NCVS: 67.3% of rapes and attempted rapes (attempts included verbal threats of sexual violence) and 53.2% of sexual assaults go
- Between 2003-2005, sex assaults/ rapes were consolidated
- 2005 NCVS: 61.7% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported
- 2010 NCVS: 50% of rapes/ sexual assaults go unreported
- The NCVS understands it has limitations: “The estimates of rape/sexual assault are based on a small number of cases reported to the survey.
Therefore, small absolute changes and fluctuations in the rates of victimization can result in large year-to-year percentage change estimates. For
2010, the estimate of rape or sexual assault is based on 57 unweighted cases compared to 36 unweighted cases in 2009." That is 57 "unreported
cases" out of sample size of nearly 71000 people: In 2010, 40974 households and 73283 individuals age 12 and older were interviewed for the
NCVS. Each household was interviewed twice during the year. The response rate was 92.3% of households and 87.5% of eligible individuals."
Still, the survey strongly suggests the amount of under-reporting may be over-reported. (2010 NCVS summary)
- Talking Point: So WHY do people fail to report sex crimes?
- Citing a Besserer and Trainor (2000) study, which used “a very broad definition of sexual assault,” including all unwanted forms of sexual
touching and threats, and possibly “behaviors not conforming to the popular image of a sexual offense,” Hanson and Harris point out 59% of
the respondents of this study stated the reason for not reporting was they felt the “incident was not important enough” to report.
“Consequently, readers may wonder what counts as a sexual assault.” (Harris & Hanson 2004, p. 1-2)
- From the NCVS 2005:
- Non-reporting when a stranger is involved: Reported to another official (49.6%), Police don’t want to be bothered (19.9%), Offender
unsuccessful (12.7%), Fear of reprisal (11%), and Police inefficient, ineffective, or biased (6.9%).
- Top reasons for non-reporting when a non-stranger is involved: Other Reasons (47%), Private or personal matter (31.1%), Police don’t
want to be bothered (10.8%), Report to another official (5.1%), Police ineffective, inefficient, biased (2.8%), and Too incontinent, time
Myth #8: 100,000 Missing Sex Offenders
- "Today, nearly one out of every five paroled sex offenders (100,000 in all) has gone missing. They've evaded state laws, exploited loopholes and
disappeared, free to use their newfound anonymity to prey on new victims. This new law will help put an end to that freedom.” Scott Berkowitz,
President of RAINN. NOTE: This “100,000 missing RSOs” number has remained the same since the myth was created in 2002.
- SOURCE: Source of the myth was a 2002 Parents for Megan's Law survey in which only 32 states participated and very few states kept accurate
records, giving only rough estimates of non-compliance. PFML concluded 24%, or about a fourth, of registrants were unaccounted for. (In 2002
there were roughly 400,000 registrants). PFML has never released the study for peer review. [eAdvocate, “The Saga of 100,000 Missing Sex
Offenders: Now the truth.” Sex Offender Reports, Charts, and Other Papers (2009). http://sexoffender-reports.blogspot.com/2009/05/saga-of-100000-
- “The number is 100,000. Depending on the account, it has been used to represent the number of sex offenders in the United States who are ‘missing,’
‘noncompliant,’ ‘fugitive,’ ‘evading authorities,’ or ‘absconded.’” – Source: Jill S. Levenson and Andrew J. Harris. “100,000 Sex Offenders Missing .
. . or Are They? Deconstruction of an Urban Legend.” Criminal Justice Policy Review, 2011.
- FACT: the number of “missing” registrants is far lower than reported in the media.
- Ackerman, A. R., Harris, A. J., Levenson, J. S., & Zgoba, K. (2011). “Who are the people in your neighborhood? A descriptive analysis of
individuals on public sex offender registries.” International Journal of Psychiatry and Law
- Total Registrants: 445,127
- Absconded: 5,349
- Missing:” 1,264
- FTRs: 4,152
- Total Lost: 10,765 (2.4%)
- Homeless: 6,923
- FACT: Failure To Register is NOT a reliable indicator for recidivism
- Zgoba KM, Levenson J. (June 2012) “Failure to register as a predictor of sex offense recidivism: the big bad wolf or a red herring?” Sex
Abuse, 24(4):328-49 “Failure to register was not a significant predictor of sexual recidivism, casting doubt on the belief that sex offenders who
are noncompliant with registration are especially sexually dangerous. Few differences between groups were detected, but FTR offenders were
more likely to have sexually assaulted a stranger and to have adult female victims, further challenging the stereotype of the child predator who
absconds to evade detection.”
Myth #9: "Internet Predators"
- Overestimating Internet Predators
- The 50,000 Internet predator myth is attributed to controversial Chris Hansen and "To Catch a Predator;" Hansen admits he conjured the
number out of thin air (Benjamin Radford. “Predator Panic: A Closer Look.” Skeptical Enquirer, 9/2006) So the myth was debunked… or was
- “Federal authorities believe that at least 500,000 to 750,000 predators are “on-line” on a daily basis, constantly combing through these blog
sites, crawling around in Internet chat rooms and on-line dating services, pretending to be someone and something they’re not.” Clint Van Zant,
MSNBC analyst & former FBI profile, in 2006, and cited on Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator”
- FBI Profiler Kenneth Lanning calls 50,000 the "Goldilocks number," meaning the number doesn't sound like too much or not enough. The
number 50,000 has been applied for many unknown numbers --Koran War casualties, deaths and annual deaths from second hand smoke,
number of children allegedly sacrificed to Satan during the satanic cult scares of the 1980s (Brooke Gladstone, “On the Media: Prime Number.”
NPR/ WNYC radio, May 26, 2006)
- Actual online child exploitation crimes 2006 [Source: Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor & Kimberly J. Mitchell (2009) “Law Enforcement
Responses to Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crimes: The National Juvenile Online Victimization Study, 2000 & 2006.” Crimes Against
Children Resource Center]
- 615 arrests for online predation
- 3,100 arrests for solicitations to undercover investigators posing online as minors
- For every “online predation” arrest. Six more were by undercover cops
- Other Internet Predator Myths
- Myth: “1 of 5 children who use a computer chat room has been approached by a pedophile (child molester)” – Judy Cornett, Safe Zone
- “1 in 5” stat: came from Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS)
- 19% received a broad term "sexual solicitation," which included anything from sexual spam to someone asking if a person “got lucky”
on a date
- Only one in 33 experienced an "aggressive sexual solicitation," or a request to contact offline
- 24% came from adults, 48% came from other juveniles, and 24% from unknown people
- One cannot assume all solicitations came from "online predators"
- Myth: “30% of young people consider an online encounter while 14% have already met in person with someone they met online.” – from
“Slavery No More” http://www.slaverynomore.org/
- The 14% meeting offline stat came from Cox Communications/ NCMEC Teen Internet Safety Survey (2006)
- Sample size: 1,100 teens age 13-17
- 14% have actually met face-to-face with a person they had known only through the Internet (9% of 13- to 15-year-olds and 22% of 16-
to 17-year-olds). The survey never discusses who they meet or for what purposes
- Subsequent studies from COX and the YISS have found these numbers have been reduced, but many sites don’t quote the newer results
- Myth: "Things are not always what they seem. For example, sexual predators lie about their age and are ‘always older’ than they admit.” –
Pamela Bennett, FL Child Predator CyberCrime Unit, 2007
- Understanding Internet “Predator” Behavior: Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Michele L. Ybarra. "Online
'Predators' and their victims." American Psychologist, Vol. 63 No. 2 February-March 2008
- Internet offenders pretended to be teenagers only 5% of the time
- Online SOs are seldom violent, and cases involving stalking or abduction are very rare.
- Youth who engaged in 4+ risky online behaviors were much more likely to report receiving online sexual solicitations. Online risky
behaviors included maintaining buddy lists that included strangers, discussing sex online with people they did not know in person and
being rude or nasty online.
- "The publicity about online 'predators' who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate. Internet sex crimes
involving adults and juveniles more often fit a model of statutory rape—adult offenders who meet, develop relationships with, and openly
seduce underage teenagers—than a model of forcible sexual assault or pedophilic child molesting. This is a serious problem, but one that
requires approaches different from those in current prevention messages emphasizing parental control and the dangers of divulging
Myth #10: Tough on crime
- "Increasing penalties against those who prey on these vulnerable children will deter criminals from committing such crimes.“ – NY State Sen. Joe
Robach, Apr. 1, 2013
- FACT: Sex offender laws have no positive impact on crime, but the effects of the law can increase crime:
- REGISTRATION: “…Results of the analyses indicate that the 1996 enactment of SORA (and thus the beginning of the registry) had no
significant impact on rates of total sexual offending, rape, or child molestation, whether viewed as a whole or in terms of offenses committed
by first-time sex offenders or those committed by previously convicted sex offenders (i.e., repeat offenders).” – Source: DOES A WATCHED
POT BOIL? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law.” Jeffrey C. Sandler, Naomi J.
Freeman, and Kelly M. Socia (2008)
- RESIDENCY RESTRICTION LAWS: In 2005, Iowa began enforcing 2000 foot residency restrictions. In the year following enactment:
- The number of sex crime arrests increased by 15, and convictions increased by 12 (the second year, arrests increased by 167 and
convictions increased by 45)
- Failure to Register cases increased by 184
- 137 charges for violating residency restrictions
- 700 of Iowa’s 6000 registrants fled the state or the US or simply stopped registering.
- Iowa scaled back restrictions for most registrants in 2009
- “Results showed that those offenders classified as Tier 1 (lowest risk) were rearrested for both sexual and nonsexual offenses more
quickly than both Tier 2 (moderate risk) and Tier 3 (highest risk) offenders and were rearrested for sexual offenses at a higher rate than
Tiers 2 and 3 offenders.” Freeman, N. J., & Sandler, J. C. (2010). The Adam Walsh Act: A False Sense of Security or an Effective
Public Policy Initiative? Criminal Justice Policy Review, 21(1), 31-49.
- “…AWA tiers did a poor job of identifying high-risk offenders, and thus may not meaningfully guide sex offender management
practices.” [Zgoba, Milner, Raymond Knight, Elizabeth Letourneau, Jill Levenson, and David Thornton. 2012. “A Multi-State Recidivism
Study Using Static-99R and Static 2002 Risk Scores and Tier Guidelines from the Adam Walsh Act.” Research Report Submitted to the
National Institute of Justice.]
- FACT: Sex offender laws promote social ostracism and vigilante violence
- “As former offenders are denied opportunities to reintegrate into society and stigmatized, they lose hope. Stigmatized offenders are more likely
to recidivate than reintegrated offenders, as the resistance to recidivate diminishes among offenders who are ostracized. On the other hand, a
‘pro-social identity,’ including concrete recognition of their reform, is integral to reducing recidivism” (Hollida Wakefield, “The Vilification of
Sex Offenders: Do Laws Targeting Sex Offenders Increase Recidivism and Sexual Violence?” Journal of Sex Offender Civil Commitment:
Science and the Law, 2006, p. 141-149)
- Psychologist John Q. LaFond points out a Washington state study that found notification laws do not prevent crime; instead, it leads to quicker
arrest times, either by the constant scrutiny, or by disrupting employment, housing, and support for the sex offender, causing stress and
increasing the likelihood of recidivism (LaFond, "Preventing Sexual Violence." APA 2005)
- “Employment problems experienced by the RSO, and subsequent financial hardships, emerged as the most pressing issue identified by family
members. The likelihood of housing disruption was correlated with residential restriction laws; larger buffer distances led to increased
frequencies of housing crisis. Family members living with an RSO were more likely to experience threats and harassment by neighbors.
Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers and classmates.
More than half had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Unintended consequences can impact family members’
ability to support RSOs in their efforts to avoid recidivism and successfully reintegrate.” -- Levenson, J. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2009). Collateral
damage: Family members of registered sex offenders. American Journal of Criminal Justice.
Myth #11: The “slap on the wrist”
- “The amount of actual jail time a sex offender serves is short. VERY short. Anecdotal evidence seemed to reveal that sex offenders serve less time
than people who were convicted of stealing or drug possession.” – From the ‘Instant Checkmate” Blog (a background check service site)
- FACT: People convicted for sex crimes overall receive higher sentences for any crime except murder
- Child Porn Convictions lead all major offenses in federal sentencing (Source: US Sentencing Commission): Child porn sentence 2012—130
Mos.; Drug Offenders 2012—60 Mos.
- Florida Department of Corrections, Bureau of Research and Data Analysis: Sentence length for 2008/2009
- Murder: 23.5 years
- Sex crimes: 11.9 years
- Robbery: 8.2 years
- Other violent crime: 4.3 years
- Drugs: 3.0 years
- Washington State “Sex Offender Sentencing” 2004: In fiscal year 2003, the average sentence length for all felonies was 37.3 months, compared
to 90.8 months for sex offenses.
Myth #12: Megan’s Law “Raises Awareness”
- "The purpose of the law was to provide an awareness to parents. It was put there for parents to know where the offenders are living. Five million
people have gone to the state web site. It's doing what it was supposed to do. We never said it was going to stop them from reoffending or wandering
to another town.” Maureen Kanka, in a telephone interview with The Star-Ledger.
- FACT: Most people DO NOT use the registry:
- 2005 Gallup Poll (of 1,006 people) taken just after the Jessica Lunsford tragedy hit the media found only 38% of individuals were even aware
their state even maintains a registry. Even though 94% of those polled favored registries, only 23% have ever checked the registry, while 34%
stated concerns over harassment and vigilantism as a result of the registry [Lydia Saad, “Sex Offender Registries are Underutilized by the
Public.” Gallup, June 9, 2005]
- When the state of Florida proposed cutting e-mail notification alerts in 2008 due to budget cuts, it was noted only 44,000 of the state’s 16
million residents (or 0.275%) signed up for the program , or roughly one signee per registrant -- Whitney Ray, “Amber Alerts and Sexual
Offender Registry May Be Cut by FDLE.” WJHG 7, Nov. 13, 2008, http://www.wjhg.com/news/headlines/34417494.html, Retrieved Feb. 10,
- FACT: People view the registry out of curiosity, not out of fear:
- “Familiarity with and Uses of Sex Offender Registries” Nicole Wilkes & Leana A. Bouffard (2013):
- 73.6% were familiar with sex offender registries, 7% were unsure of their familiarity, 19.6% unfamiliar with registry
- Among those familiar with the registry, 40.9% had accessed it for themselves, 17.8% had accessed it for someone else, and 30.2% had not
- Reasons for accessing the registry: 40% of respondents accessed it because they were curious, 18% because they were worried for their safety
and about 12% because they were concerned about young children’s safety.
- Ways people discovered the registry: Word of mouth (35.9%), internet search (22.4%), and television (13.2%).
- The most common reason respondents gave was not knowing what to do with the information/believing there was nothing they could do
(11.7%), and the least common response was not being interested (4%).
- Of those who looked at the registry, 18.8% accessed it once, 24.6% twice, and 38.1% had used it three to five times
- When respondents were asked about their reasons for accessing the registry, nearly 40% of respondents accessed it because they were
curious, 18% because they were worried for their safety and about 12% because they were concerned about young children’s safety.
Myth #13: “Halloween is a pedophile’s holiday (implying children are more at risk on Halloween)
- Truth: There is no “Halloween effect” (increase in sex crimes around Halloween) and laws forcing Registrants to be on lockdown for Halloween has
no impact on sex crime rates. Source: Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern. "How safe are trick-or-treaters? An analysis
on sex crime rates on Halloween." Sex Abuse 2009; 21; 363
Myth #14: The Child Trafficking Myth: “It's between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today,” Ashton Kutcher
- Claimed Source: End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Exploitation (ECPAT). 1996. Europe and North
America Regional Profile (issued by the World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm, Sweden, August
1996, p.70.) ECPAT does not have the original source work
- Fact: These numbers are “estimates” of individuals “at risk” youth. Actual risks for sex trafficking are far lower than expected.
- Total sex trafficking arrests (Jan. 2008-June 2010) 410 suspects and 460 victims, of which 248 are under age 18. [Duren Banks and Tracey
Kyckelhahn (2011) “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010. BJS.gov
- Followup source: Estes, Richard J. and Neil Alan Weiner, “The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children In the U. S., Canada and Mexico”,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2001, p.10 “A Cautionary Note: These estimates reported in Exhibit ES.2a reflect what we believe to the
number of children in the United States ‘at risk’ of commercial sexual exploitation, i.e., children who because of their unique circumstances as
runaways, thrownaways, victims of physical or sexual abuse, users of psychotropic drugs, members of sexual minority groups, illegally trafficked
children, children who cross international borders in search of cheap drugs and sex, and other illicit fare, are at special risk of sexual exploitation. The
numbers presented in these exhibits do not, therefore, reflect the actual number of cases of the CSEC in the United States but, rather, what we
estimate to be the number of children ‘at risk’ of commercial sexual exploitation.”
Myth #15: “Up to 100000 sex traffickers” will flock to Super Bowl.
- "The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It's commonly known as the single largest human trafficking
incident in the United States.“ Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told USA Today in 2011
- Actual arrests for underage prostitution for Super Bowl in Miami (2010) – 16, according to Klaas Kids and Kristi House
Part III : Becoming a Myth Buster
Myth Busting Tip #1. Consider the Source
- University studies trump media reports/ polls, with victim industry advocates being least reliable
- Rand Corp., Gallup, Pew Center polls tend to be better than media polls, especially the online polls
- Is the study peer reviewed? Are these merely preliminary results?
- Watch out for “estimates,” “round numbers,” “One In” stats, and “Goldilocks Numbers”
- Be wary of media reports on the study, they tend to simplify/ misread results
- Keep everything in perspective: Media loves spotlighting small numbers
Myth Busting Tip #2: Read the source
- Who is the author? Who does this person represent? Be especially wary of victim advocate studies (NCMEC, PFML)
- When was the study? Anything before the 1990s may not reflect today’s sex offender climate
- What is the sample size? The more people participating, the better.
- Brush up in your math and semantics (Ex: how do they define recidivism? What is the correlation between X and Y?)
- Time savers: Introductory paragraphs summarize previous research
- Pay greatest attention to the results, discussion, and limitations
- Watch for critiques of studies
Myth Busting Tip #3: Watch out for and arm yourself against common deflection tactics:
- Watch for logical fallacies: Ad hominem (personal attacks): Appeals to emotion; ad ignorantiam (stats that can’t be proven or disproven); Appeal to
authority; Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc; Red herrings, Cherry picking, The Moving Goalpost, Straw Man, “Data Soup,” and Twististics
- “Stick to your guns:” Have a game plan and don’t deviate from it. Reporters want that “deer in the headlines” look (the “gotcha!” moment)
Myth Busting Tip #4: Don’t rely solely on stats to prove a point
- We may have the facts on our side, but many people will say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve made up my mind.”
- Using emotional testimony is not always a fallacy. We ALL have a story to tell, and we have tragedies on our end. Fight fire with fire, or in this case,
emotion with emotion.
Myth Busting Tip #5: “Know Thy Enemy”
- If gearing up for a debate or response, read the opposition’s works, watch them on TV/ Youtube
- Practice your talking points (take a Verbal Assertive Training class, find someone to role play/ quiz you, memorize short catchphrases)
- Don’t be afraid to “turn the tables” – Make THEM prove themselves, “show me the proof”
Myth Tip #6 “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”
- Accentuate the positive: It is all about perspective. Instead of saying “Sex offenders have a 5% recidivism rate” say “Over 95% of registrants never
reoffend.” the larger number is in OUR favor. Emphasize it!
- Eliminate the negative: Know your sources, compound the positive numbers, & force the other side cite their sources
Myth Busting In Action
- Example #1: The “Butner” study by Michael Bourke and Andres Hernandez (2007) that claimed 85% of C.P. viewers also committed a “hands on
offense” (Sample size: 155)
- The US Bureau of Prisons, who funded the study, requested the study be retracted because it did not meet their standards
- Henrandez himself says this about the study: “Some individuals have misused the results of [BOP study] to fuel the argument that the majority
of CP offenders are indeed contact sexual offenders and, therefore, dangerous predators. This simply is not supported by the scientific
- R.W. Wollert points out that the study was inadequately designed and misleading in its results. Former Butner patients have disclosed that “they
were expected to disclose new offenses on an ongoing basis as part of their treatment participation.” (i.e., Coercion under the guise of
- Example #2: Study claims “1 in 6 RSOs are intentionally manipulating data to hide in plain sight” Source: Donald Rebovich, Ph.D., executive director of
Utica College’s Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP) – a Data analyst, NOT a criminologist
- The study is still unavailable for review
- Preliminary findings indicated that several of the most frequent identity manipulation methods utilized by sex offenders to avoid detection were:
- Using multiple aliases.
- Using various identifying information such as SS#s or date of birth.
- Stealing identifying information from family members.
- Manipulating either their own names, or changed name through marriage.
- Using the address of family members or friends.
- Altering physical appearance.
- Moving to other states with less stringent laws [Emphasis added]