Despite common beliefs that all sex offenders are inherently dangerous, sex offenders and homicide perpetrators have the lowest relative risk of recidivism. The greatest risk of re-offending is among drug, robbery and assault offenders. Large studies found that, on average, 15% of convicted sex offenders will commit another sexual crime over the next 20 years. Sex offenders with a limited history of offending and who otherwise have had stable lives pose as little as 5% risk of re-offending . Highly repetitive sex offenders-- particularly psychopaths-- pose a high risk of continued offending, as high as 95%.
Most sex offenders can be successfully managed in the community under probationary supervision. Specialized sex offender therapy reduces the risk of further offending. Close coordination between probation officers and therapists is essential in detecting signs that an offender may be engaging in behaviors that could lead to further offenses.
A diagnosis of pedophilia may not indicate high risk. The diagnosis means the victim was pre-pubescent (generally 10 or younger, but it varies) and that the abuse took place over six months or longer. This is not uncommon. Many low-to-moderate risk offenders qualify for this diagnosis, yet they still can be safely managed in the community. Some sex offenders are specifically attracted to young adolescents. It
sometimes referred to as hebephilia, but there is debate whether or not this a specific psychosexual disorder.
Offenders may be labeled as predators or psychopaths. However, both terms are used loosely among both the legal and clinical professions, as well as among the public. A predator has a lifestyle of exploiting others, which is not the case with most sex offenders. The term psychopath is sometimes used to label an offender who does not qualify for such a label. Formal analysis of whether an offender meets the criteria as a psychopath requires review by a trained evaluator. I have rarely found sex offenders to meet these criteria.
We are learning more every year how to effectively rehabilitate and manage persons with problematic or criminal sexual behaviors. The Association for the Treatment of Sexual abusers (ATSA) is an international organization devoted to reducing sexual abuse. ATSA is involved in research, training, public education and the promotion of guidelines for effective treatment and management of persons who engage in sexually abusive behaviors.
For more information about sex offender misconceptions click here.
Respected figures don't commit sex offenses.
The public continues to be amazed every time a famous or well respected person is accused. Famous athletes, coaches, politicians and entertainers make headlines when they are accused of unconscionable acts. These accusations are often hard for fans or admirers to believe.
Lack of resistance implies consent.
Many colleges are increasingly concerned over planned drugging or intoxication of women who are then sexually assaulted. Even victims who are fully conscious may not resist for a variety of reasons such as fear or shock.
Stranger abduction poses one of the greatest risks to children.
In fact, the vast majority of offenses are committed by a person already known to the child, such as step parents, teachers, coaches, older siblings, pastors, scout leaders, etc.
Child molesters are middle aged or older men.
In fact, molesters include pre-adolescents, the elderly, females—pretty much everyone.
Molesters of boys are mostly gay men.
In fact, many molesters of boys are married men with apparently “normal” lives. They do not identify themselves as gay and often they have no explanation for their actions.
Child molesters have hundreds or thousands of victims.
In fact, the average number of victims is 3, and some offenders are apprehended after their first offense. Some particularly predatory offenders have many victims but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Child sexual abuse always leads to long term harm.
While molestation can be physically and emotionally traumatic, most victims are able to heal their damages and have healthy, well adjusted lives. One of the most important steps a parent can take is to avoid telling the child they are damaged or ruined, be supportive, believe the child’s account, and seek immediate professional services.
Psychological profiles help establish guilt or innocence.
In fact, there is no “profile” of a sex offender. Their psychological issues and prior adjustment to life vary widely. Some are mentally ill, while others are seemingly normal. There is no procedure that can establish whether or not a person committed a particular act.It is the task of the jury to decide if a crime occurred.
Most sex offenders are psychopaths.
Psychopathy is an entrenched and refractory tendency to use and abuse others, and to gratify one’s needs with little or no regard to how it impacts others. Fortunately, such offenders are rare, making up a small proportion of sex offenders.
In fact, there are effective treatments. Such therapists are specialists. General counseling or visits to a pastor are not effective in addressing these issues. Specialized treatment can reduce a person’s risk of continued offending. Even offenders who deny their offenses can benefit from treatment.
We often hear of sexual assaults in the news, but what to make of it all? Professional athletes, allegations later recanted. Celebrities, with costly settlements raising the question of a profit motive. Credible allegations later discredited, or impossible to prove because of late reporting or a lack of physical evidence. Each of these scenarios is true, but does not alter the fact that sexual assault is one of the most common types of interpersonal violence suffered in America.
Victim blaming serves to distance ourselves from the reality of pain and humiliation suffered by the victims. Victims don’t always report because of feelings of shame, self-blame, confusion or social pressure. Sexual assault affects one in five college women and one in four of all women at sometime in their lives----half of the assaults are directed towards underage girls.
In anonymous surveys, many men report having assaulted or attempting to do so, and many report they would force someone to have sex “if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.” They similarly report they would have sex with a minor under the same scenario. Despite our nation’s focus on individual rights, the rate of sexual assault in America is among the highest in the industrialized nations.