Thursday, March 23, 2006

Idiot Claims

This week, former Florida teacher Debra LaFave found that she would not have to stand trial for the statutory rape of a former 14-year old student. The victim indicated he did not want to go through the stress of a trial, so the prosecutor dropped the charges. LaFave earlier pled guilty to statutory rape for the same crime, but in an adjoining jurisdiction. She will serve 3 years of house arrest, 7 additional years of probation, undergo mandatory treatment and have to register as a sex offender.

Many critics believe that she "got away with it", obviously ignoring her earlier sentence. Conservative radio and Faux News Channel TV host Sean Hannity has been particularly offended. He has wondered if LaFave will re-offend, and claimed that sex offenders re-offend 80% of the time.

It has become almost conventional wisdom that sex offenders will undoubtedly re-offend. Some observers have even suggested that sex offenders should not be let out. Several states (starting with Kansas) even allow for indefinite civil commitment of sex offenders after they have served their prison time.

When someone like Sean Hannity claims that 80% of sex offenders re-offend, I know one thing -- that the figure of re-offense is NOT 80%. But, what it is?

It is first important to note that not all sex offenders are the same. For example, according to the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers, "pedophiles" differ significantly from "child molester" even though the terms are used interchangeably. According to ATSA, here are some of the difference between pedophiles and child molesters:

• True pedophiles are motivated by their sexual attraction to children and their offenses are directed toward vulnerable children whom they court or groom for the purpose of victimization.
• Pedophiles seek out children to victimize by placing themselves in positions of trust, authority, and easy access to youngsters can have hundreds of victims over the course of their lifetimes. One study found that the average number of victims for non-incestuous pedophiles who molest girls is 20; for pedophiles who prefer boys, over 100.
• Predatory pedophiles, especially those who molest boys, are the sex offenders who have the highest recidivism rates. Over long follow-up periods, more than half of convicted predatory pedophiles are rearrested for a new offense.
• Their offenses are usually predatory — directed towards children whom they engage in relationships for the purpose of victimization. However, pedophiles may also sexually abuse children in their own families.

Non-pedophilic Child Molesters
• The non-predatory molester tends to be a man whose primary sexual attraction is toward adults, but who may molest children in a maladaptive attempt to meet emotional needs.
• Incest offenders are more likely to be non-pedophilic molesters
• Research has found that many heterosexual incest offenders have sexual interests that are indistinguishable from those of normal males.
• Incestuous offenders, regardless of the gender of the victim, have lower numbers of victims and are less likely to be rearrested for new sex crimes after they’ve been convicted.
• Non-predatory child molesters have consistently low rates of recidivism for incestuous offenders – though it should be noted that incest victims are among the least likely to report sexual crimes.
• Intrafamilial offenders may be among those most likely to benefit from therapeutic intervention.

In addition, the rate of recidivism not only differs between pedophiles and child molesters, but is far lower than critics claim.

In 2003, the Justice Department issued a study of 9,691 men convicted of rape, sexual assault and child molestation who were released in 1994 discovered the following:

- 43% were arrested for any type of crime within three years, compared with 68% for all other former inmates.

- Released sex offenders tend to get arrested less often than those convicted of theft, robbery, stealing vehicles or illegal weapons trafficking

- A small core of sex offenders often commits similar crimes over and over

- 5.3% of sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime after their release.

- Only 1.3% of all other criminals were arrested for a sex crime after serving a prison sentence.

- Most of the sex offenders studied had been convicted of only one sex offense but often had long criminal rap sheets:

- 78 percent had been arrested at least once previously for another type of crime.

- 8 percent were rearrested if they previously had committed between 11 and 15 offenses, demonstrating that those with long criminal records also were more likely to commit a sex crime after they got out of prison

- Among child molesters, about 18% had been arrested for similar offenses in the past

- Only 3.3% of those released in 1994 were arrested again for a crime against a child.

- Most children molested were 13 or younger and in half the cases were the offender's son, daughter or other relative.

The study was part of a larger study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which examined how often 272,111 prisoners set free in 1994 by 15 states ended up behind bars again within three years. The study is the largest and most comprehensive look ever at prison recidivism.

Thus, the numbers appeared to dispute the popular notion that sex offenders are incorrigible.

Still, this perception has led all 50 states to adopt some version of “Megan’s Law”. “Megan's Law'' is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl raped and killed in 1994 by a child molester who moved in across the street from her house. These laws require released sex offenders to notify communities when they move into them, and provide for registries of sex offenders’ names and addresses that are available to the public.

Before Megan's Law became virtually universal across the country, one study showed no difference between re-arrest rates of convicted sexual offenders in communities with Megan's Law versus those without. However, in communities with Megan's Law, fear of sexual offenders was higher.

Now, there's a movement to adopt "Jessica's Law", a law named after Jessica Lunsford, a young girl sexually abused and murdered by a released sex offender in Florida. Under the law, a person committed of a sexual offense of a child under the age of 12 would serve a minimum of 25 years in prison, and then upon release, would be under virtual lifetime probation, including having to wear an ankle bracelet for monitoring.

I abhor individuals who sexually abuse children, and believe there is a special circle of hell for them. On the other hand, discussions of important public policy initiatives should be rooted in factual information, not wild, outlandish claims.

But, that's not Hannity's style. You are not correct in an argument if you have the proper facts. You are correct when you make attention-getting claims at the top of your lungs.


Blogger dscar said...

The problem I have with the LeFave sentencing is the same that's been said countless times before: the painful double-standard about the fact that she's a woman and the 'victim' is a boy.

The problem isn't so much that boys need to be protected *more*, inasmuch as it turns a blind eye to the fact that women - even in their teen years - can be sexual beings as well. This turns a blind eye to the true nature of men and women and their relationships.

The LeFave case exemplifies - to me, anyway - that we need to forever bury the notion that there are differences between men and women when it comes to sexual proclivities. I've seen, for instance, a concatenation of female teachers who have had sex with their teenage students (of both sexes) that measure in the hundreds in the last few years alone.

However, we still have a drastically lopsided punishment scheme. If you are 24 years old and have sex with a 14 year old, why does it matter if the 24-year old is a man vs. if it's a woman? Are we not punishing the sex more than the act, at that point? Haven't we ignored all pretense of "equal protection under the law?"

12:43 PM  

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