Saturday, February 09, 2013

Another Suspicious Statistic from Parents for Megan’s Law

I have written previously about how the organization, Parents for Megan’s Law, has used distorted and misleading statistics. They have been in the news recently about this. I decided to explore another statistic they have referenced: “The average serial child molester has between 360-380 victims in his lifetime.” The source of that statistic seems to be South Carolina Forcible Sex Crimes. (1999). Summary, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Columbia, SC. (That reference is listed at the bottom of the page).

That statement and indicated source is all over the Internet. The trouble comes when you actually try to find the source document. One finds that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division does publish an annual Crime in South Carolina Book in which they report the yearly statistics for various categories. The first year for which this annual compilation is available is indeed 1999. The difficulty deepens when one finds that this  document does not have a category for “Forcible Sex Crimes.” It does have a category for rape and a category for “Other Forcible Sex Crimes.” When one looks up that section, there is no “Summary” which includes the statement, The average serial child molester has between 360-380 victims in his lifetime.” There also is no way to compile such a statistic from the data presented.

This is not surprising. This report relates the number of crimes reported in a given year. It would be very strange indeed if it reported a number of victims in a lifetime for a “serial child molester.”

If there is a document which contains such a statement which has been published by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, I have been unable to find it, and I have very good research skills. (If anyone can find such a document, please send it to me, and I will provide it here).

I did try to find another primary source for this statistic. A good number of websites contain a similar statement: "An average serial child molester may have as many as 400 victims in his lifetime." Some listed as their source,  Elliott, M.,Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: what offenders tell us. Child Abuse and Neglect, 19, 579 –594. Being the diligent researcher that I am, I paid the $31 and purchased the article.

Not at all I strangely (I am coming to expect this), the article did not contain that statement or any statement that could be legitimately interpreted in that way. The study of 91 interviewed offenders did contain this statement: “70% of the men had committed offenses against 1 to 9 victims, 23% had committed offenses against 10 to 40 children, 7% had committed offenses against 41 to 450 children. However, it should be pointed out that the 7% of offenders who reported a high number of victims gave a different high figure when interviewed 6 months later" (p. 584). That is a long way from the statement, "An average serial child molester may have as many as 400 victims in his lifetime."

What is one to make of all of this? For one, it is certainly clear that there are a lot of “funny” numbers out there when it comes to the problem of child sexual abuse. Those who offer such statistics apparently have never checked them out themselves or perhaps hoped that no one else would. They are probably right in that latter assumption. When it comes to statistics, most people's eyes just glaze over. Meanwhile, these funny numbers are used to boost a veritable “sex offender industry” that costs taxpayers millions of dollars.

The one statistic that doesn’t get much play is an indisputable one. In New York State, 96% of those arrested for sex crimes have never previously been convicted of a sex crime and thus are not listed on any registry (see also The New York Office of Sex Offender Management "Myths and Facts"). This means that the millions of dollars spent tracking registered sex offenders will not and indeed cannot make a dent in the problem of child sexual abuse.

Note: Parents for Megan's Law is not the only part of the "sex offender industry" to benefit financially from hyping the danger with "funny" numbers. See my blog on Watch Systems, Inc.