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. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Gaming Sex Offenders

"Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that more than 3,500 accounts of New York registered sex offenders have been purged from online video game platforms as part of 'Operation: Game Over,' a groundbreaking initiative with participation from Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive Media Group, Warner Brothers and Sony. The Attorney General’s database sweep is a first-of-its-kind effort to protect children from predators on video game networks in New York State."

It is notable that the only case mentioned in the Attorney General's press release is that of "Richard Kretovic, a 19-year-old man from Monroe County, [who] pled guilty to sexual abuse charges after meeting a 12-year-old boy on the popular online video game system Xbox LIVE." Mr. Kretovic was not a registered sex offender at the time of his crime, and this announced action would not have prevented his crime. Apparently, the Attorney General's office is unable to point to any incident in New York State where a registered sex offender victimized someone using a gaming network, or they would have mentioned it. I make it a point to stay on top of such things, and I have never heard of any such case.

The primary risk is not from offenders we know about but those we don't know about. In New York State, 95% of those arrested for sex crimes have no prior convictions for sex crimes and thus are not listed on any registry. Training workshops were held across New York State last week that were attended by hundreds of law enforcement officers, probation and parole officers, etc. Research presented there indicates that New York's sex offender management policies have not made our communities safer.

“Operation: Game Over” is made possible by New York's eSTOP law which requires registered sex offenders to report their e-mail addresses and other Internet identifiers. They are then excluded from Facebook and other networks. Of course, this also prevents them from posting the true facts about registered sex offenders and "Operation: Game Over" because many news and media outlets require Facebook accounts in order to post comments.

Who is playing the real games here?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This chart says it all: The sex offender registry has had no useful impact!

This week the New York State Alliance of Sex Offender Service Providers is providing training at several venues across the state on the subject "Effectiveness of New York State Sex Offender Management: Are We Making Communities Safer?" The training is being conducted by Jeffrey Sandler, who has a PhD in Criminal Justice from University at Albany. The Power Point presentation which will be used at this training is available online.

This chart, RSO (Registerable Sex Offense) Arrest Counts, from the presentation says it all. It depicts every sex offense arrest in New York State for 21 years (10 years before the enactment of the sex offender registration law to 11 years afterward). The vertical line separates the before and after periods. The green line at the bottom shows arrests for those who had previously been convicted of a sex offense. The chart dramatically illustrates that 96% of those arrested for sex crimes in New York State have no prior convictions for sex crimes and thus are not listed on any registry. It also dramatically illustrates that the registry has had no impact on recidivism. Contrary to popular opinion, sex offender recidivism was low before the registry and low afterwards.

(Note that "RSO" here does not mean "registered sex offender" but "registerable sex offense.") (Click the image to enlarge)

● Two hundred and fifty-two months (21 years) of statewide arrest data from 1986 [10 years before SORA] to 2006 [11 years afterward]

● Included every sexual offense arrest [and therefore every sex offender arrested] during that time
– Over 170,000 sexual offenses
– Over 160,000 different sex offenders

Data is taken from 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, Kelly M. Socia, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (2008), 14, 284-302

Friday, March 02, 2012

Hundreds of sex offender registry web sites drop bogus recidivism statistic

Offender Watch Systems runs hundreds of sex offender registry web sites across the country, both on the state and local level. This includes several counties in NY. Each of these web sites contains a presentation which states: "50% of sex offenders re-offend."

I posted an article in 2008 about this bogus statistic and my communications with the Vice President of Offender Watch Systems.

A few days ago, Tom Condon in a column in the Hartford Courant questioned why the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry web site was giving a 50% recidivism figure when a recent Connecticut study showed the actual recidivism rate was 2.7 percent.

No doubt this caused Connecticut to look into this bogus statistic. The result was that Offender Watch Systems dropped this statistic from the Connecticut site and also from the hundreds of other sites that use their presentation and service.

This is a long sought after victory. I and others have been writing the agencies that have been broadcasting this bogus statistic for years with no effect.

The use of this bogus statistic illustrates the larger lesson that there is much to gain financially and politically from fanning sex offender hysteria.

Monday, October 03, 2011

NY Enacts New Sex Offender Law Which Increases Danger to Public

On September 23, Gov. Cuomo announced a list of bills that he has approved. Among them was a bill that requires Level 2 registered sex offenders to report their employment addresses. (Level 3 offenders are already required to do so). This new law requires these employment addresses to be posted on the Internet registry. This law applies retroactively to all Level 2 registered sex offenders, including those who have lived and worked safely in the community for up to 15 years. (While most with criminal convictions find that the consequences of their convictions decrease over time, the consequences of a conviction for a sex offense often increase with the passage of time).

A recent study has found that such policies make communities less safe. Recidivism is more likely in the absence of stable employment and stable housing. This law will cause some former offenders to lose their jobs and make it much harder for others to find employment.

This new law is not based on any facts or research, quite the opposite. Illinois lawmakers recently pointed out that the main reason lawmakers vote for such laws is that they are afraid not to. There is too much political risk in appearing soft on sex offenders, even if legislation is counter productive. Sadly, elected officials would rather increase the risk to communities than increase the political risk to themselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Startling new statistics on sex offender recidivism

I just ran across an article in the Albany Times Union, Did the government fail to protect victim from predator? The article described the case of Keith Dare, who was recently convicted of a repeat sex offense. The article shared some statistics which were related by Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the state prison system:

Cutler said statistics suggest Dare's case is an anomaly. Of the 663 inmates who were released in 2006 after serving prison time for sex offenses, only 49 -- or 7.3 percent -- returned to prison over the next three years, Cutler said. And of those 49, he said, only three returned for sexual offenses.

I discovered that the Department of Corrections report on 2006 releases was available online.

Mr. Cutler's figures were a little off. The recidivism rate is actually lower.

A total of 990 sex offenders (not 663 as indicated by Mr. Cutler) were released from state prisons in 2006. Mr. Cutler was correct in stating that 49 of these were returned to prison within 3 years for a new crime, making a recidivism rate for any new crime of 4.9% (not 7.3% as the article indicates).

The article was correct that only 3 of these were returned for new sex offenses. This indicates a recidivism rate of 0.3% for sex offenders released in 2006 in terms of committing new sex crimes.

You can check these figures for yourself by looking at the charts on pages 10, 45, & 46.

This is notable in that the NY legislature keeps passing new sex offender legislation which includes such language as "The rate of recidivism among sex offenders is very high."

P.S. There is a chart on page 11 of the report that indicates that sex offenders have a "return rate" of 37.1%. It is important to note that this includes those who have been returned to prison for parole violations, not just those who were convicted of new crimes. This overall return rate is somewhat less than that for all prison releases. When anyone (politicians or otherwise) quotes recidivism rates, it is important to pay attention to the details.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The New Urban Myth---The Danger of Registered Sex Offenders at Halloween

It's almost time for the annual Halloween sex offender hysteria. This seemingly has replaced the urban myths about poison candy and razor blades in apples. I was interested to find that there has actually been a recent empirical study of the issue. An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Halloween sex-offender monitoring questioned," describes it:

...Elizabeth Letourneau, a researcher with the Medical University of South Carolina's Family Services Research Center in Charleston, S.C., said, "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation."

Paul Stern, a deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County, Wash., agrees.

"People want to protect kids; they want to do the right thing and they make decisions based on what at first glance may make some sense. Sex offenders, costumes, kids -- what a bad combination," he said.

"Unfortunately, those kinds of policies are not always based on any analysis or scientific evidence," said Stern, who started prosecuting sex offenders who victimized children in 1985.

Stern, Letourneau and two others published a paper last year for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers called: "How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween."

The study looked at more than 67,000 sex crimes in 30 states against children 12 and younger from 1997 -- before many Halloween sex-offender programs began -- through 2005, well after many were under way...

"These findings raise questions about the wisdom of diverting law-enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist," the study concluded.

Letourneau said, "There's just no increase in sex offense on that day, and in all likelihood that's because kids are out in groups or they're out with their parents and they're moving around, they're not isolated and otherwise at risk." She said a better use of police on Halloween night would be to help protect children from traffic.

"We almost called this paper 'Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year' because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day," she said.
The entire study is available for purchase. An authors' summary is available for free.

Interestingly, the study found that sex crimes increased substantially during summer months and that the summer would be a more appropriate time for increased vigilance. More from the study:

It might be argued that Halloween sex offender policies are worthwhile even if they prevent only a single child from being victimized. However, this line of reasoning fails to consider the cost side of the cost–benefit equation. The wide net cast by Halloween laws places some degree of burden on law enforcement officers whose time would otherwise be allocated to addressing more probable dangerous events. For example, a particularly salient threat to children on Halloween comes from motor vehicle accidents. Children aged 5 to 14 years are four times more likely to be killed in a pedestrian–motor vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day of the year (Centers for Disease Control, 1997). Regarding criminal activity on Halloween, alcohol-related offenses and vandalism are particularly common (Siverts, 2002). Although we do not know the precise amount of law enforcement resources consumed by Halloween sex offender policies, it will be important for policy makers to estimate and consider allocation of resources in light of the actual increased risks that exist in other areas, such as pedestrian–vehicle fatalities. Our findings indicated that sex crimes against children by nonfamily members account for 2 out of every 1,000 Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources away from more prevalent public safety concerns.

...the data set did not contain variables that would have
been valuable for even more precisely focusing the study incidents, such as information about whether the perpetrator was a registered sex offender or whether the incident specifically involved a trick-or-treat context.

Literally thousands of articles have been published in recent years about the danger presented by registered sex offenders at Halloween. Absent from all of them has been any mention of any specific incident in which a registered sex offender has attacked a Trick-or-Treater---not one, ever! If you know of any such incident, please e-mail me or post a comment below. I bet you can't find one. This is a new urban myth. We always need some sort of monster on Halloween. It's the nature of the holiday.