Recidivism: the great lie of “frightening and high”


By Derek Logue . . . In so many instances these individuals should never ever be allowed out for a second chance, they’re ticking time bombs, its not a questions if they a re-offend, it’s a question of when they re-offend.” – Lauren Book, Current FL State Senator and victim industry advocate [1]

There is a 90 percent likelihood of recidivism for sexual crimes against children. Ninety percent. That is the standard. That is their record. That is the likelihood. Ninety percent. – Disgraced former Florida senator Mark Foley [2]

It is a common misconception even today that those who commit crimes are arrogantly breaking the law and deriving a fiendish pleasure from getting away with it. Many people in discussing an offender will assume a hostility not too far removed from the original hostility of the person committing the crime. Thus the old idea of revenge is continued and the possibility of  understanding the criminal is kept at a minimum. — David Abrahamsen [3]


Laws targeting people convicted of sexually-based offenses were justified primarily by a myth that “once a sex offender, always a sex offender,” and that a vast majority of those listed on the public registry will inevitably reoffend.  Media personalities, politicians, and victim advocates will repeat this myth. Even the US Supreme Court has propagated this myth. The myth of high offense rates fuel draconian legislation.

What is recidivism? People demand an easy answer to a complex question. Anti-registry advocates recognize the importance of answering this question:  “So it is important that these two issues related to re-offense rate that must be dealt with. The first one is; of the people that are on the registry, what is the percentage that are involved in new sexually related crimes, and the second question is, what is the percentage of the people on the registry that are involved in a new sexually related crime in comparison to the ordinary citizen who have never been convicted of a sexually related crime? If in either case, there is a high re-offense rate for people on the registry, than the
justification for the law could exist, if not than the justification evaporates.” [4]

This paper is intended to cover this myth and the latest studies that debunk this most dangerous of myths.


While a lot of emphasis on recidivism rates in recent months have centered around the “Frightening and High” claims of Justice Kennedy in Smith v Doe, it is important to realize that views on perceived recidivism rates have fluctuated wildly over the past century and a half.

In his book, “Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America,” Historian Phillip Jenkins notes that the word “recidivism” first entered the English vernacular in the 1880s. [5]  It was not until 1894 that child sexual abuse was considered a primary
type of sex crime. [6]  The modern era reflects the moral panic of the 1930s to early 1950s, commonly known to researchers as the “Sexual Psychopath era.” (It is worth noting the origin of this phrase can be traced back to the 1886 German book “Psychopathia Sexualis” by Richard von Krafft-Ebing.)

Even during the height of the “Sexual Psychopath era,” there was no evidence of high re-offense rates among those convicted of sex crimes. The (New York City) Mayor’s Committee Reports on the Study of Sex Offenses, published in 1944, found that only 40 out of 555 (7%) of people convicted of sex crimes in 1930 were rearrested between 1930-1941.[7]  Paul Tappan’s NJ commission found that “sex offenders have one of the lowest rates as ‘repeaters’ of all types of crime…Among serious crimes homicide alone has a lower rate of

During the Treatment-oriented era of the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, the viewpoint of the “sex offender changed from an incurable threat. The term “child molester” was coined as a term to denote a petty offender, one who did not use violence or force; the term “pedophile” fell out of favor, and the system saw most offenders as amenable to treatment, and recidivism studies continued to find extremely low recidivism rates.[9]  However, by the 1980s, the modern era of sex abuse panic began; renewed interest in sexual abuse coincided with the rise of Moral Conservatism as well as the Feminist Movement. It became the one issue feminists and conservatives could agree upon.[10]  It is here where our modern narrative on recidivism picks up.

Read the rest of Derek’s paper here.

Derek asks that, if you have not already taken his Disaster Preparedness Survey, you do so.

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