By Sandy . . . From Tennessee comes this all-too-familiar story: Law enforcement is patting itself on the back for a job well done in assuring that those on the sex offender registry in Meigs County are in compliance. All 35 of them.
Titled “Operation Rising Sun,” and occupying three days — Tuesday through Thursday, July 23, 24, and 25 — this major undertaking was a joint effort involving the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, the Decatur Police Department, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, the Knoxville Police Department, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
That’s eight agencies. Who knows how many individual law enforcement officers. All that in order to verify compliance in 35 individuals.
In the typical it’s-a-dirty-job-but-somebody’s-got-to-do-it style of reporting, the journalist lauds those involved and manages to include quotes from a couple of these heroic individuals stressing the importance of their work.
Congratulations, officers: it would appear that you are truly doing your share to keep people safe, but let’s just look at the science: A Dept. of Justice study of all released sexual offenders in 1994, almost 10,000 persons, shows that 96.5% did not recidivate. 3.5% were convicted of committing another crime.
Since child victims are normally the greatest concern with this issue, I have tried to find a study giving some indication of what percentage of sexually molested children were victims of repeat offenders. It appears those studies haven’t been done. Instead, I find statements by law enforcement personnel that in years of dealing with child sexual abuse cases, not one, or maybe one or two out of hundreds, was committed by a repeat offender.
What I find are studies showing that virtually all of those who sexually abuse children, as high as over 98% for young children, are those close to the children in their everyday lives and people highly unlikely to be on a sex offender registry. And what I find is that, as horrible as it is, sexual abuse of children accounts for only 7.6% of the abuse that children suffer, almost always at the hands of those who claim to love them.
It would appear that, no matter how you slice it, the resources expended in monitoring this specific category of individual, even if it actually prevented crime, are only addressing the tiniest percentage of the problem, yet this activity and the system that supports it cost, literally, billions. How much is being expended on fact-based education and prevention initiatives that are shown to actually reduce the other 98-or-higher-percentage of child sexual abuse? How much is being expended on effective rehabilitative and re-entry initiatives for former offenders, things shown to bring down the already extremely low re-offense rate? How much is being expended on initiatives to reduce the other 92.4% of non-sexual violence and abuse of children as well as that of vulnerable adults?
I wonder if the answer would show a concern for public protection that is in concert with the facts, or if it would show a topic that captures the public’s imagination and earns public officials kudos for keeping children safe even though it falls far, far short of that noble goal.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.