Fact-checking registered sex offender information

By Sandy . . . WFMJ21 has reported on how the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department has conducted a random, county-wide check on its residents who are on Ohio’s sex offense registry.

Perhaps inspired by the current political climate, I would like to respond to this piece in the way of fact-checking.

“Hundreds of sex offenders live among us across the valley.” False. Quite possibly thousands of sex offenders live across the valley. The number is unknown because between 95 and 96% of sexual crime being committed is by those who are unknown to law enforcement. A correct statement would be hundreds of persons required to register as sexual offenders live among us across the valley.

Several paragraphs, either explicitly or implicitly, say that these law enforcement sweeps are what keep those on the registry from reoffending. This too is false. A plethora of studies have been done showing that sex offender registries and their resulting law enforcement activity are ineffective as a public safety tool. This is true in jurisdictions where little to no checking on registrants is done as well as in Trumbull County.

“Deputies say their biggest fear is that an offender out of prison could re-offend.” Perhaps if deputies knew the statistics and the facts about child sexual offending, they would realize that their “biggest fear” is misplaced. The rate of reoffense for registrants across the board averages 5.3% according to the most comprehensive governmental study done of this nature, and additional studies show this figure has held steady for many years, both before registries were implemented and after.

“[Deputy] Molinatto would like to think that enforcement is helping to drive down the total number of offenders in the county.” What does this mean? Drive persons on the registry from the county? That is what it sounds like, and that sounds suspiciously like an attempt at banning.

WFMJ reports, “The unit sees a variety of cases that sometimes can involve someone a parent thought they could trust.” This gets only one Pinocchio. A change from “sometimes can involve” to “almost always does involve” tells a more accurate story. The statistics on this correlate nicely with those showing that 95-96% of offenders are not on the registry. The stereotypical stranger hiding behind the bushes waiting to grab a child from the park has been totally debunked. Child sex offenders are family members, peers, and authority figures, and these crimes are almost always committed indoors, often in the victims’ homes. This chart, compiled from FBI figures on juvenile justice, shows the reality of who child sex offenders are.

Sheriff Monroe’s narrative about child’s toys and coloring books being a tip-off that a registered person is reoffending furthers the impression to the reading public that everyone on the registry is a child sex offender out to get their children. How many of those identified as “sex offenders” are on the registry because they were 18 years old with 15-year-old girlfriends or boyfriends? How many are young adults whose convictions are the result of a teenager lying about her – or possibly his — age? How many were actually innocent and are victims of either mistaken identity or malicious lying? How many had an adult victim and no predisposition whatsoever to children?

And how many of the coloring books and toys belong to the children or grandchildren of the registrant?

From beginning to end, this piece shows a serious need for the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department and WFMJ to do some research into the topics of child sexual abuse and the sex offender registry. Then they can provide their reading public with facts that can help them protect their children from harm.

This piece was sent to the journalist who wrote the original piece as well as the news editor of WFMJ. In spite of a following up email requesting that attention be given to the situation, no response was received.

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Sandy 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.

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