The sex offender registry and community notification laws were designed for law enforcement to track the most violent and predatory offenders.
What is the difference between Jerry Burke Inman, John Evander Couey or Joseph Edward Duncan III and more than 90 percent of the folks on a sex offender registry? These three were high risk and intentionally absconding from the system at the time of their most recent crimes. All the laws in the world did not matter to them.
So, if it's not true that tougher laws would have stopped these offenders, what other myths are there about sex offenses?
Myth - All sex offenders are child molesters, and all child molesters are predators.
Fact - The FBI National Crime Victimization Survey reveals only 23 percent of sex crimes are against someone under 18. The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that predators represent around 3 percent of all sex offenders, and child killers are less than 1 percent of all offenders.
Myth - Strangers are lurking at school bus stops or playgrounds looking for children to molest.
Fact - According to the U.S. Department of Justice, American Psychological Association, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, and other experts, children are abused by a family member or someone trusted by the family in around 90 percent of all cases.
Myth - Depraved adults commit all sex crimes.
Fact - About 40 percent of sex crimes committed against someone under 18 are by a juvenile; most are consensual sex by teenagers, while others are older siblings acting out against a relative or friend.
Myth - Sex offenders have the highest recidivism rate (some quote 95 percent), and allowing them back into society is a mistake.
Fact - According to the Justice Department and in other studies, sex offenders commit another crime, of any kind, at a average rate of just 13 percent, while those convicted of property theft re-offend at an average of 75 percent. People convicted of drunken driving will re-offend at a rate of 51 percent, while a convicted murderer will re-offend at a rate of 41 percent. Ex-convicts with a non-sex offense charge are 87 percent more likely to commit a sex offense than is a convicted sex offender in therapy.
The public needs to be more concerned about high-risk sex offenders and absconders, not low-risk offenders. Law enforcement spends precious resources tracking low-risk offenders instead of high-risk absconders and predators. If the registries were working, why are we seeing an 8 percent increase each year in registrants?
According to the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, most sex offenders live in an area due to its proximity to their family or therapy provider. Chasing them away from therapists and their family support network is not in the best interest of public safety.
What has not been publicly discussed is the impact of registration on those low-risk registrants, and their families and children. Many times the offender is under 18, and the victim is a younger sibling of friend. These victims are doubly victimized when their older sibling or friend is humiliated and ostracized.
There are countless stories of children beaten up at school and losing all social support structure that is so crucial for healthy development. Does this sound like justice to you? According to our legislators, it is.
H.B.1059 will cause the largest forced relocation since World War II. Of the 2,533 registered offenders in the 10 metro area counties around Atlanta, let's take 10 percent and call them high risk, which leaves us 2,280 low or medium risk. If we add in the spouses, children, parents and siblings, we are now talking about 7,661 individuals this law will affect, 5,381 are innocent family members. Does no one care about these people?
There are solutions that protect all families: Treat high-risk offenders separately from low-risk offenders; civil commitment for predators; assess risk level prior to re-entry into society; and, implement GPS monitoring and assessment of high-risk offenders until their risk is lowered.
Removal of community notification for low-risk offenders (teenage consensual sex and one time intra-familial) would increase its effectiveness, as would creating an accurate litmus test to distinguish false allegations (the American Psychological Association estimates between 30 to 70 percent where custody dispute is involved in a divorce) from factual sex abuse cases.
We must have more faith in ourselves than in government to solve the problem. We should demand a national forum to address this issue. Then state and local governments can better formulate workable, cost-effective laws that protect the rights of all citizens.
In lieu of fostering a fearful witch-hunt mentality for election-year sound bites, legislators should step up to this societal challenge. They should strive to dispel the myths and create the environment for policy and subsequent legislation to succeed, creating a safe society for all children.
(Kyle Sandusky, of Marietta, was released from Georgia's sex offender list in June.)
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