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Rage vs. ReasonDung Hoang

Reason versus Rage (continued)

Myth #2: Convicted sex offenders never stop being a risk to children.

Monsters exist, to be sure. But researchers who have studied this issue say that the serial-offender pedophiles who garner media attention are more the exception than the rule.

The Department of Justice regularly runs statistical comparisons of different categories of criminal offenders, and its data indicate that sex offenders have a comparatively low rate of recidivism.

Much of Letourneau’s research focuses on young offenders—boys between 12 and 14, who are at the peak age of risk for engaging in sexual misbehaviors with younger children. Such offenders don’t fit the “monster” profile.

“They are acting oftentimes out of a lack of knowledge and with a lack of adult supervision, or sometimes their behavior is basically experimental,” Letourneau says. “Rarely are they acting out of genuine sexual interest in children, though that can happen and we know it does happen on occasion. But in reality, the vast majority of these kids—something like 95 percent of them—are simply not going to re-offend.”

This trend in recidivism data applies to adults as well as children. One of Berlin’s research projects involves tracking outcomes for more than 400 adult male offenders diagnosed with pedophilia, a strong sexual preference for children. Over the first five years of the study, the recidivism rate for this group was less than 8 percent. Among the pedophiles who were generally cooperative with terms of treatment and parole or probation, the rate was less than 3 percent. Berlin’s team is now tracking this same group on a 15-year time frame, and preliminary data show no shift toward increasing rates of recidivism as years go by.

These numbers can be imprecise, given how many offenses in this category go unreported, but Letourneau expresses confidence in the quality of the research. “For younger offenders, if you follow them for 10 years, you’re going to have a very good understanding of how many are re-offending,” she says. “You might not know how often they’ve re-offended, but if they’re re-offending with any frequency over a 10-year period, at some point a victim will come forward. The same is true of adults. If you follow them out 20 years, you’ll have caught pretty much everyone who’s committing offenses.”

Moreover, she adds, rigorous, randomized controlled clinical trials have repeatedly demonstrated that even high-risk youth and—importantly—their families can succeed with treatment.

In essence, most sex offenders are not serial predators. Both Letourneau and Berlin believe that prevention strategies must include both treatment for convicted offenders and outreach to potential offenders.

This is a bridge that it took Kathy Headley a long time to cross. Victimized in her youth by a pedophile grandfather, the Indiana resident has joined with her siblings (including Stephen Moore, MD, MPH ’93) to fund Letourneau’s position for a three-year startup period—and perhaps beyond.

Headley and Moore spoke about the long-term impact on victims and their families at an April 27 symposium, “Child Sex Abuse: A Public Health Perspective” at the Bloomberg School.

“One of the things we were asking about in our meetings is whether there is any possible way of getting to offenders before they offend and ruin children’s lives—and ruin their own lives for that matter,” Headley says. “That’s been hard for me, to get past the feeling that you should just lock them up and keep them there. But I’ve come to see that if it helps keep one person from becoming a victim, then that’s what we have to do.”


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  • Dolores miller

    Philadelphia 06/13/2012 03:07:40 PM

    A person who has a drinking problem needs help! An adult Who rapes children needs to be put away for life! One subject I think you are all afraid of is there are just plain Evil people in this world. Thank God most people are not! Also, anytime a person faces and heals From abuse most do what they can to make a better society. I'm not saying It doesn't take time courage and love. It does. Please go to my website and read my book review. Peace,Dolores Miller

  • Nia Rico

    Los Angeles 06/15/2012 02:19:27 AM

    Dolores, with all due respect you are missing the point. I am totally on your side that these disgusting sexual child predators should be put away for their horrific crimes [for] the rest of their lives behind bars. But that is the emotional response the researchers are referring to. It's understandable and normal for us to feel and think that way and I'd probably want to hurt somebody real bad if I found out such a crime was committed against my own child. Having said that however, that is not the solution to what is such a pervasive problem in our society. We need prevention programs and those sickos need help! They are diseased just like an alcoholic or drug addict and until they can talk about it openly and get help to end the vicious cycle they will continue to act out their dirty little secrets hurting thousands and thousands of children who in turn will hurt thousands and thousands of other children. We need to put a stop to this and I applaud the researchers at Johns Hopkins for bringing this to the forefront and to those who are funding the program. Let's pray their studies will shed some light on this very dark issue.

  • Pamela Pine, PhD

    Glenn Dale, MD 06/17/2012 10:45:10 AM

    Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. ("Stop the Silence,", has been working on the prevention and mitigation of child sexual abuse (CSA) through innovative and proven impactful programming with a public health approach for over 10 years. A plethora of information about both CSA prevention and treatment is available, and a great deal of information has been available for decades. There are now numerous smaller and larger organizations working on the issue, and recently, a number of organizations have been springing up around the nation and the world, as well as a coalitions forming to address it. Unfortunately, nearly everyone is working without the adequate resources to step up programming. The issue of lack of resources and other support is enormous. As a nation, as a world community, unless and until we are able to find a way to speak about it (without shying away or calling "monster," as the article points out), and help enable both policy makers and the public to address it as the public health issue it is, we will not be able to adequately conduct the work on either the prevention or treatment fronts - leaving open a whole new generation to be abused. As a more-than-concerned citizen, as a mother, and as the Founder of Stop the Silence, I implore the public to get involved (despite their discomfort) and policymakers to put the resources in place to address CSA as the public health epidemic (indeed, pandemic) that it is.

  • ayulestari 07/05/2012 11:28:18 AM

    save our generation

  • Matt

    USA 06/07/2013 03:16:16 AM

    One of the problems in the United States is that the "sex offender" laws which were originally implemented to protect children, starting with the Wetterling Act in the 90s, are now being implemented to aggressively prosecute children who "offend", when merely exploring their own curiosities. Of course, some children may need a little counseling and guidance if the trouble persists. But any child under the age of 14 being charged with "Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Child Under 14" is asinine. A judiciary panel on an appellate hearing last year even remarked in their statements at how ridiculous it is that some "defendants" were even younger than the "victim"! It is time for change in this country. As Patty Wetterling herself has noted, we are targeting the wrong people.

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