Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The influence -- one way or another -- of pornographic material on sexually or socially inappropriate behavior continues to perplex citizens, researchers, and social policymakers. The associated rhetoric often touches on cultural, moral, religious/spiritual, and political themes.
Some say that 80% or more of all internet traffic is related to pornography, but this seems unlikely. Nonetheless, it is clear that access to pornographic materials has become much much easier in the internet age. Unfortunately, this has also made it easier for those interested in child pornography to obtain access to images -- photos and videos -- that were previously relatively difficult to obtain. It seems almost weekly that we are told of law enforcement's efforts and successes in the battle against online child abuse and child pornography. Many jurisdictions now have tough penalties for those caught possessing, distributing, or creating child pornography. In some cases, the mandatory minimum sentences for possessing child pornography exceed the typical sentences given for contact offenses against children. Clearly, as a society, we take a very dim view of those who traffic in these sorts of materials.
But, what of the offenders?
In some respects, this may be a "chicken and egg" dilemma. Do pedophiles seek out child pornography or does downloading (and other subsequent activities best left to the imagination) of sexually explicit images of children lead to eventual contact (or "offline") offending with children? In other research, it has been suggested that surfing child pornography is a robust diagnostic indicator of pedophilic interests (see Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child pornography offenses are a valid diagnostic indicator of pedophilia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 610-615).
In a recently released, online first publication in the journal Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Mike Seto, Karl Hanson, and Kelly Babchishin attempt to answer some of these nagging questions. In two meta-analyses, they investigate 1. the contact offense histories of online offenders, and 2. the recidivism rates of online offenders.
In regard to the question of how many online offenders also have contact sexual offenses, Seto and colleagues found that only one in eight online offenders had officially-documented histories of contact offenses. However, this is tempered by their finding that more than half of such offenders are inclined to admit to contact offenses that are unknown to authorities; although, self-report data appears to have been available in only a small number of studies in the meta-analysis. Further, Seto et al. note that the controversial "Butner Study" was an outlier in finding significantly higher rates of self-reported contact offenses in online offenders. When they removed this study from the analysis, the rates of self-reported contact offending became more consistent, study to study.
The first statistic (1:8) seems consistent with the argument made by some offenders that they are only interested in the pictures, and that surfing internet child pornography meets their needs and helps them to refrain from engaging in contact offenses. However, the second statistic (50%) gets to the heart of our (SO professionals) fears that many of these guys are just not getting caught. Indeed, under-reporting has always been the fly in the ointment for all of us quoting statistics regarding sexual abuse rates, incidence or recidivism.
The second meta-analysis focused on reoffense rates. Seto, Hanson, and Babchishin found quite low rates of reoffending in the samples of online child pornography offenders: 4.6% of offenders engaged in new offenses over follow-up periods ranging from 1.5 to 6 years of follow-up, with 2% engaging in new contact offenses and 3.4% incurring new charges for online child pornography offending. Pretty low rates of reoffending all around; although, we must honestly note that the follow-up times are short.
So, what are we to take away from these findings?
Seto et al. address the issue of risk assessment with child pornography offenders. Presently, the Static-99 (a commonly used actuarial risk assessment scale) is not recommended for offenders with no documented history of contact offenses. However, this preclusion does not extend to other scales, such as the Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG), but some have expressed concern with the general applicability of the standardization sample underpinning that scale (I am making no particular statement one way or the other here, by the way. Individual clinicians will need to review these instruments and make their own decisions). Regarding Static-99, Seto et al. suggest that if a high proportion of online offenders also have offline offense histories, then use of the Static-99 might be appropriate with this population, but only with modifications to the coding rules. This makes great sense and, given the rapidly growing numbers of online offenders before the Court, it would be helpful if risk assessors could add an objective measure of risk potential to their cadre of evaluation tools.
However, this question seems to be undercut to a degree by the findings of the second meta-analysis in this study. It would appear that, regardless of their histories of offline offending (officially known or self-reported), offenders who engage in online child pornography offenses are generally disinclined to reoffend. This causes Seto et al. to question whether there may be a "distinct subgroup of online-only offenders who pose relatively low risk of committing contact sexual offenses in the future". Of course, this has great implications for sentencing and risk management. Presently, many jurisdictions require online child pornography offenders to attend treatment and submit to community monitoring protocols similar to their contact offending compatriots. Given the findings of meta-analysis #2, does this potentially breach the tenets of the RNR model (i.e., overprogramming lower risk offenders by imposing treatment or management strategies that might not be specific to the needs of these particular offenders)? Seto et al. suggest that the risk factors may be the same for both online and offline offenders; however, the reoffense rates should give us cause to consider issues such as dosage and treatment methodologies. As such, we will need to have clear means of distinguishing who the higher risk guys might be.
In discussing their results, Seto, Hanson, and Babchishin suggest the existence of a subgroup of internet-only offenders who are disinclined to engage in contact offenses and who are at particularly low risk to reoffend in any sexual manner post-identification. At the very least, this suggestion should cause some to reconsider whether our current handling of these individuals is actually clinically or judicially appropriate. In order to best answer any nagging questions left standing, we as a field need to encourage and support additional research, scholarly discourse, and collaborative development of social policy.
Let me close this post with a quote from Seto et al.:
The low recidivism rates of online offenders may be used by some ... to minimize the seriousness of the online crimes committed.
I agree that it is important to acknowledge the greater issues of supply, demand, and exploitation that are part of the child pornography industry (if you can call it that). Clearly, efforts must continue to contain and eradicate this gut-wrenching problem. However, we must also take heed of the research findings regarding risk assessment and risk management of those involved.
A couple of weeks ago, I was working on a paper in which I needed to cite current statistics on the incidence of child sexual abuse by gender. I remembered having heard someone somewhere recently stating that the percentages had been updated. In asking a group of my colleagues, I got the usual one in four girls, one in seven boys, but these were the numbers I already knew and that most of us have been stating for years. That didn't answer my question as to whether these percentages had changed.
Alisa Klein from the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) obviously has a good memory for these sorts of things, because some several days after my first query, she sent along the link above.
For many years, child sexual abuse professionals including those within Child Advocacy Centers have held to a similar mantra – one in four girls and one in seven boys are victims of sexual abuse or assault before the age of 18. These alarming statistics have been a rallying point for communicating the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the United States. While these statistics were absolutely true many years ago, we must ask ourselves two primary questions -- Are they still accurate? If not, what should we do?
I've been quoting the 1:4 / 1:7 statistics since quite early in my career, feeling relatively safe in the knowledge that these alarming numbers were pretty solid in the research. But of late, I've been focusing on other research that seems to suggest that things may be changing. A few years ago, David Finkelhor won ATSA's Significant Achievement Award for his tremendous contributions to our field. During his address, Dr. Finkelhor told us of his research regarding declining rates of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Jones, 2006; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009). I remember being shocked when he told us that rates had declined by 50% or more over the past quarter century.
Then, in the Spring of 2008, Andrew Harris from Public Safety Canada sent out an email asking for new Static-99 data sets, suggesting that declines in sexual recidivism had potentially rendered inaccurate the widely used outcome tables. It seemed that the tables were over-estimating risk, requiring empirical adjustment. Since that time, the Static-99 group has released new tables, but controversy remains as to how best to interpret such findings.
However, to get back on track, it would seem that these two related but not entirely related research streams should give us cause to think. My first thought was that this is really good news -- our efforts (vis a vis improved risk assessment techniques and advances in treatment best practices) are having an effect. However, the cynic in me asked whether there might be some other reason for these findings.
In workshops and classes I teach, I typically cite a number of reasons for decreased incidence of child sexual abuse and lower rates of reoffending:
- Many of the people currently in positions of authority either came of age during the 60s or are the children of those people. While some may remember that period as being typified by hippies, free love, and flower power, we need to remember that it was also a period of incredible social change. Of greatest importance was the realization that, as people, we needed to pay better attention to how we regarded one another (equal rights) and how we interacted with one another -- particularly regarding interpersonal violence and how well we protected those among us who are more vulnerable.
- The information age has helped us to get the message out to parents and citizens that there are things they can do to increase public safety.
- Research as to how best to treat offenders (including what to focus on) has blossomed in the past 20 years, to the point that we now have a much better clue what to do to help our clients to refrain from further sexually abusive behavior.
- We have much more effective tools for managing risk in the community (e.g., containment approaches, collaboration between stakeholders, Circles of Support & Accountability and other re-entry initiatives).
That's the perspective of Robin the Optimist. However, Robin the Not-So-Optimistic must concede that we have seen increases in both the rates of incarceration of offenders and the lengths of sentences they are assessed. In the USA, sexual offenders in almost half the states also face indefinite, involuntary civil commitment. So, it is also arguable that the rates of offending and abuse have also decreased because we have taken many of the riskiest offenders out of the risk pool.
Frankly, I like Chris Newlin's perspective better:
We have the data to support that two decades of coordinated efforts and resources are making a difference, so now we must adopt appropriate new messaging. "There are solutions that work, we are making incredible progress, and everyone has a role to play in efforts to end child abuse."
Nowhere in the piece does Chris actually suggest new statistics (although he hints that the ratios may have dropped). Rather, in closing his brief message, Chris suggests that we reframe our approach to the issue, in stating that the time has come for professionals to move out of "crisis mode" (in which we need to inform the public of the alarming statistics regarding child maltreatment and neglect) and to start trumpeting our successes and hope for continued advances in developing real solutions to this most troubling of social issues.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
In her commentary, Dr. Franklin states that her interest "dissolved into disappointment when (she) realized that (my) response sidestepped substantive discussion of the new research (Wollert et al.'s new study on age-related desistance from continued engagement in sexual reoffending)".
Regarding my "side-stepping", I'm not sure that there was any "straight-stepping" (if that is the correct opposite) required. Dr. Wollert and crew quite admirably demonstrated that offenders, like the rest of us, slow down as they get older. The research is certainly important but not necessarily earth-shattering.
Dr. Franklin says, "The single most robust finding of two centuries of criminological research is that desistance from crime is near universal." She seems to agree with me, as I did with her.
Actually, I never set out to discuss the "new research" at all, as it is consistent with stuff that most of us in the field already accept to be true. Rather, the point of my blog was to question Dr. Franklin's approach in discussing it.
To close, I agree with Dr. Franklin in stating that, as bloggers, it is not our job to convince readers that we are the holders of divine truth. As she states, so I concur: Our job is to "encourage (objective--RJW) critical reflection and stimulate people to read the original source material," which I sincerely hope you will all endeavor to do.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Actuarial risk assessment scales for sexual and other offenders started to appear in the early to mid 1990s. The Violence Prediction Scheme (an early precursor to the VRAG and SORAG) arguably got the ball rolling, although the LSI was already in existence at the time. It has been claimed that the Static-99 is the most widely used sexual offense risk assessment scale on the planet, which may indeed be true, but it is hardly the only instrument of its kind. Most sexual offender evaluators use at least one of the more popular scales in their assessments of offenders.
Use of these scales is based on the premise that certain factors that, when clustered together, are predictive of who is at higher risk to reoffend. The more factors you have, the higher your risk or, at least, that's the thought. Items are typically chosen through a process of meta-analysis of factors reported in the primary research literature. As I already noted, various scales exist, but the majority of the factors included in them are roughly the same, largely because they are constructed using the same primary research literature. The two biggie factors appear to be sexual deviance and antisociality. Take your pick: SORAG, MnSOST-R, Static-99, etc. -- they all look pretty similar once you get past the idiosyncratic wording of items.
So, back to the other blog...
Dr. Franklin has something of a penchant for the flamboyant. Actually, I often appreciate a bit of bluster, but I think we also need to avoid bias and unnecessary sideswipes at our colleagues. In the spirit of honesty, let me say that I work in a civil commitment center and that I am a certified trainer for the Static-99 group of measures. So, my potential bias is on the table. Let me also say, however, that my work in the civil commitment center is aimed fully at making sure that my residents have the best treatment opportunities available so that they may have a reasonable chance at returning safely to the community to live a balanced, self-determined lifestyle free of future harm to others or themselves. As far as the Static-99 is concerned, as soon as someone shows me a tool that does the job markedly better, I'll jump ship and start using that one.
In her recent blog, Dr. Franklin suggests that her colleagues presenting on actuarial risk assessment at this fall's ATSA conference are "self-appointed gurus". Really, Dr. Franklin, is that actually a fair appraisal? The main personalities in the Static-99 world have contributed immeasurably to our (better) understanding of sexual deviance and risk to the community. I see no good reason to view them as anything other than well-intentioned, honest, and diligent scientists. That others may see them as "gurus" is not of their conscious efforts but, rather, a byproduct of the good work they have done. As far as I can tell, almost every person associated with the Static-99 group has worked hard to demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology and the scale itself. Not a one of them has ever overstated the value of the method or the tools they tout. Dr. Franklin rightly notes that these instruments are freely available on the net. We should also note that research as to their utility is vigorously encouraged.
For the record, all of the research to date suggests that tools of this nature have, at best, moderate predictive accuracy in helping us assess who is or is not likely to reoffend. I'm confused by Dr. Franklin's suggestion that we should use random sampling in the construction or validation of actuarial risk measures. What is it that we should be sampling randomly? The items? The subjects we score on the resultant scale? I may have missed something, but it seems to me that we should rather intentionally seek out those factors best predictive of future offending and that we should use these scales on persons who demonstrate at least some propensity for future offending. Neither of these seems well suited to a random approach.
As to the psychometric properties of the Static-99, I find it curious that Dr. Franklin only takes shots at this particular scale. As I noted above, there are many others available and given that they all sample from the same item pool and are subject to the same foibles and limitations, why not pick on the whole mess of them? What applies to Static-99 applies equally to them all. No risk assessor in his or her right mind should ever view a score (and risk rating) on an actuarial scale as being the only thing you need to know in evaluating a sexual offender's propensity for recidivism. They are tools found in a much larger toolbox of useful protocols/data/etc. you need to consider in providing comprehensive assessments of risk.
I also find it curious that Dr. Franklin labels the Static-99 as unreliable. The research I've seen suggests that it is particularly reliable -- guys who score higher reoffend more often than guys who score lower. This appears to be so no matter where the scale is used. Further, inter-rater reliabilities reported by various researchers have strongly suggested that, when using the coding rules, different assessors come up with the same score on the same guy most of the time. Overestimating risk is not a reliability issue, it's a validity issue -- one that we've already acknowledged in saying that the scale gives us only moderate predictive accuracy.
Andrew Harris (perhaps, somewhat cynically) opined the following:
Since we know from the literature that without the use of actuarials people tend to greatly over-estimate risk – and since all good ATSA members would support the use of actuarials, are we not cheap shills for the defence? The fact remains that a well done sex offender risk assessment is almost without exception a great aid to the offender.
Here we have a member of the Static-99 group encouraging us to use actuarials to combat the sort of generalized tendency towards overestimation of risk that Dr. Franklin lamented in her blog. The last sentence of Dr. Harris' comment is simply brilliant. Maybe, what Dr. Franklin should be highlighting more is the fact that some evaluators are falling prey to partisan concerns. A "well done sex offender risk assessment" should say the same thing, regardless of who you are working for.
As for the effects of aging on reoffense risk, Dr. Franklin's comments are very much in line with my thinking and that of others in the Static-99 group. Indeed, the Static-99R exists solely because of a revised age-weighting that attempts to account for this effect. Too bad Dr. Franklin didn't note that a good bit of the research and discussion regarding this aging-out phenomenon, as it relates to sexual offenders, was instigated, led, or encouraged by members of the Static-99 group.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
The concept raised was whether or not there could be any benefit to "paying" sexual offenders to attend treatment. One of the persons posting suggested that it was an idea worth piloting.
Well...Let me wade into this.
Approximately 10 years or so ago, the Correctional Service of Canada initiated a process for community-based programs in which offenders (including sexual offenders) on conditional release received $5.00 per group they attended. As the former Chief Psychologist for the community in the Ontario Region, I had first hand experience of this practice. Let me first say that I thought it was a great idea. I saw it as a token acknowledgement of the efforts our participants made in attending programs. Sure, if they didn't attend they could go back to jail, but that was not the point. The National Parole Board had deemed them ready to release, and I saw it as our job to work collaboratively to keep them out, not find ways to put them back in. In some respects, I think this paying guys issue is in line with the broader concept of increasing offender responsivity in treatment. Bottom line: More guys attended more often. Of course, CSC scrapped the program because of "optics" but, while it operated, I think the impact was eminently congruent with our ultimate goal.
Actually, I liked this idea so much that when I moved to Florida, I thought we should try it there, too. However, with a twist. We have a small population of men with severe and persistent mental illness which, ultimately, presents a quite potent barrier to their engagement in comprehensive treatment programming for persons who have sexually offended. Essentially, being floridly psychotic and failing to meet basic activities of daily living gets in the way of understanding lifestyle dysfunction and problematic behavior -- and, ultimately, getting better enough to complete treatment and go home. Too many of our guys were sleeping the day away or languishing in front of the television while we were trying to get them into groups.
So, this was my thought... Why don't we pay them to attend psychotherapy and to attend to their ADLs? We pay other residents to perform various employment tasks, why not see getting better as their primary task or "job"? Sort of like making good mental health the project goal and paying them for attending to issues related to meeting that goal. We started paying each mental health unit resident 25 cents for every group he attends, to a weekly maximum of $5.00. Not much in the way of cost, but check out the Bottom line: Residents started getting up, engaging in morning exercises, showering, and preparing themselves for the day. Group participation increased dramatically, and we ultimately decreased the population of SPMIs in our residential mental health unit by a full third. Many of those discharged residents are now participating fully in our comprehensive treatment program.
Make of these examples what you will, but I am still a strong supporter of the concept. If our ultimate goal is to assist these persons in establishing the sort of balanced, self-determined lifestyles that are incongruent with continued antisociality and hurtful/harmful sexual behavior, any step is the right direction is a step towards harm reduction.
But, to get back on track...
This past weekend, I was catching up on old episodes of Criminal Minds and two of them threw me into a tizzy. In one episode, they referred to a guy as an "Anger/Excitation Rapist". When are we finally going to put this tired and outdated nomenclature to rest? I'm pretty sure that Ray Knight (often in combination with Robert Prentky) convincing blew that typology away in the late 1990s or early 2000s. In the other episode, the Dave Rossi character (Joe Montegna) referred to a serial killer who was targeting 16-18 year old girls as a "Hebephile". My outburst was so dramatic that the cat leaped off the bed!
I get it that the field is still trying to come to grips with diagnostic frameworks and typologies, with the proposed Paraphilic Coercive and Pedohebephilic disorders causing quite a stir. In truth, many parties make quite legitimate points for and against these proposed diagnoses. However, can whoever is advising these television shows please take the time to read a little bit??
Last point before I put this to rest...
This week, infamous Canadian child killer Clifford Olson was again denied release by the Canadian National Parole Board. Duh. However, what gets me is that the tabloid media seems obsessed with misleading the public into believing that he actually had a chance of getting out. In Canadian law, a "life" sentence is just that -- a life sentence; like, until you die. Parole "eligibility" is also just that -- eligibility. Just because someone might be eligible does not mean that he/she will actually be released (and, even once released on parole, an offender serving life can be returned to prison at the slightest sign of trouble). It doesn't take a lot of brain power to realize that no Parole Board member in his/her right mind is ever going to release Canada's most notorious child murderer.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday...
I'm taking this brief opportunity to give some free advertising to our friends at Stop It Now!, who are offering a free webcast, details as follows:
How do you view children? Vulnerable? Innocent and inherently good? Inherently evil? Knowledgeable and active participants in society? Join Stop It Now! for a FREE webcast (December 7) when Dr. Dominic Pasura of the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies (University of Huddersfield, UK) will help us unpack our assumptions about children to improve our practice of preventing child sexual abuse.The webcast is part of our collaboration with the University of Huddersfield and follows a webcast by Centre Director, Dr. Adele Jones, on child sexual abuse in the Caribbean. It is one way that we are marking the World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse (19 Nov) and World Day of Prayer and Action for Children (Nov 20).
Join us and Dr. Dominic Pasura of the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies as he explores different meanings of children and childhood internationally and their significance in the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Time: 9am-10am Eastern USA
Register @ https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/schedule/display.do?udc=1pz06z3a0x3l
Please note that Stop It Now! has timed this for their international partners. An archived webcast will be available after the presentation. Please contact email@example.com if you would like to be on the list to be notified about the archive.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I've been somewhat consumed of late regarding this issue of how best to compare certain offenders into the various Static-99R normative samples. Of course, this process has huge implications, both for the offender himself and for community safety. The process of choosing between “routine”, “preselected for treatment participation”, “preselected for risk/need”, and “non-routine” has generated healthy debate (see Campbell & DeClue, 2010--link 1 below; Wilson & Looman, 2010--link 2 below), but no clear answers or protocols as to best practices.
I have argued elsewhere (link 2) that most evaluators will accept that there are risk factors that are important to consider--but not necessarily precisely tapped by Static-99R--in comprehensively determining risk to reoffend. These factors might include sexual deviance, psychopathy, and other factors as delineated in the literature. However, there are as yet few systematic protocols for combining these factors with static actuarial scores. During a recent preconference workshop at the annual ATSA conference in Phoenix, David Thornton stated:
For any given Static-99R score common degrees of variation in Need produce dramatic differences in recidivism risk. This remains true within any specified degree of pre-selection. You can’t accurately evaluate recidivism risk without systematically evaluating Need.
I couldn't agree more and, as professionals in the field, I encourage you all to read the paper noted above by familiar ATSA members Ruth Mann, Karl Hanson, and David Thornton. In this highly readable paper, the authors present an excellent summary of the risk assessment process, reviewing various categories of risk factors and the many means by which to measure them. Overall, I found their perspective refreshingly honest. Two of the authors (Karl and David--and I'm certainly not suggesting that Ruth is not also a big part of this field) clearly have a lot at stake, given their respective contributions to the risk assessment literature. Yet the paper freely admits that many methods are less than perfect and that we still have much to learn.
One of my favorite lines in the paper came early (in the abstract):
Although it is possible to conduct risk assessments based purely on empirical correlates, the most useful evaluations also explain the source of the risk. (emphasis in the original)
I have read many a risk assessment in my time and, unfortunately, all too often there is a certain mechanical quality to them. I like the idea of making sure that the receivers of our risk assessment findings can be better informed as to what we're actually talking about, especially if this means including elements of elegance and eloquence along with the facts and data. As such, the term "psychologically meaningful" resonates with me.
Mann et al. make distinctions between risk factors that are empirically supported, promising, unsupported--but with interesting exceptions, worth exploring, and those with little or no relationship to sexual recidivism. They provide suggested means by which to ascribe factors to these various categories, as well as examples of each (with a comprehensive review of the literature underscoring each). This latter aspect makes the paper quite useful to persons who don't necessarily have the time to review each and every individual paper on factors potentially predictive of risk to reoffend. Ultimately, they turn to the concept of "causal" factors--those that might actually be so pertinent as to provide reasons for offending. Mann et al. state that "assessment and treatment for sexual offenders should focus on empirically established causal risk factors," but stop short of telling us what those factors are. That's where our research needs to focus going forward.
Training sessions entitled "Introductory Training for Enhancing Community Safety through Interagency Collaboration" offered by the Comprehensive Approaches to Sex Offender Management (CASOM) grant program funded by the SMART Office, will be held in Tampa on Dec 6/7, 2010 and Sutton's Bay on January 6/7, 2011.
Details for the Tampa event are as follows (details of the Michigan event are forthcoming):
Monday, December 6 – Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM Tampa, Florida
Training Location: Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina 700 S. Florida Ave., Tampa, FL 33602
The flyer is found at:
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Here's a guest blog by former and incoming ATSA Board Member Jill Levenson of Florida.
regarding http://www.scrippsnews.com/projects/fugitive-sex-offenders ...
Dr. Jill Levenson, Dr. Andrew Harris, Dr. Alissa Ackerman, and Dr. Kristen Zgoba are currently embarking on a series of research projects exploring the make-up and utility of U.S. registries as well as the intended goals and outcomes of the Adam Walsh Act. In a recent article submitted for publication to a reputable social science journal, we analyzed data on 445,127 registered sex offenders obtained directly from the public registries of 49 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and Guam. In contrast with the homogenized perception about registered sex offenders that permeates much public discourse, the analysis illuminated the wide diversity of registrants across a range of demographic, offense-related, registry status, and risk-oriented variables.
Specifically, we attempted to clarify the repeatedly cited statistic that 100,000 sex offenders are "missing." Curiously, we were able to identify only 17,688 RSOs who were designated by states to be transient, homeless, absconded, non-compliant, or whose address or whereabouts are otherwise unknown. Nationwide, a total of 5,349 offenders were officially listed as absconded; 1,264 were listed as missing/unable to be located and 4,152 were listed as having failed to comply with registration requirements. We had no way of specifically confirming the number of fugitive sex offenders, since states had a wide variety of methods for classifying absconders, registration violators, and others whose locations are uncertain. Despite the NCMEC report that "at least 100,000 sex offenders are noncompliant and no one knows where they are" (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2007), we have been unable to ascertain NCMEC's formula for their calculation of missing sex offenders. Using the data downloaded directly from public registries, and utilizing the inclusive figure of 17,688 offenders described above (approximately 4% of our total sample), we found no evidence to support the notion that one-sixth (or about 17%) of the nation's sex offenders are missing or unaccounted for.
It is unlikely that all sex offenders who fail to comply with registration are willful violators, and despite the claims of the U.S. Marshall's Service most noncompliant offenders do not appear to have absconded. Many "missing" sex offenders are not truly missing; they may appear to be missing due to inadequate or incomplete address information, data entry errors, lag times in updating registry information, unauthorized travel, or homelessness. Some might be confused by complex registration laws, carelessly neglecting to fulfill registration requirements but continuing to report to parole or probation agents and remaining in their known locations despite their lapsed registration.
Through our data analysis, we were also able to extrapolate and draw some general inferences about the relative risk of the U.S. RSO population. Through our data collection process, we know that approximately 33% of the RSOs reported by NCMEC are not listed on public registries. Thus, we presume that about one-third of the nation's sex offenders have been assessed by their state's sex offender management procedure to pose low risk for future offending, and therefore they are not subjected to community notification. Even among those found on public registries (ostensibly higher risk offenders from some states and all offenders from other states), a distribution of risk exists, with a minority designated in most states as high risk, predator, or sexually violent.
Another notable finding is the considerable number of RSOs who are not residing in the community. All told, approximately 12% (N=52,248) of RSOs appear to not be living in the community, with a total of 47,978 people incarcerated or civilly committed, 1,028 listed as deceased, and 3,251 listed as deported.
Interestingly, in several published studies, failure to register as a sex offender was not associated with an increased likelihood of sexual reoffending.
Public internet registries were designed to alert citizens to the presence of sex offenders living nearby so that action can be taken to potentially prevent victimization. It is unclear why deported or deceased offenders remain on public registries, as the public safety value of this information seems dubious. As well, the funding allocated for tracking the nation's sex offenders is based on the registry count reported by NCMEC -- an inflated figure that includes individuals for whom no tracking is needed because they are institutionalized, dead, or deported. In one particularly illuminating example, out of over 54,000 sex offenders registered in Florida, more than half are not actually living in Florida communities. About 28% are institutionalized and about one-quarter are living in other states. This information is not readily apparent in the data reported by NCMEC; rather, it was evident only after downloading a publicly available datafile from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website and speaking with the state's registry data manager to resolve discrepancies. In other words, many publicly identified RSOs may not be living amongst us.
As for the Adam Walsh Act, which sought to introduce greater uniformity of sex offender registration and notification systems, we concur that standardized definitions and measures across states would help close gaps that currently exist and provide for needed consistency in policies. However, the rules by which AWA seeks to impose jurisdictional uniformity – rules that rely on a common offense-based classification scheme and ignore other germane risk factors – are far more likely to obscure important differences among registered offenders than to shed more light on them. Offense-based designations cover a wide and diverse spectrum of behavior patterns, and accordingly obscure important distinctions impacting a given offender’s public safety risk. Researchers from NY have already found that the Adam Walsh tiers did a poor job of predicting reoffending. Many states have adopted more refined approaches (e.g. utilizing empirically derived risk assessment methods) to distinguish the most dangerous offenders and to assist in the efficient allocation of resources concordant with an offender's threat to the community. The tier system under the Adam Walsh Act, however, will potentially render certain aspects of those systems obsolete, mandating increasingly more inclusive public internet disclosure that ultimately might prove to be less informative for concerned citizens. This problem is one of the controversies impacting nationwide compliance with federal law.
Prevention of repeat sexual violence is a complex endeavor not easily solved with statutory solutions. The current emphasis on publicly identifying and tracking known offenders may do a disservice to the public, since over 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by someone well known to them with no previous sex crime record, not a stranger found on a registry. Recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed; the U.S. Dept of Justice reported a 5.3% sexual recidivism rate over 3 years and Canadian researchers report about 14% over 4-6 years. Even over longer follow-up periods of 15-20 years, research indicates that about three-quarters of sex offenders are NOT re-arrested for a subsequent sex crime (in stark contrast to this statement: "These guys are dangerous," Anderson said. "They have a sexual appetite that can only be satisfied by going after who they deem to be sexually arousing — such as kids, minors, toddlers, infants — and doing it by rape. When they want sex, they want it then.").
Certainly, a subgroup of sexual offenders IS dangerous and likely to reoffend. But the quickly growing population of registered sex offenders (now nearing one million) obscures our ability to identify the most high risk individuals, and spreads resources quite thin. A more targeted approach using risk assessment methods would help to allocate resources more efficiently to provide closer monitoring of those more likely to pose a threat to public safety.
Jill Levenson, Ph.D.
Monday, November 15, 2010
So, what's all the fuss about "sex addiction"?
Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and a whole lot of other "famous" people are coming out of the woodwork claiming to be addicted to sex. The article in the link above from the Chicago Tribune suggests that sex addiction is something of a celebrity issue-du-jour, as if somehow celebrities (and others, for that matter) haven't been sexually misbehaving for eons (think Gene Simmons).
Just to be clear...There are certainly people who spend too much time obsessing on sexuality and who ultimately get themselves into trouble because of it. The fact that the internet is rife with sexually explicit materials can result in a virtual "kid in a candy store" scenario. But, is this actually addiction, in the same sense as we understand it for alcohol, heroin, and other substances?
As I understand it, there are neurochemical effects from engaging in certain behaviors, just as there are from ingesting certain substances. Typically, these activities/substances are supposed to result in some sort of positive experience (e.g., euphoria, a "high", "mellowing out", a feeling of being energized, or at least feeling more at ease). But, don't we also get this from eating when we're hungry or drinking when we're thirsty. For that matter, even less socially appealing activities (e.g., defecation, urination) generate a certain degree of pleasurable sensation. Presumably, this is so that we will be sufficiently encouraged to engage in those behaviors, etc. that ensure good health or the propagation of the species. But, again, how does this figure into the concept of addiction?
My training was that you couldn't be addicted to a natural process, and that doing too much of something you would do naturally was "maladaptive drive reduction" or some kind of dysregulation. That still sits better with me. In reading the article, it seems that the traditional definition of addiction doesn't necessarily map well onto things like sex; particularly, in regard to aspects like withdrawal. Check out ATSA's own Marty Kafka, giving his two cents worth. Of course, Hypersexual Disorder (Marty's baby) is being proposed in the modifications to paraphilia diagnoses that may or may not come with DSM-5.
I was at a presentation given by Patrick Carnes at an addictions conference in Bermuda some years ago. I remember listening to him talk about "sex addiction", but thinking, "he's describing maladaptive drive reduction". Who knows? One thing is for sure, as long as there are celebrities...
Friday, November 12, 2010
This case brings back to the forefront the concept of so-called "Romeo and Juliet" offenses, in which one of two young persons engaging in sexual activity is over the age of consent while the other is not. Although none of us would ever condone hurtful sexual activity between any two persons, regardless of age, sexual offender service providers are divided as to whether these sorts of scenarios constitute sexual offenses, per se, in the sense that we most often consider in our work. In a world where age-of-consent is a complex concept, with elements of biology, morality, creed, and politics (among others), we are likely to see other such cases that spur controversy and public debate. Modern technology--especially camera phones, facebook, and other social networking tools--only makes the issue more complicated for young persons who are being visually bombarded like no other generation before them.
What are your thoughts?
Thursday, November 11, 2010
For those sexual offender service providers looking to obtain Static-99R Certification Training, there will be a session held at this year's Connecting for Children's Justice Conference in Nashville, TN on November 21-23, 2010. There will also be a variety of other interesting workshops and papers presented.
Check out the program at: http://www.tncac.org/ccj
This particular article has already generated significant discussion on many list-serves and other bulletin boards.
From the article:
The book, "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct," offers advice to pedophiles on how to make a sexual encounter with a child as safe as possible. It includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, purportedly written from a child's point of view.
This would appear to be a clear case of where the rubber meets the road on the issue of First Amendment rights vs. public safety (especially children). No doubt, many people will have passionate views on the subject. Feel free to share some of them here.
Today is the first day of actual live blogging on the SA:JRT blogspot. Please feel free to have a look around and to follow the interesting tidbits of news and the like that we will try to highlight here. Also, if you have any comments, ideas, or links you wish to share, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to build a blogspot that will raise awareness of sexual abuse and associated social issues.
Have fun with it!
Robin J. Wilson, Ph.D., ABPP
In what Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin called a “funny offence,” the Ontario Court of Appeal in Canada recently overturned a Lower Court decision finding a man guilty of Sexual Assault. The issue hinges on the interesting concept of whether a person can give consent to sexual activities that will eventually occur when that person is unconscious. In this specific case, a woman apparently gave consent to her partner to tie her up, choke her into unconsciousness, and then penetrate her with a dildo. Six weeks after the escapade occurred, she changed her mind and called police, resulting in her partner being charged and convicted of a sexual offense.
This case raises some very interesting issues. Coming to my mind ... What happens if a couple consents to sexual activity before they drink or use mind-altering chemicals and then engage in sex under the influence? Indeed, the implications go even beyond sexual activity to the issue of what can one consent to, while of sound mind, that may ultimately occur when they are not. For instance, if one cannot give advance consent to sexual activity while unconscious, can one in advance refuse life-saving efforts via a "do not rescusitate" order?
The case will now be heard before the Supreme Court in Canada.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Dr. Richard C. Irwin, 57, was charged Friday in Tulsa County District Court with first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and indecent exposure. Irwin was booked into the Tulsa Jail on Saturday morning and released on $155,000 bond in the afternoon, according to jail records."
Friday, September 24, 2010
German bishops set out rules to stop sexual abuse
Berlin, Germany (CNN) - German Catholic bishops Thursday set out new rules to help prevent clergy from abusing children, following scandals across Europe.
They aim "to sensitize and empower all those working in the church environment to recognize evidence of sexual abuse and to deal with it in an appropriate fashion," said Stephan Ackermann, archbishop of Trier and the bishops' point man on sexual abuse of children within the church.
They require all 27 German Catholic diocese to give employees strict rules on how to maintain an appropriate level of "close distance" between other staff and children and young people in their trust, the bishops said.
German bishops set out rules to stop sexual abuse
Monday, September 20, 2010
By the CNN Wire Staff
September 20, 2010 4:39 p.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Hours after a North Carolina police chief issued a tearful plea for help in locating a registered sex offender suspected in the death of his 23-year-old daughter, the man was arrested in upstate New York, authorities said Monday.
Michael Neal Harvey, 34, was arrested without incident by FBI agents and U.S. marshals in Niagara Falls, New York, on Monday morning in connection with the death of Valerie Hamilton, according to a statement issued by Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police. Detectives from Charlotte were on the way to New York to interview Harvey and "work on the extradition process," the statement said."
Thursday, August 26, 2010
"Indiana man charged in online extortion sex scheme
By the CNN Wire Staff
August 25, 2010 10:04 p.m. EDT
Travis Davis has been charged with stalking, criminal coercion and other counts
Police say he threatened to send a sex video of his ex unless she came back to him
Davis was arrested near his ex's new boyfriend's house with a gun in his car
(CNN) -- An Indiana man awaiting sentencing on a rape charge tried to blackmail his ex-girlfriend into coming back to him by threatening to spread nude photos and video of her online, police in Pennsylvania said.
The ex-girlfriend told investigators that shortly after their brief relationship, Travis Davis sent a video of the two of them having sex, according to a police report from Delmont, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. The girlfriend told police she didn't know the video existed, the report states."
Monday, August 23, 2010
ATSA’s 29th Annual Conference
October 20 – 23, 2010
Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel
"The 29th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers will be held at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, October 20 through 23, 2010."
Conference Brochure (Download PDF: 3MB Opens in new window)
Friday, August 20, 2010
"US Catholic Church tarred with new child sex abuse scandal
LOS ANGELES — The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has become embroiled in a new pedophilia scandal with six women and one man alleging sexual abuse by a priest over three decades.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Oakland, California accused Father Stephen Kiesle of acts of sexual abuse between 1972 and 2001, and alleged that Catholic Church officials knew of the crimes but did not stop them."
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The Associated Press: Plaintiffs give up sex abuse case against Vatican:
"Plaintiffs give up sex abuse case against Vatican
By DYLAN T. LOVAN (AP)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Three men who sought to hold the Vatican liable in an American court for sexual abuses by Roman Catholic priests in a Kentucky diocese are abandoning the case.
Lawyers looked to question Pope Benedict XVI under oath but had to leap the high legal hurdle of the Vatican's sovereign immunity status in the U.S. But plaintiffs filed a motion on Monday asking a federal judge in Louisville to dismiss their claims.
Their attorney, William McMurry, said he was seeking to end the case because of an earlier court ruling that recognized the Vatican's immunity and failure to turn up new plaintiffs to add to the lawsuit who haven't yet been involved in a Catholic clergy abuse case."
Monday, August 9, 2010
The Associated Press
Posted: 08/05/2010 06:18:37 PM PDT
Updated: 08/05/2010 06:26:53 PM PDT
SAN JOSE, Calif.—A Northern California boy who was the victim of more than 600 sexual abuse acts while in foster care has been awarded $30 million by a jury, his lawyer said.
Stephen Estey, who represented the former foster child in his lawsuit against Giarretto Institute said his client, now 25, broke into tears when the verdict was read Wednesday in a Santa Clara County court. He said it's the largest award in California this year for a single-person sex abuse case."
Thursday, August 5, 2010
"Japan child abuse at record high, police data shows
Several high-profile cases of child abuse in Japan have drawn attention to the problem Cases of alleged child abuse in Japan have risen to their highest level since records began 10 years ago.
Police figures indicate 187 children were the suspected victims of physical and sexual abuse in the first half of this year. Eighteen children died.
The report also found that cases of child pornography in the same period had risen by about 60% to 599 cases."
Thursday, July 22, 2010
When: Monday, August 16th from 5-7pm (during ASA convention)
Where: SEAR, a restaurant in the Marriott Marquis (one of the official ASA hotels)
What: Reception to kick off the SAGE Public Sociology Community. Cocktails and light fare will be served. We will hear briefly from Corey Dolgon and Chris Baker, the authors of the highly anticipated first edition Social Problems: A Service Learning Approach.
Are you interested in the public sociology movement in particular or service learning and civic engagement in general? We are pleased to invite you to join the SAGE and Pine Forge Public Sociology Community. We believe that public sociology represents an exciting convergence of socially relevant research and scholarship with fresh, action-based teaching strategies. At their best, these trends promise to reinvigorate sociological practice and engage new generations of students with a sociology that makes a difference.
Please RSVP to email@example.com by August 6th.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Diane Winston: Gunning for the Pope?:
"Last week, the New York Times added another piece to the puzzling history of the Vatican's response to the crisis of clergy sexual abuse. Reporters Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger plumbed church documents and interviewed church leaders to ascertain how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, deployed church policy to address scandals that, by the 1990s, were erupting globally."
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Pope Revises Sex-Abuse Norms - WSJ.com:
"VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI has revised the Vatican's sex-abuse norms in a bid to streamline the Holy See's handling of cases world-wide and hold more clerics accused of abuse accountable under church law, according to people familiar with the matter.
In a rare move, Pope Benedict recently approved revisions to a papal decree, or motu proprio, issued by his predecessor John Paul II in 2001, establishing Vatican procedures for prosecuting and disciplining priests accused of sexual abuse, the people said."
Friday, July 2, 2010
October 20 – 23, 2010
Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel
The 29th Annual Research and Treatment Conference sponsored by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers will be held at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, October 20 through 23, 2010