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«Sex Offender Laws Failed Policies, New Directions ■ Richard G. Wright, PhD NEW YORK Contents Contributors..................... ...»

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Can panic-driven legislation ever create safer societies? Criminal Justice Studies, 20 (4), 423–443.

Sample, L. L., & Kadleck, C. (2008). Sex offender laws: Legislators’ account of the need for policy. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19 (1), 40–62.

Welchans, S. (2005). Megan’s law: Evaluations of sexual offender registries. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 16 (2), 123–140.

Windlesham, L. (1998). Politics, Punishment and Populism. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Wright, R. G. (2004). Protection or Illusion: A Policy Analysis of Massachusetts & Federal Sex Offender Legislation. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Boston 2004.

Wright, R. G. (2008). Sex offender post-incarceration sanctions: Are there any limits? New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement, 34 (1), 17–50.

Young, C. (2008). Children sex offenders: How the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act hurts the same children it is trying to protect. New England Journal of Criminal and Civil Confinement, 34 (2), 459–484.

Zgoba, K. M. (2004). Spin doctors and moral crusaders: The moral panic behind child safety legislation. Criminal Justice Studies, 17 (4), 384–404.

The Problem of Sexual Assault Francis M. Williams This chapter summarizes major empirical data and studies on sexual assault prevalence and treatment for sex offenders and includes a discussion about issues associated with special sex offender populations (i.e., juvenile and female sex offenders). Forms of sexual assault include forcible rape, sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. In many jurisdictions, sexual assault has replaced the term rape in most state statutes, acquiescing to the trend of defining terms with a gender-neutral approach.

Sex offender legislation is built on nonscientific premises that are skewed by public perceptions that all sex offenders are the same, that they reoffend at extremely high rates, that treatment does not work, and most importantly that most sexual assaults are committed by strangers—implying that if the public knew who the offenders were, the assaults would not

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occur. Almost 40 years of research into sexual victimization and offending debunk these premises. Equally as troubling is that nearly all U.S. sex offender laws are not only based on anecdotal high-profile tragedies but also go against the scientific findings on sexual victimization and perpetration.

All sex offenders are not the same; in fact, they are a heterogeneous population (Groth, Longo, & McFadin, 1982).

Juveniles constitute a reasonable share of the sex offender population, according to nationwide arrest statistics, and female sex offenders represent a growing population (Vandiver & Teske, 2006). Public recognition that men can be sexual assault victims and women can be perpetrators has more recently generated closer scrutiny. The recidivism rate is relatively low for sex offenders who reoffend sexually, but it is higher for those who fail to complete treatment (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998).

There are four critical questions that this chapter addresses: What is known about sexual assault victimization?

What is known about sexual assault perpetration? Does the recidivism of sex offenders justify the need for additional sex offender-specific policies? And, how effective or ineffective is sex offender treatment? These questions are addressed by presenting data and studies that have analyzed patterns of sexual victimization, sex offender recidivism, and the efficacy of treatment for both adult and juvenile offenders.

Sexual Assault Victimization National Data The feminist movements of the 1970s gave public voice to issues of adult sexual and domestic violence. As the political dialogue on sexual assault grew, the academic community documented previously unknown levels of abuse. One of the first seminal studies was Russell’s San Francisco study. It revealed that 24% of adult women had experienced a completed rape, with 44% experiencing a completed or attempted rape (Russell, 1983, 1984). Subsequently, in a random national survey of 6,159 college women, Koss, Gidycz, and Wisniewski (1987) found that 84% of women knew their attacker, estimating that one in four women had experienced rape or attempted rape.

The Problem of Sexual Assault The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) categorizes forcible rape under the violent crimes index and categorizes sex offenses (except forcible rape and prostitution) under Part II offenses. The UCR defines forcible rape as “having carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Assaults and attempted rape by force or threat of force are also included in this category. Preliminary 2007 UCR data (for law enforcement agencies with over 100,000 population) indicated a 2.7% drop in the number of forcible rapes (n = 92,445) reported in 2006.

A second source of sexual assault data is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). There has been a steady decline in the number of victims of sexual assault as reported in the NCVS between the years 1996 and 2006, from a high of more than 370,000 in 1999 to just fewer than 260,000 in 2006 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). The decline in sexual assault victimization mirrors the overall decline in violent crime victimization during the same time period, which shows a precipitous decline from over 9.5 million in 1996 to just over 6 million in 2006 (Ibid).





Sexual assault is a serious social problem that affects almost “18 million women and almost 3 million men in the United States” (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006, p. iii). Young people, particularly young women, are being victimized at alarming rates. The 1995–1996 National Violence Against Women (NVAW) Survey reported “younger women were significantly more likely to report being raped at some time in their lives than older women” (Ibid). The report used a definition of rape that includes attempted and completed vaginal, oral, and anal penetration achieved through the use of force.

This report also found that “one of every six women has been raped at some time and that in a single year more than 300,000 women and almost 93,000 men are estimated to have been raped” (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006, p. iii). Other significant findings from the National Violence Against Women (NVAW) report included the following: 95–96% of those who have been victimized were assaulted as children; being raped as a minor increased the probability for adulthood rape; intimate partner rape perpetrated by males on females resulted in significantly more injuries to the victim; and rape is still underreported. The satisfaction level from rape victims’ contacts with police was only about 50% (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). The report affirms the nature of the crime as one that

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is mostly perpetrated against women and children and one in which most female rape victims (83.3%) and male rape victims (71.2%) know their assailant.

Children as Victims The available information paints a disconcerting picture of sexual assault on minor children by nonstrangers; this includes family, relatives, or close family friends. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported that almost 10% (9.3%) of the victims of substantiated child maltreatment cases suffered sexual abuse (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). Using data drawn from the national Developmental Victimization Survey (DVS), Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, and Hamby (2005) reported that of the children and youth between the ages of 12 and 17 years, 1 in 12 (82 per 1,000) were victimized by a sexual assault.

Teenagers were disproportionately victimized compared to adults, and the majority of these perpetrations were committed by acquaintances. Finkelhor and Jones (2006) later noted that there has been a consistent decline in substantiated child sexual abuse cases.

Finkelhor and Jones (2006) reviewed possible explanations for the decline of various forms of child maltreatment and victimization between 1993 and 2004 many of which included incidents of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Paralleling other crimes, the authors noted that sexual abuse declined 49% between 1990 and 2004. Sexual assault of teenagers dropped 67% between 1993 and 2004, with the subgroup of sexual assaults by known persons down even more. The authors concluded that “they [the decreases] probably reflect at least in part a real decline in sexual abuse” (p. 688). Finkelhor and Jones (2006) further proposed explanations for these declines with the caveat that little empirical evidence is available to evaluate any of the factors. They first ruled out demographic changes and capital punishment policies as being relevant to juvenile victimization, mainly because their effect on child victimization is not leveraged by research.

Two other factors, gun control policies and the crack cocaine epidemic, were considered relevant only to juvenile homicide and possibly robbery trends. The authors found more plausible factors such as the impact of abortion legislation, improvement in the economy, growth in imprisonment and The Problem of Sexual Assault other serious legal sanctions, and hiring of more police and agents of social intervention.

Victim–Offender Relationship Data from the 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey showed that 73% (128,440) of female sexual assault victims were assaulted by someone they knew (U.S. Department of Justice, 2005). Among those known assailants, 38% (66,580) of the women were assaulted by a friend or acquaintance, and 28% of the assaults were committed by intimate partners (Catalano, 2006). The survey showed that nonstranger sexual assaults (123,010) were nearly twice as frequent as stranger sexual assaults (68,670). The NCVS repeatedly finds that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by intimate and known assailants (Catalano, 2006).

Tjaden and Thoennes (2006) noted that 22.8% of male victims and 16.7% of female victims were raped by a stranger.

Where males are generally raped by friends, teachers, coworkers or neighbors, females generally tend to be raped by spouses, cohabiting partners, dates, boyfriends, and girlfriends. Overall, 43% of all female and 9% of all male rape victims were raped by some type of current or former intimate partner. Nonspousal family members who perpetrated rape tended to do so while the victim was a child or adolescent. On the whole, females are at a significantly higher risk for rape than males.

Several studies have pointed out the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, primarily known as acquaintance rape (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000; Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987; Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987).

It has been estimated that one fourth of college women are victims of attempted rape or a committed rape (Koss et al., 1987). Alternately, it has been estimated that one fourth of college men have engaged in some form of sexually coercive behavior—actions that are consistent with rape or attempted rape—reemphasizing the patterns of known relationships between victims and offenders (Abbey, McAuslan, & Ross, 1998; Koss et al., 1987). In response to campus sexual assault patterns, Congress enacted several laws (e.g., the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 [The Clery Act] and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1992) requiring institutions of higher education to notify students about crime on campus, publicize their prevention

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and response policies, maintain open crime logs, and ensure sexual assault victims their basic rights.

The victim–offender relationship has been shown to be a key factor for violence, depressive symptomatology, and other pervasive mental health disorders, such as PTSD, substance abuse, fearfulness, and other somatic complaints (Browning & Laumann, 1997; Campbell & Soeken, 1999a, 1999b; Cascardi, Riggs, Hearst-Ikeda, & Foa, 1996; DeMaris & Kaukinen, 2005; DeMaris & Swinford, 1996; Harrison, Fulkerson, & Beebe, 1997; Jasinski et al., 2000; Kilpatrick et al., 1987; Miller, Monson & Norton, 1995; Saunders et al., 1999;

Stermac, Du Mont, & Dunn, 1998; Ullman & Brecklin, 2003).

For example, a study of 700 women who had been violently victimized found more reports of depressive symptoms when the assailant was known to the victim.

Whether the assault occurred when the victim was a child or adolescent had no consequences on overall victim health (DeMaris & Kaukinen, 2005). Contradicting those findings is Ullman and Brecklin’s 2003 study. They reported that women with both childhood and adult sexual assaults had more recent chronic medical conditions than women with assault in adulthood or childhood alone. Their subsample (n = 474) of women who had been assaulted in both life stages showed contact with health professionals for mental health/substance abuse issues over their lifetime was significantly more likely. In addition, combined child/adult victims diagnosed with PTSD and those with stressful life events had more chronic medical conditions.

Browning and Laumann (1997) found that women who experience child-adult sexual contact are more sexually active in both adolescence and adulthood, have sex at an earlier age and are more likely to bear children before they turn 19, have substantially higher numbers of sexual partners, and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and experience forced sex (p. 557). Harrison et al. (1997) examined the relationship between physical and sexual abuse and substance use patterns in adolescents and found that abuse victims “use a greater variety of substances, earlier initiation of substance use, and more frequent attempts to self-medicate painful emotions” (p. 536). DeMaris and Swinford (1996) found that attempted or completed forced sexual relations were positively related to increased fearfulness in women. Similarly Campbell and Soeken (1999) found in their study of 159 primarily The Problem of Sexual Assault (77%) African American women who were forced to have sex by an intimate partner showed significant levels of depression and also had high scores on negative health and gynecological symptoms, and risk factors for homicide.



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