«Sex Offender Laws Failed Policies, New Directions ■ Richard G. Wright, PhD NEW YORK Contents Contributors..................... ...»
Adult Perpetration and Childhood Sexual Victimization The relationship between offense history and childhood sexual victimization has been detailed in a number of studies.
Finkelhor (1994) suggests a 5% to 10% lifetime prevalence of childhood sexual victimization in men who are sex offenders.
Loh and Gidycz (2006) investigated the relationship between childhood sexual assault and subsequent perpetration of dating violence in adulthood in men. They found a significant relationship between childhood sexual abuse and history of sexual assault perpetration at baseline. Prospective analyses indicated that childhood sexual assault was not predictive of perpetration during the follow-up period. These results are supportive of the idea that the effects of childhood sexual abuse may be mediated by a variety of factors.
White and Smith (2004) conducted a 5-year evaluation of college men and found that childhood victimization
36 Chapter 2was associated with increased likelihood of perpetration of sexual assault in adolescence, which in turn was associated with increased likelihood of perpetrating sexually aggressive acts in college. Only adolescent sexual perpetration was predictive of perpetration during college when these variables were considered collectively.
Finally, more recently, Robertiello and Terry (2007) suggested that rather than looking at distinct unique characteristics, the best way to understand sex offender typologies is to view them along a continuum. They argued that those likely to recidivate have certain characteristics. Therefore, by identifying characteristics and motivations for offending, recidivism can be reduced. By utilizing offender interpersonal and situational characteristics and/or victim choice, information provides a distinction among types of offenders.
Female Sex Offenders Female sex offenders are an understudied population. It is not uncommon for female sex offending to go unreported or unnoticed or even to be diverted from the criminal justice system (Allen, 1991). Part of the issue of underreporting lies with media portrayals of sex offenders. As will be discussed throughout this book, mainstream media often portray sex offenders as exclusively males. Many adult male victims will not report victimization at all and will rarely report being victimized by a female. Allen further suggested that it is only those females who have committed the more serious forms of sexual abuse who are likely to be charged.
Ramsay-Klawsnik, (1990) reported that out of 83 cases involving children who were sexually abused, only one of the accused female sex offenders was subjected to criminal prosecution. Despite the fact that the abuse was confirmed through diagnostic evaluation and was often sadistic in nature, the females were not prosecuted. In 56% of the cases, the abuse included burning, beating, biting, or pinching the breasts or genitals of the children, or tying them up during acts of sexual assault.
Female sex offenders can go unnoticed because they can easily disguise sex offending as part of the routine of child-rearing activities and boys are less likely to report it because of embarrassment (Groth & Birnbaum, 1979; Kaplan & Green, 1995). Others have noted that there is a problem The Problem of Sexual Assault with treating female sex offending as a less serious offense because it is viewed as relatively harmless (Becker, Hall, & Stinson, 2001; Broussard, Wagner, Kazelskis, 1991; Denov, 2003, 2004; Finkelhor, Williams, & Burns, 1988; Hetherton, 1999). Finally, female sex offenders can be difficult to prosecute and juries are less willing to convict females for lesser sexual offenses (Finkelhor, 1983; Mayer, 1992).
According to the Uniform Crime Reports, females represent only 10% of the sex offense cases that come to the attention of authorities. More specifically, arrests of females represent only 1% of all adult arrests for forcible rape and 6% of all adult arrests for other sex offenses (FBI, 2006).
Female sex offenders have been found to choose victims based partially on their level of access (e.g., their own children or others who are in their care) (O’Connor, 1987; Rosencrans, 1997). More recent studies have found that for convicted female sex offenders, teenagers are likely targets (Ferguson & Meehan, 2005; Vandiver, 2006; Vandiver & Kercher, 2004). They may also be acting in concert with a male accomplice (co-offender) and thus may only be serving as a tool to gain access to a victim, whereas others have their own self-interest and act on their own (solo offender) (Kaplan & Green, 1995; Vandiver, 2006).
Vandiver (2006) found that with female sex offenders, those who are co-offenders (with males) were more likely to have more than one victim, had both male and female victims, were related to the victim, and committed a nonsexual offense in addition to the listed sexual offense, as compared to solo offenders. Similar to male sex offenders, female sex offenders may seek out occupations that involve children (Faller, 1988; Finkelhor et al., 1988).
Matthews, Mathews, and Speltz (1991) developed a typology of female sex offenders based on their study of 16 women who had been sentenced to a sex offender treatment program between May 1985 and December 1987. Three types of offenders were indentified. The teacher/lover typically targeted adolescent males they believed they were in love with. The intergenerationally predisposed had been sexually abused as a child by multiple perpetrators, resulting in the inability to establish relationships, promiscuity, and exhibited abusive and self-destructive behaviors. The malecoerced offenders were passive and powerless in their interpersonal relationships and ended up usually being dominated by their partners, and thus easily coerced into offending.
38 Chapter 2Vandiver and Kercher (2004) analyzed victim and offender characteristics of 471 female registered sex offenders in Texas. They ranged in age from 18 to 78, with 88% of them being white. They also found that these offenders had known victims in 82% of those cases. They developed six categories of offenders from their analysis. Their typology was organized by the following six categories: heterosexual nurturers, noncriminal homosexual offenders, sexual predators, young child exploiters, homosexual criminals, and aggressive homosexual criminal offenders.
In their 2002 study of 40 female sex offenders in Arkansas, Vandiver and Walker (2002) found that female sex offenders cover a broad range of ages, from as young as 13 to as old as 65, though the authors note that the onset may actually be younger because these youths are not typically accessed by clinical or judicial facilities. The majority of female sex offenders also tended to be married. Oliver (2007) concurred with Vandiver and Walker but added that female sex offenders were more likely to have experienced severe and repeated sexual abuse prior to age six, were more likely victims of incest, were more likely to have attempted suicide, and were more likely to have been diagnosed with PTSD.
More recently, Strickland (2008) studied a sample of 130 incarcerated females (60 sex offenders and 70 non–sex offenders) in Georgia institutions. Her analysis revealed that sex-offending women suffered significantly higher rates of total childhood trauma. There was no difference between the groups in personality disorders, although there were significant differences found for social and sexual inadequacies. No differences were found for emotional neediness. Again, effective sex offender laws understand and accommodate for differences among sex offenders. As evidenced by this review, there appear to be significant differences between male and female sex offenders, which existing policy does not address.
Juvenile Sex Offenders As mentioned in chapter 1, federal sex offender laws now extend to juveniles. With the enactment of the 2006 Walsh Act, juveniles are to be on par with adult sex offenders regarding registration and notification requirements. Given this change, it is important to analyze if and how juvenile sex offenders vary from adult offenders.
The Problem of Sexual Assault Juveniles are primarily versatile in their offending behavior. They are generally unpatterned and unspecialized.
Purely sexual offending among juveniles is a rare phenomenon. Additionally, most juvenile sex offenders do not go on to become adult sex offenders, though there may be a subset of chronic sex offenders who may be high risk.
According to UCR data for 2006, there were 2,519 persons under the age of 18 arrested for forcible rape and 11,516 in that same age group arrested for sex offenses—14.7% and 18.2%, respectively, of the total arrests for each category.
These figures represent a 9.4% decrease for forcible rapes and 8.3% decrease for sex offenses from 2005, which are consistent with the reduction in crime rates overall over the 10-year period between 1996 and 2006 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006).
Recidivism of Sex Offenders Underlying sex offender laws is the fear of sex offender recidivism, particularly the commission of new sexual assaults. A central assumption of these laws is the belief that sex offenders have higher recidivism rates than other criminals. The data presented below suggest that premise is false.
A 2002 BJS study of 272,111 former inmates from 15 states found that 67.5% were rearrested within a 3-year period. The majority of these rearrests were for felonies or serious misdemeanors. Of this group, 46.9% were convicted of a new crime. Rapists, who represented 1.2 % (n = 3,138) of the total of released inmates, were among those with the lowest rate (46%) of rearrest, as were other sexual assaultvi (41.4%) prisoners. The higher end for rearrest characteristics were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78%), those convicted of possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%). Within 3 years, 2.5% (n = 78) of released rapists were arrested for another rape. A rearrest rate of 2.5% for new sexual assaults, although a likely underestimate of actual reoffending, is still a low-frequency event (Langan & Levin, 2002).
There is evidence to suggest that nonsexual criminals rarely commit sexual offenses when they recidivate (Bonta & Hanson, 1995; Hanson, Scott, & Steffy, 1995). Scales designed
40 Chapter 2to predict general criminal recidivism do not capture the true risk of sexual offending (Bonta & Hanson, 1995). Therefore, sexual offending may be different from other types of crime.
Janus and Meehl’s (1997) review of the literature concluded that a base rate for sexual recidivism was 20%. Consequently, in order to identify factors related to recidivism, Hanson and Bussiere (1998) conducted a meta-analysis of sex offender recidivism studies. Their examination of 61 studies showed that overall sexual offense recidivism was low at 13.4% (n = 23,393) but that there were subgroups with higher recidivism rates. The best predictors for sexual recidivism were “measures of sexual deviancy (e.g., deviant sexual preferences, prior sexual offenses) and, to a lesser extent, by general criminological factors (e.g., age, total prior offenses)” (p. 348).
Offenders who failed to complete treatment had higher risks for reoffending both sexually and nonsexually. However, the predictors for nonsexual violent recidivism and general criminal recidivism were similar (e.g., prior violent offenses, age, juvenile delinquency) to those of nonsexual offenders.
These findings contradict the view that sex offenders inevitably reoffend because only a minority of the total sample were known to have committed a new sexual offense during the 4- to 5-year follow-up period (Hanson & Bussiere, 1998).
Recidivism rates vary significantly across studies mainly due to methodological differences. These differences include types of data sources, how recidivism is defined, and sample characteristics. Despite these issues, recidivism rates of sex offenders are relatively low. Hall (1995) conducted a meta-analysis (12 studies, n = 1,313) and found that 27% of untreated participants recidivated whereas only 19 % of treated participants recidivated. Later Alexander (1999), using a quasi meta-analytic framework (79 studies, n = 10,988), returned a 13% recidivism rate for sex offenders who participated in a treatment program as compared to 18% for untreated participants. Hanson et al. (2002) reviewed 38 studies of released sex offenders over a 46-month follow-up period and obtained an average sexual recidivism rate of 12% for participating sex offenders and a 17% recidivism rate in a comparison group (i.e., treatment dropout, treatment refusers, untreated participants).
At the beginning of the chapter a question was posed that asked, does the recidivism of sex offenders justify the need for additional sex offender specific policies? Methodological The Problem of Sexual Assault debates notwithstanding, the literature supports the contention that sexual assault recidivism rates are lower than recidivism rates for other violent and most nonviolent crime.
Still, sexual assault is an underreported crime, and any policy debate would have to factor in how this may or may not affect our responses. We must also take into account whether or not those who commit sexual offenses commit only sexual offenses or are more eclectic. However, the data do not support the rhetorical contention (often repeated in the policy debate) that sex offenders “always reoffend.” Are Sex Offenders Generalists or Specialists?
Two contrasting views have been put forward to describe the criminal activity of sex offenders in adulthood. The first view states that sex offenders are specialists who tend to repeat sexual crimes. The second argument is that sex offenders are generalists who do not restrict themselves to one particular type of crime. This debate is an important one in light of issues of public policy on how to best deal with sexual offending and recidivism in society. The variability of offenses and behavioral patterns for different types of sex offending has been documented (Bradway, 1990; Groth & Birnbaum, 1979; Knight & Prentky, 1990; Knight, Rosenberg, & Schneider 1985; Lieb & Matson, 1998). In general, studies have pointed out that there is evidence for both generality and specificity in behavioral patterns (Sample & Bray, 2003; Soothill, Francis, Sanderson, & Ackerley, 2000; Zimring, 2004). The research is inconclusive about the degree of specialization among sex offenders.