Myths Regarding the Number of Sex Crimes and Sex Offenders and Associated Trends

It has been emphasized in this textbook that it is (wrongly) believed by many that the number of sex crimes and sex offenders has recently increased. This is mired in an emerging culture of "panic," resulting in policies that may or may not decrease sex crimes. Evidence from several sources indicates that the number of sex crimes has actually decreased over the past several years.

There are many unanswered questions surrounding this myth, however. For example, much of the research covered in Chapter 1 is limited to just a few data sources. Most of those data sources require that a crime be reported to law enforcement officials. What we do not know is the true number of sex crimes that occur. We know, for example, that:

  • • Many victims do not report sex crimes for a variety of reasons.
  • • Sex crimes have additional investigational obstacles to successful prosecution.
  • • Victims of sex crimes are often "groomed."
  • • Most sex offenders know their victims.
  • • Some sex offenders are in a position of authority to the victim (e.g., teacher or relative).

All of these lead to low reporting of sex crimes. More accurate measures of sex crimes and sex offenders are needed. Research that involves more than one measure of sex crimes, for example, can yield more accurate results. As noted in Chapter 10, the use of polygraph examinations for convicted sex offenders has resulted in increased knowledge about the range of sex crimes they commit. There are opportunities to capture more accurate information about sex crimes and sex offenders.

Another unanswered question is why sex offenders have low recidivism rates. More research is needed to address this question through carefully designed studies that accurately measure recidivism. For example, are sex offenders more likely to recidivate than other types of offenders, such as burglars? As noted by Bader, Welsh, & Scalora (2010), using multiple indicators of recidivism (such as arrest records and reports to child protective service agencies) has revealed higher rates of recidivism than relying only on one measure, such as arrest records. Currently, our knowledge is based on those we know have committed sex crimes because they have been caught, but we do not know about those who have not been caught.

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