Just published in the Huffington Post, a cogent article about how lawmakers continue to use “stranger danger” myths to keep almost a million Americans out of work and on the verge of homelessness.
Despite child sexual abuse declining by 60% between 1992 and 2010, states continue to legislate as if lenient sex offender laws are a national emergency. And, like so many other corners of the criminal justice system, the crackdown hasn’t affected all Americans equally. State registries are disproportionately black and overwhelmingly poor. As demonstrated by the recent case of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire long accused of molesting underage girls, local prosecutors and judges have wide discretion to overlook wealthy offenders while imposing impossible restrictions on poorer ones.
While the criteria for sex offender registries vary widely between states, they are all based on the same two false assumptions: that sex offenders are uniquely likely to reoffend, and that notifying their employers, landlords and neighbors of their status will make that outcome less likely.
The first assumption is based on the “stranger danger” myth — that serial predators commit most offenses against children. In reality, strangers carry out only 7% of these crimes. Statistically speaking, the greatest risks to children are their parents, other children and authority figures they know and trust.
Researchers consistently find that sex offenders are in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals. A study of nearly 1,800 sex offenders across four states found that only 10% reoffended in the decade after their release from prison — far lower than the 83% recidivism rate for parolees convicted of other crimes.
Not only are registered sex offenders relatively unlikely to reoffend, but the registries themselves appear to have no effect whatsoever on recidivism rates. Numerous studies have found that enacting sex offender registries doesn’t reduce the rate of sex crimes and that states don’t see a drop in the number of abuse victims after enacting harsher requirements.