WASHINGTON June 22, 2012 - You might think separating fact from fiction about child sex offenders to be a waste of time. If people are found guilty of this crime, does it matter if what we believe about them is myth? Setting feelings aside, there are a couple good reasons why we need to see abusers realistically.
First, to find effective ways to keep children safe from offenders we must know all we can about them. Second, reducing recidivism requires those who treat child sex abusers to know what will or will not help them manage their impulses.
Beyond those two practical reasons, whether the issue is discussed privately or in the media, why just chew and spew a mishmash of semi-fact and fiction when there is actual data to look at.
A single, child sex offender profile does not exist. Though abusers can be put into sub groupings of offenders (i.e, abuse males or females), they are in many ways a diverse population.
Abusers do not share specific levels of intelligence, socioeconomic backgrounds, or age groups. Offenders come from all age and income levels, and have a wide range of IQ scores, from the extremely bright to those with limited mental capabilities.
Although being abused as a child puts people at higher risk for becoming sex offenders, many people abused when young do not become adult abusers. Nor have all convicted child sex offenders been abused as children. Why some people offend is the result of a multitude of factors coming together.
What is Known
There are three things that most child sex offenders have in common. Abusers are around 99% male. The majority is involved in some type of socially deviant behavior before they commit a first offense, and many have already abused one or more children before they are caught.
Child sex offenders are most often a male relative of the victim (other than the father, or stepfather), a friend of the family, a neighbor, or acquaintance. Strangers, fathers, or stepfathers, though often portrayed in literature and movies as typical offenders, are less likely to sexually abuse a child. Female offenders are most often a relative, mother, or stepmother.
It’s Not Simple
Not all pedophiles are child sex offenders. Not all child offenders are pedophiles. Some abusers leave a long trail of victims, others may abuse one child, or a few. Though many perpetrators re-offend after imprisonment, not all of them do. There is little that can be assumed about anyone who sexually abuses children.
Child sex abuse is also a crime that has many secondary victims. The primary victim has family and friends that also suffer the crime’s consequences, but they are not the only secondary victims.
No matter what you think of an abuser, their family members become typically silent and soon-forgotten victims of the offense.
Families of offenders generally experience overwhelming shame and guilt, the possible loss of friends, or other family members, and may having housing and financial difficulties because of the offender’s conviction. Children of child sex offenders not only have a parent absent from home, but experience the added emotional turmoil of living with their parent’s type of crime.
Feelings vs. Facts
Reacting emotionally to this swath of hurt, we tend to lump all child molesters together but that serves no purpose. What can strike anyone looking into this matter is that many child sex offenders are not that different from the rest of us. There is no way to look into a crowd and pick potential offenders out. Jerry Sandusky is a case in point.
To effectively keep children safe, help all the victims of an offense, and lower recidivism, we cannot sweep offenders under a sub-human rug. They have to be dealt with as the individuals they are.
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Richards, Kelly. (2011) Misperceptions about child sex offenders. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice. 429.
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