Wednesday, September 9, 2015

neighborhoods with more RSOs report fewer sex offenses

Amid a growing national debate over sex offender registries, researchers who studied years of crime data from Baltimore County have released a new finding: Neighborhoods with more registered sex offenders experienced fewer reported sex offenses. [My emphasis.]
Unexpected. Or is it?
[University of Michigan law professor J.J.] Prescott and co-author Amanda Y. Agan, a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton, say they wanted to test the assumption that the risk of victimization is higher in places where convicted offenders live — the basis, they say, for laws that mandate registries. ...
Agan and Prescott found that each sex offender registered in a neighborhood was associated with 7.5 percent fewer reported sex offenses.
The researchers suggest possible explanations for this.
Sex offender laws appear likely to increase the attractiveness of a registrant's offending away from home, they wrote...
Hang on, here. Does this suggest that all those residence restriction laws are pointless? Is it really possible that someone would travel farther than 500 or 1500 or 2500 feet to commit another sex offense? This explanation begins with the assumption that registered citizens are committing undiscovered crimes, hardly a benign assumption.
...and public registries may make residents better able to protect themselves from registered offenders who live nearby.
If looking at the registry improves our ability to protect against sex offenses, that would imply that the dastardly registered sex offenders target the registry watchers in order to give the neighborhood a lower rate of sex offenses. Those who don't watch the registry are, according to this theory, as able or as unable to protect themselves as they were without the registry, having no effect on the neighborhood rate of offense. This theory depends on RSOs knowing who watches the registry and who doesn't. It also depends on the assumption that registered citizens are trying to commit crimes.
Ryan T. Shields, a scientist at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said a growing body of research shows state registries have little effect on sexual victimization rates.
Growing body of research, indeed. It is difficult to find any clear research findings that the registries have any good effect on sex offense rates.
He said he was not surprised by the most recent findings. Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people who know the victim — such as relatives and family friends. 
"People who are not registered account for the vast majority of sex offenses in a given year," Shields said. [My emphasis.]
If those who are not registered are comitting most sex offenses, that means the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit another sex offense.
But state Sen. Jim Brochin, a staunch supporter of the state's registry, said it has given families an important tool they need to protect their children. 
Whoa, there, Senator. Protect their children against whom? How does the registry protect children against the people who are not registered but who account for the vast majority of sex offenses?
"We're not going stop every sex offender from doing the horrific things they do, but we have an obligation to our neighbors to make sure they have all the information that the courts and the judicial system have about where these offenders are," the Towson Democrat said. "You have a right to know, when your kids are outside playing, if there are predators nearby."
Sex offenders doing horrific things. Kids playing outside with predators nearby. Oh, stop, Senator! You frighten me so!

See where Senator Brochin is going with his wild imaginings? Probably toward the next election.

Occam's Razor says the simplest explanation is likely correct, so let's set aside unproven assumptions that sex offenders are committing or trying to commit more sex offenses and focus on facts to find the simplest explanation.

Even before registries, sex offenders were unlikely to reoffend. A neighborhood with a large number of RSOs is full of people--the RSOs themselves--who are familiar with the signs of sex abuse (or sexual compulsions) and its terrible effects on a family. This is why they tend not to offend again.

Simple enough?

Another simple explanation is that a neighborhood who sees how difficult life is for registered citizens and their families is less likely to report a sex offense.

Researchers should look at the possibility that harsh treatment of sex offenders encourages people to hide sex offenses that happen within the circle of family and friends.

Tucked into the article at the link are some encouraging words.
...a growing national debate over sex offender registries... 
The debate is growing because registered citizens and their families are standing up and speaking out.
...a growing body of research shows state registries have little effect on sexual victimization rates...
Research is proving us right: abolishing the registry makes sense.

1 comment:

Ethan Edwards said...

Great post, and I fundamentally agree with you. But this one section "If those who are not registered are comitting most sex offenses, that means the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit another sex offense" isn't quite right logically. You could imagine a tiny group of people who were very likely to commit another crime, but who nonetheless are not committing much of that kind of crime because there are so few of them. No need to dilute the long list of good arguments with one that's not so good. In fact, you and I know that they are actually very unlikely to commit another such crime.

More generally, your series of great posts continues.