Sunday, October 1, 2017

Elizabeth Letourneau talks about non-offending pedophiles

In her TEDMED talk, Elizabeth Letourneau talks about a humbling experience: while developing a program to prevent adolescent pedophiles from offending, she was surprised to learn that adolescent pedophiles were already not offending, even without benefit of a program like hers.

Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Professor at the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said:
The peak age for engaging a pre-pubescent child in harmful or illegal sexual behavior is fourteen. Fourteen years old. So that's the first important fact, that about half of all sexual offenses committed against pre-pubescent children are committed by other children.
If we think back to our own childhoods, many of us can remember times when something happened that, today, would be labeled child sexual abuse and many of those instances involved child perpetrators. The same is true today.
Second. How likely do you think it is that a child who has one conviction for a sexual offense will get a conviction for a second sexual offense? In reality, 97 to 98% of children convicted of a sexual offense are never re-convicted of another one. Ninety-seven to ninety-eight percent do not reoffend with a new sexual offense.
With rare exceptions, the childhood perpetrators we can remember did not go on to a lifetime of sexual offenses.
My research shows that sex offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way. Instead, these policies cause harm. We surveyed 265 therapists who treat children who have sexually offended. Almost all of them linked registration and public notification to serious harmful outcomes.
Even children who are not on the registry themselves are harmed by the registry. When a parent or a sibling is on the registry, other children in the home are left to deal with the all the difficulties imposed by the registry. The family may need to relocate to a home that meets residence requirements, others in the neighborhood may shun the family. Imagine growing up and either not being allowed to invite friends over or not being able to live with the sibling on the registry. Imagine a parent who is not allowed to be alone with you or not allowed to attend your school events.

The registry and its rules damage families. Is it worth doing that to families in our community when everything points to the likelihood that the registrant will never re-offend? If we are trying to prevent child sexual abuse, the registry isn't doing that.

Letourneau develops programs to prevent sexual abuse of children.
Decades of research shows that we can prevent every other kind of child victimization--child physical abuse, child neglect, bullying, peer-on-peer physical violence. We can prevent these forms of abuse because we know why people offend in these ways. We've designed policies and programs to address those risk factors.
Well, we know why children engage in harmful and illegal sexual behaviors.... Risk factors include sheer ignorance, impulsivity, inadequate adult supervision, risk-taking, delinquency, and sometimes--rarely, but sometimes--sexual interest in young children. These are just some of the risk factors associated with adolescent sexual offending.
If it can be prevented, we need to learn how. Educating people on who is at risk is a start.

If pedophiles--those who have a genuine sexual attraction to children--can avoid offending, so can those who aren't pedophiles.

Letourneau says,
We rightly stigmatize and punish adult sexual violence but children are not adults. It is appropriate and it is just to treat them differently.
She is right that children who offend need to be treated differently from adults. Punishing adults for sexual violence is proper. Stigmatizing sexual violence is proper.

Stigmatizing those who have served their sentence by putting them on the registry, though, is wrong. As Letourneau said, offender registration and public notification do nothing--nothing--to prevent juvenile sexual offending or to improve community safety in any way.

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