Sex offender registries were established to keep children and communities safer. But, research shows that registration incorrectly presumes that children who commit sexual offenses are a risk to their communities. Here are five facts, based in research, that lawyers need to know.
- Youth who commit sexual offenses in childhood are unlikely to commit a subsequent sex offense. Studies universally confirm that sex offense recidivism among youth is exceptionally low—between 3–5 percent.
- Youths’ already low recidivism rates drop off dramatically after a very short period of time. When rare sexual recidivism does occur among young offenders, it is nearly always within the first few years following the original offense.
- The severity of a youth’s offense is not predictive of re-offense. Laws that create lengthier terms of registration or no ability to remove youth from registries based on type of offense are inconsistent with research.
- Youth who commit sex offenses are similar to youth who engage in non-sexual delinquent behavior. Multiple studies confirm that children who commit sexual offenses are motivated by impulsivity and sexual curiosity, not predatory, paraphilic, or psychopathic characteristics. With maturation, a better understanding of sexuality, and decreased impulsivity, these behaviors stop.
- Registering youth who have committed sex offenses does not reduce their already low recidivism rates. A 2008 study found no measurable difference in recidivism rates for registered and unregistered children who committed sexual offenses. In fact, recidivism rates among youth who have committed a sexual offense are lower in states that do not register youth.
The sources and research for the above points are:
- Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 198 (2010), available at http://commissiononsexoffenderrecidivi sm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Caldwell-Michael-2010-Study-Characteristics-and-recidivism-base-rates-in-juvenile-sex-offender-recidivism.pdf; Michael F. Caldwell, Sexual Offense Adjudication and Recidivism Among Juvenile Offenders, 19 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment, 107 (2007); Michael F. Caldwell et al., An Examination of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act as Applied to Juveniles: Evaluating the Ability to Predict Sexual Recidivism, 14 Psychol., Pub. Pol’y, & L. 89 (2008); E.M. Driessen, Characteristics of Youth Referred for Sexual Offenses, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2002); Michael P. Hagan et al., Eight-Year Comparative Analysis of Adolescent Rapists, Adolescent Child Molesters, Other Adolescent Delinquents, and the General Population, 45 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 314 (2001); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Investigating the Continuity of Sex offending: Evidence from the Second Philadelphia Birth Cohort, 26 Justice Q. 58 (2009); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Sexual Delinquency in Racine: Does Early Sex Offending Predict Later Sex Offending in Youth and Young Adulthood?, 6 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 507 (2007).
- Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 205.
- Ashley Batastini et al., Federal Standards for Community Registration of Juvenile Sex Offenders, 17 Psychol. Pub. Pol’y & L. 451, 457-58 (2011); Franklin E. Zimring et al., Sexual Delinquency in Racine: Does Early Sex Offending Predict Later Sex Offending in Youth and Young Adulthood?, 6 Criminology & Pub. Pol’y 507 (2007).
- Michael F. Caldwell, What We Do Not Know About Juvenile Sexual Re-Offense Risk, 7 Child Maltreatment 291 (2002); Elizabeth Letourneau & Michael Miner, Juvenile Sex Offenders: A Case Against the Legal and Clinical Status Quo, 17 Sexual Abuse: J. Res. & Treatment 293, 331 (2005); Judith Becker & Scotia Hicks, Juvenile Sexual Offenders: Characteristics, Interventions, & Policy Issues, 989 Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 397, 399-400, 406 (2003); Michael Caldwell, et al., Study Characteristics & Recidivism Base Rates in Juvenile Sex Offender Recidivism, 54 Int’l J. Offender Therapy & Comp. Criminology 197, 197-98 (2010).
- Elizabeth Letourneau & Kevin Armstrong, Recidivism Rates for Registered and Nonregistered Juvenile Sexual Offenders, 20 Sexual Abuse: J. of Res. and Treatment 393 (2008).