Guilt by Association: Labeling Research-Based Policy Suggestions as “Pro-Offender”

Free-Flowing Hate & Misinformation

The post advocated letters and petition-signing to the governing body of a sport, with the goal of banning all registrants from acting as a participant or spectator at sponsored events. After a week online, close to 2,400 people had signed the petition. (As an aside, this venue, often with children present and often in a public greenspace, would likely be restricted by existing laws that target a registrant’s movements.) It came to the attention of the original poster that a male registrant involved in this sport was paroled after serving 12-years of a 14-year prison sentence. The registrant pled guilty when he was in his early 30s to 4 counts, including indecency with a child and sexual conduct with a person under the age of 16. The individual was seen participating in an event (apparently permitted by the conditions of his parole as employment). There were indeed minors present and his presence offended majority of individuals on the thread.


Some individuals expressed variations of myths likely learned from the media: “Pedophiles cannot be rehabilitated which is why they are required to register for the rest of their lives” or “Pedophiles are incapable of reform according to studies. He will continue to prey on young girls.” One person commented: “You don’t cure pedophiles. That is why the registries exist….” And someone was quick to respond: “You do. With a bullet.” Another suggested: “Sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated. This is not my personal opinion it is fact. Guaranteed this little (expletive) WILL do this again and again and again, just give it time…There is no cure!”


In response to these incorrect assertions, I linked a couple of easy-to-read articles that demonstrate empirical evidence that treatment can reduce the risk of recidivism and advance public safety. One link was to The Effectiveness of Treatment for Sexual Offenders the other to the New Hope for Sex Offender Treatment page. There were no comments to these links.


Many of the posters suggested they were informed about the recidivism rates of registrants: “You are part of the problem. Are you aware that sexual predators have a 90% reoffend rate? That is a 90% KNOWN reoffend rate. That actual data is skewed since most sexual assaults go unreported. It is, more than likely, closer to 99%.”


Wanting to correct this piece of misinformation, I linked an article published in the American Journal of Public Health that outlines several longitudinal recidivism studies. The article is Sex Offender Laws and Prevention of Sexual Violence or Recidivism. Several of the highlighted statistics point to a 2.1% recidivism rate for a second sex crime over 16 years in New York state, and a 5.5% recidivism rate over 14 years in Ohio. While the article points out methodology issues in recidivism studies, it clearly notes that “most new sexually based crimes are committed by someone not on the registry.”

Inserting Evidence

As the American criminal justice system continues to strengthen laws against individuals who have committed a sexual offense, it is important to understand how attitudes toward controversial criminological topics can be altered based on scientific understanding rather than a media frenzy. In an unsuccessful attempt to share some of the evidence I have learned from 15-years researching sex offenses, I shared this post:



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Lisa Anne Zilney

Lisa Anne Zilney

Educating the public about (1) collateral consequences of sex offense laws; (2) issues surrounding drugs and the drug war; and (3) other social justice issues.