Sunday, May 31, 2009

REPOST - Predator Panic: A Closer Look

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Benjamin Radford will be a guest on Americans Reality Check Radio June 3rd 9:30pmEST here is the great article that he put together. Back in 2006

Predator Panic: A Closer Look - By Benjamin Radford

"Protect the children." Over the years that mantra has been applied to countless real and perceived threats. America has scrambled to protect its children from a wide variety of dangers including school shooters, cyberbullying, violent video games, snipers, Satanic Ritual Abuse, pornography, the Internet, and drugs.

Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent protecting children from one threat or other, often with little concern for how expensive or effective the remedies are—or how serious the threat actually is in the first place. So it is with America’s latest panic: sexual predators.

According to lawmakers and near-daily news reports, sexual predators lurk everywhere: in parks, at schools, in the malls—even in children’s bedrooms, through the Internet. A few rare (but high-profile) incidents have spawned an unprecedented deluge of new laws enacted in response to the public’s fear. Every state has notification laws to alert communities about former sex offenders. Many states have banned sex offenders from living in certain areas, and are tracking them using satellite technology. Other states have gone even further; state emergency leaders in Florida and Texas, for example, are developing plans to route convicted sex offenders away from public emergency shelters during hurricanes. "We don’t want them in the same shelters as others," said Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw. (How exactly thousands of desperate and homeless storm victims are to be identified, screened, and routed in an emergency is unclear.)

An Epidemic?

To many people, sex offenders pose a serious and growing threat—especially on the Internet. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has made them a top priority this year, launching raids and arrest sweeps. According to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, "the danger to teens is high." On the April 18, 2005, CBS Evening News broadcast, correspondent Jim Acosta reported that "when a child is missing, chances are good it was a convicted sex offender." (Acosta is incorrect: If a child goes missing, a convicted sex offender is among the least likely explanations, far behind runaways, family abductions, and the child being lost or injured.) On his NBC series "To Catch a Predator," Dateline reporter Chris Hansen claimed that "the scope of the problem is immense," and "seems to be getting worse." Hansen claimed that Web predators are "a national epidemic," while Alberto Gonzales stated that there are 50,000 potential child predators online.

Sex offenders are clearly a real threat, and commit horrific crimes. Those who prey on children are dangerous, but how common are they? How great is the danger? After all, there are many dangers in the world—from lightning to Mad Cow Disease to school shootings—that are genuine but very remote. Let’s examine some widely repeated claims about the threat posed by sex offenders.

One in Five?

According to a May 3, 2006, ABC News report, "One in five children is now approached by online predators." This alarming statistic is commonly cited in news stories about prevalence of Internet predators, but the factoid is simply wrong. The "one in five statistic" can be traced back to a 2001 Department of Justice study issued by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children ("The Youth Internet Safety Survey") that asked 1,501 American teens between 10 and 17 about their online experiences. Anyone bothering to actually read the report will find a very different picture. Among the study’s conclusions: "Almost one in five (19 percent) . . . received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the past year." (A "sexual solicitation" is defined as a "request to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk or give personal sexual information that were unwanted or, whether wanted or not, made by an adult." Using this definition, one teen asking another teen if her or she is a virgin—or got lucky with a recent date—could be considered "sexual solicitation.") Not a single one of the reported solicitations led to any actual sexual contact or assault. Furthermore, almost half of the "sexual solicitations" came not from "predators" or adults but from other teens—in many cases the equivalent of teen flirting. When the study examined the type of Internet "solicitation" parents are most concerned about (e.g., someone who asked to meet the teen somewhere, called the teen on the telephone, or sent gifts), the number drops from "one in five" to just 3 percent.

This is a far cry from an epidemic of children being "approached by online predators." As the study noted, "The problem highlighted in this survey is not just adult males trolling for sex. Much of the offending behavior comes from other youth [and] from females." Furthermore, "Most young people seem to know what to do to deflect these sexual ‘come ons.’" The reality is far less grave than the ubiquitous "one in five" statistic suggests.

Recidivism Revisited

Much of the concern over sex offenders stems from the perception that if they have committed one sex offense, they are almost certain to commit more. This is the reason given for why sex offenders (instead of, say, murderers or armed robbers) should be monitored and separated from the public once released from prison. While it’s true that serial sex offenders (like serial killers) are by definition likely to strike again, the reality is that very few sex offenders commit further sex crimes.

The high recidivism rate among sex offenders is repeated so often that it is accepted as truth, but in fact recent studies show that the recidivism rates for sex offenses is not unusually high. According to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study ("Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in 1994"), just five percent of sex offenders followed for three years after their release from prison in 1994 were arrested for another sex crime. A study released in 2003 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within three years, 3.3 percent of the released child molesters were arrested again for committing another sex crime against a child. Three to five percent is hardly a high repeat offender rate.

In the largest and most comprehensive study ever done of prison recidivism, the Justice Department found that sex offenders were in fact less likely to reoffend than other criminals. The 2003 study of nearly 10,000 men convicted of rape, sexual assault, and child molestation found that sex offenders had a re-arrest rate 25 percent lower than for all other criminals. Part of the reason is that serial sex offenders—those who pose the greatest threat—rarely get released from prison, and the ones who do are unlikely to re-offend. If released sex offenders are in fact no more likely to re-offend than murderers or armed robbers, there seems little justification for the public’s fear and the monitoring laws targeting them. (Studies also suggest that sex offenders living near schools or playgrounds are no more likely to commit a sex crime than those living elsewhere.)

While the abduction, rape, and killing of children by strangers is very, very rare, such incidents receive a lot of media coverage, leading the public to overestimate how common these cases are. (See John Ruscio’s article "Risky Business: Vividness, Availability, and the Media Paradox" in the March/April 2000 Skeptical Inquirer.)

Why the Hysteria?

There are several reasons for the hysteria and fear surrounding sexual predators. The predator panic is largely fueled by the news media. News stories emphasize the dangers of Internet predators, convicted sex offenders, pedophiles, and child abductions. The Today Show, for example, ran a series of misleading and poorly designed hidden camera "tests" to see if strangers would help a child being abducted. [1] Dateline NBC teamed up with a group called Perverted Justice to lure potential online predators to a house with hidden cameras. The program’s ratings were so high that it spawned six follow-up "To Catch a Predator" specials. While the many men captured on film supposedly showing up to meet teens for sex is disturbing, questions have been raised about Perverted Justice’s methods and accuracy. (For example, the predators are often found in unmoderated chatrooms frequented by those looking for casual sex—hardly places where most children spend their time.) Nor is it surprising that out of over a hundred million Internet users, a fraction of a percentage might be caught in such a sting.

Because there is little hard data on how widespread the problem of Internet predators is, journalists often resort to sensationalism, cobbling a few anecdotes and interviews together into a trend while glossing over data suggesting that the problem may not be as widespread as they claim. But good journalism requires that personal stories—no matter how emotional and compelling—must be balanced with facts and context. Much of the news coverage about sexual predation is not so much wrong as incomplete, lacking perspective.

Moral Panics

The news media’s tendency toward alarmism only partly explains the concern. America is in the grip of a moral panic over sexual predators, and has been for many months. A moral panic is a sociological term describing a social reaction to a false or exaggerated threat to social values by moral deviants. (For more on moral panics, see Ehrich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s 1994 book Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance.)

In a discussion of moral panics, sociologist Robert Bartholomew points out that a defining characteristic of the panics is that the "concern about the threat posed by moral deviants and their numerical abundance is far greater than can be objectively verified, despite unsubstantiated claims to the contrary." Furthermore, according to Goode and Ben-Yehuda, during a moral panic "most of the figures cited by moral panic ‘claims-makers’ are wildly exaggerated."

Indeed, we see exactly this trend in the panic over sexual predators. News stories invariably exaggerate the true extent of sexual predation on the Internet; the magnitude of the danger to children, and the likelihood that sexual predators will strike. (As it turns out, Attorney General Gonzales had taken his 50,000 Web predator statistic not from any government study or report, but from NBC’s Dateline TV show. Dateline, in turn, had broadcast the number several times without checking its accuracy. In an interview on NPR’s On the Media program, Hansen admitted that he had no source for the statistic, and stated that "It was attributed to, you know, law enforcement, as an estimate, and it was talked about as sort of an extrapolated number.") According to Wall Street Journal writer Carl Bialik, journalists "often will use dubious numbers to advance that goal [of protecting children] . . . one of the reasons that this is allowed to happen is that there isn’t really a natural critic. . . . Nobody really wants to go on the record saying, ‘It turns out this really isn’t a big problem.’"

Panicky Laws

Besides needlessly scaring children and the public, there is a danger to this quasi-fabricated, scare-of-the-week reportage: misleading news stories influence lawmakers, who in turn react with genuine (and voter-friendly) moral outrage. Because nearly any measure intended (or claimed) to protect children will be popular and largely unopposed, politicians trip over themselves in the rush to endorse new laws that "protect the children."

Politicians, child advocates, and journalists denounce current sex offender laws as ineffective and flawed, yet are rarely able to articulate exactly why new laws are needed. Instead, they cite each news story about a kidnapped child or Web predator as proof that more laws are needed, as if sex crimes would cease if only the penalties were harsher, or enough people were monitored. Yet the fact that rare crimes continue to be committed does not necessarily imply that current laws against those crimes are inadequate. By that standard, any law is ineffective if someone violates that law. We don’t assume that existing laws against murder are ineffective simply because murders continue to be committed.

In July 2006, teen abduction victim Elizabeth Smart and child advocate John Walsh (whose murdered son Adam spawned America’s Most Wanted) were instrumental in helping pass the most extensive national sex offender bill in history. According to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the bill’s sponsor, Smart’s 2002 "abduction by a convicted sex offender" might have been prevented had his bill been law. "I don’t want to see others go through what I had to go through," said Smart. "This bill should go through without a thought." Yet bills passed without thought rarely make good laws. In fact, a closer look at the cases of Elizabeth Smart and Adam Walsh demonstrate why sex offender registries do not protect children. Like most people who abduct children, Smart’s kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, was not a convicted sex offender. Nor was Adam Walsh abducted by a sex offender. Apparently unable to find a vocal advocate for a child who had actually been abducted by a convicted sex offender, Hatch used Smart and Walsh to promote an agenda that had nothing to do with the circumstances of their abductions. The two high-profile abductions (neither by sex offenders) were somehow claimed to demonstrate the urgent need for tighter restrictions on sex offenders. Hatch’s bill, signed by President Bush on July 27, will likely have little effect in protecting America’s children.

The last high-profile government effort to prevent Internet predation occurred in December 2002, when President Bush signed the Dot-Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act into law, creating a special safe Internet "neighborhood" for children. Elliot Noss, president of Internet address registrar Tucows Inc., correctly predicted that the domain had "absolutely zero" chance of being effective. The "" domain is now a largely ignored Internet footnote that has done little or nothing to protect children.

Tragic Misdirection

The issue is not whether children need to be protected; of course they do. The issues are whether the danger to them is great, and whether the measures proposed will ensure their safety. While some efforts—such as longer sentences for repeat offenders—are well-reasoned and likely to be effective, those focused on separating sex offenders from the public are of little value because they are based on a faulty premise. Simply knowing where a released sex offender lives—or is at any given moment—does not ensure that he or she won’t be near potential victims. Since relatively few sexual assaults are committed by released sex offenders, the concern over the danger is wildly disproportionate to the real threat. Efforts to protect children are well-intentioned, but legislation should be based on facts and reasoned argument instead of fear in the midst of a national moral panic.

The tragic irony is that the panic over sex offenders distracts the public from the real danger, a far greater threat to children than sexual predators: parental abuse and neglect. The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by released sex offenders but instead by the victim’s own family, church clergy, and family friends. According to a 2003 report by the Department of Human Services, hundreds of thousands of children are abused and neglected each year by their parents and caregivers, and more than 1,500 American children died from that abuse in 2003—most of the victims under four years old. That is more than four children killed per day—not by convicted sexual offenders or Internet predators, but by those entrusted to care for them. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "danger to children is greater from someone they or their family knows than from a stranger."

If journalists, child advocates, and lawmakers are serious about wanting to protect children, they should turn from the burning matchbook in front of them to face the blazing forest fire behind them. The resources allocated to tracking ex-felons who are unlikely to re-offend could be much more effectively spent on preventing child abuse in the home and hiring more social workers.

Eventually this predator panic will subside and some new threat will take its place. Expensive, ineffective, and unworkable laws will be left in its wake when the panic passes. And no one is protecting America from that.


For more on this, see my article "Stranger Danger: ‘Shocking’ TV Test Flawed" here.

Should mom be charged for knowing about teen's affair with teacher?

Ethics of NBC'S sting show "To Catch a Predator"

NPR Article

Hosted by: RealityUSA

Title: Ethics of NBC'S sting show "To Catch a Predator"

Time: 05/29/2009 04:19 AM EDT

Episode Notes: Listen to Chris Hansen (NBC Datline), Xavier (President of Perverted Justice) and a Few reporters questioning the Ethics of the show "To Catch a Predator"

NY - Sex offender law questioned in wake of shooting

View the article here



ALBANY - At least two of New York's nine most dangerous sex offenders freed under a two-year old civil confinement law have faced arrest on sex charges again, including one who this week shot a police officer then killed himself.

State lawmakers said they'll study the law, designed to restrict and monitor some sex offenders after they leave prison, to see if it's too easy for some offenders to be returned to the streets.

The latest was _____, who was freed from civil confinement by a jury in September, about a year after his release from prison. _____ was picked up Wednesday and was being charged with rape when he grabbed a Dutchess County detective's pistol and fired a shot that grazed the officer's head. He then holed up for three hours in the county building before shooting himself.

The first sex offender freed in the jury stage of the 2007 state law, _____ of Washington County, was accused of rape and kidnapping a woman in Georgia a year ago. That was eight months after a jury found there wasn't enough evidence of a mental abnormality, as required under the law, to confine him or order him to be strictly supervised in the community.

"The question is, what does the jury really know?" said Assemblyman Joel Miller (Email), a Dutchess County Republican. "Judges normally do that and it's only when we play this game when people claim mental illness that we fool the jury. This isn't supposed to be a game. People with competence should make the decisions, not turn it over to lay people."

The Republican said he will seek changes in the Democrat-controlled chamber to improve the sex offender management law because of the shooting.

"Frankly, I don't like any part of the current system," said Miller, noting that it provides a false sense of security. "I think we created a charade that misleads the public."

The state now confines 81 sex offenders in mental health facilities. They can petition a court for release annually.

The next highest level of "civil management" under the law is to require "strict and intensive supervision" in the community. The state has put 65 offenders in that category so far. Of them, 29 violated the conditions of their release and 10 were charged with sex-related violations or new offenses. Of those, five did not involve physical contact, according to state records.

"It's a new law and a new experience and we are constantly monitoring and evaluating it," said John Caher, spokesman for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. "I don't believe there are any concrete proposals on the table at the moment to effect any major changes."

There was no immediate comment from the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly, or Democratic Gov. David Paterson (Contact).

"We have big concerns," said Sen. Dale Volker (Contact) of Erie County who was part of then-Republican majority in the Senate that supported the 2007 law. "The reason we passed the civil confinement law is because there are some people you need to keep in confinement. We'll look into this."

The law was aimed at a void in the criminal justice system: Once sex offenders, who often repeat their crimes especially without rehabilitation, completed their prison terms and parole, there was little way to monitor or help them. The 2007 law sought to rehabilitate, rather than punish, the sex offenders.
- The above is a lie, many studies prove this, yet like usual, they do not care about facts, only what can further their careers and make them "look good" to the sheeple.

The system creates a series of checks and reviews by medical and judicial officials.

Since it was effective in April 2007, the state prison system and Parole Division has referred 3,252 sex offenders. The state Office of Mental Health rejected 2,691 cases as not warranting supervision or confinement beyond their jail sentences. The other steps in the process, including psychiatric evaluations and judicial reviews, which can eliminate cases from consideration for further confinement, further winnowed the group. That left only the nine who were confined and 65 on strict and intensive supervision in a community. Many cases are pending the jury stage, which is at the end of the process.

"There is no hole dark or deep enough for these sick and twisted predators," said Assemblyman Greg Ball (Email), a Republican whose district includes Dutchess County. He said the most serious offenders must be confined permanently.
- Here is another many who is exploiting sex offenders and people's fears for votes.  He is running for congress, so of course he's going to say this, without backing it up with facts, and also, not all sex offenders are predators, which he assumes they are, or just says that to make himself look better.

_____ was convicted in 2004 of felony sexual abuse in a case involving a 17-year-old. He had spent more than 500 days in jail before that, and was released twice from prison and returned for parole violations, according to state prison records.

In prison, he logged 27 disciplinary incidents, including fighting, harassment, smoking and an unnamed sex offense, according to corrections records. He was released in 2007.

_____ had served nearly 15 years in prison for an attempted first-degree rape conviction in 1993 in Albany.

FL - Registry Laws Cause More Problems Than Homelessness

Someone with an organization out of Virginia called Reform Sex Offenders Laws read about South Florida's struggle with the unintended consequences of the sex offender residency laws -- essentially consigning offenders into homelessness. RSOL's response raised a series of troubling questions about other problems with overreaching sex offender laws. The statement:

Are Americans aware that their teenagers are having consensual sex which could result in the older teen being convicted of sexual assault, battery or rape a prison sentence and being listed on a Sex Offender Registry for 15 years, 20 years or for a lifetime?

Are Americans aware that their teenagers are e-mailing and texting nude photos of themselves and others? This could result in both teens being charged with creating, distributing and possessing child pornography with time in prison and being listed on a Sex Offender Registry for a lifetime.

Are Americans aware that if they receive one unwanted e-mail or text of child pornography on their computer or phone and a service technician finds the old/deleted file they will be charged with possessing child pornography? Resulting in time in prison and being listed on the Sex Offender Registry for a lifetime.

Are Americans aware that if they have knowledge that their juvenile child is having consensual sex with someone of 18 years or older, they (the parent) can be convicted of indecent liberties by person of supervision and listed on a Sex Offender Registry for 15 years, 20 years or for a lifetime?

Are Americans aware that middle schoolers have been convicted and listed on Sex Offender Registries for pinching other middle schoolers on their rear-end?

Are Americans aware that because of the “Victim’s Rights Laws & Rape Shield Laws” an ACCUSATION ALONE is sufficient for a conviction, a prison term of 5 to 25 years or even life and then being listed on a Sex Offender Registry most likely for life?

Are Americans aware that NO evidence, NO witness, NO dates or times have to be given by an accuser?

Are Americans aware that they CAN NOT defend themselves by supplying evidence or witnesses that can prove an accuser is lying and had motive to lie?

Are Americans aware that some States (Virginia) allow an accuser only 21 DAYS to recant a lie? Any amount of time after 21 days the wrongful conviction, the prison term and remaining on a Sex Offender Registry stands. If a witness was found 15 years after a murder case that could convict the murderer or if DNA was discovered to free a wrongfully convicted person 25 years later why can’t an accuser recant and the conviction be stricken from the record?

Are Americans aware they are no longer innocent until proven guilty in America when there is a sexual claim. They are guilty and not allowed to prove their innocence?

There is a huge difference between stealing a newspaper and robbing a bank, both crimes are considered theft but both are differentiated by law and society.

Are Americans aware that the current laws that label someone as a Sex Offender in the U.S do not differentiate? Whether you are accused of teenage consensual sex, urinating in public, mooning or streaking, pinching or touching someone or being a serial rapist upon your return to society, conviction and sentence will be the same.

Are Americans aware that a VERY large number of Registered Sex Offenders have never touched or raped anyone, let alone a child? But guilt by association on the Sex Offender Registry labels them all as a “pervert” a “pedophile” and a “predator” for life.

Are Americans aware that somes states' legislatures (Virginia 2006 & 2008) broadly re-classified Non-Violent Offenders to Violent Offenders? This includes many offenses that had NO physical contact. The situation that has been imposed upon the “Registered” is that, under the guise of protecting our children, the Legislators are in fact repeatedly trying, convicting and re-sentencing Citizens without even notifying them that this has occurred. To re-sentence a Citizen of the United States without giving them the opportunity to testify on their own behalf is clearly a violation of their Constitutional Rights.

Our Legislators have taken a group of people and used them as a platform to win elections and instill fear into the parents of our country so that they look like heroes. People that are not "child-molesters", "pedophile's" or perverts" have all been bucketed into one massive Registry and must endure a lifetime of shame. The Sex Offender Registries are extremely costly both financial and to the families of the registered. Contrary to popular belief among the Legislators there is indeed hardship related to being listed on a Sex Offender Registry. The lives being destroyed are not just the “registered” but their spouse, their children and every family member sharing their name and address. When you are a “Registered Sex Offender” you struggle to find and keep housing, employment and your family because of the stress and humiliation that the Registry creates within yourself, your neighbors, your co-workers and vigilantes looking for justice for a victim they don’t even know. The Sex Offender Registries are not protecting anyone, they are a means to humiliate, degrade, re-prosecute and destroy the lives of thousands of innocent citizens.

The Studies below have proven that the current Sex Offender Laws, the Registries and the Residency Restrictions are ineffective and damaging. Our Legislators repeatedly state inaccurate recidivism rates (the rate to re-offend) of “sex offenders” to the public to gain support of voters and to push through flawed legislation. The recidivism rate for “sex offenders” is significantly lower than that of murders, drug dealers and users or armed robbers. An interesting fact since Sex Offender Legislation is based on the assumption that “sex offenders” will recidivate with new sexual offenses.

There is also a study conducted by the Attorney General’s of numerous states that proves the Internet is not as dangerous as our Attorney Generals and Legislators have convinced you to believe that it is.

A new book written by Dr. Richard Wright titled Sex Offender Laws: Failed Polices, New Directions concludes that the proliferation of “Sex Offender” legislation over the past 20 years in America that were meant to memorialize an assaulted, murdered or missing child have largely failed. They have NOT reduced Sex Offender recidivism rates (5.5%), provided safety, healing or support for victims, reflected the scientific research on sexual victimization, offending and risk or provided successful strategies for prevention. Dr. Wright interviews Patty Wetterling, the mother of an abducted child says twenty years later that there are many issues with current policy and “We have not built into the system any means for success”. If Jacob Wetterling’s mother can see that current laws and policies are failing why can’t our government?

The fear and loathing against Registered Sex Offenders that is currently considered acceptable needs to stop before additional Citizens and communities are harmed. Our Legislators need to rectify this mess they have created by bucketing ALL sexual related acts into Sex Offender Crimes. The broad brush that the Legislators have been allowed to use across our population will continue to grow until it reaches into your home and labels you and your family.

The Registries need to be returned to their original intent, to list only the most dangerous, untreatable and repeat offenders.