Effingham county, Georgia sheriff Jimmy McDuffie announced yesterday that the maintenance of their online sex offender registry had been sub-contracted to Offender Watch, a group that maintains hundreds of online registries across the country. McDuffie touted the change as positive, explaining that it saves the police time and fuel in managing sex crimes. Additionally, Offender Watch automatically alerts officers when an offender moves too close to a school or daycare. So what's the problem?
Far from what Sheriff McDuffie and countless other members of law enforcement would have you believe, the sex offender registry is not a reliable way to keep track of potential dangers in your community. Contrary to public opinion, sex offender recidivism has been consistently proven to be extremely low, so say numerous federal, state and independent studies. Perhaps even more compelling is that the US Department of Justice found that in 93-97% of child sexual abuse cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts - and has no prior conviction for a sex crime.
This paints a far more uncertain and scary reality for anyone who previously believed registered sex offenders pose the biggest threat to society - particularly parents concerned for their child's welfare. And undoubtedly, there are many who have a hard time believing that this isn't the case, considering the constant warnings from law enforcement, urging us to check the registry. Persistent media coverage of particularly heinous, high-profile cases and the emotions they elicit throw communities into a fury, attempting to understand why such travesties occur and wanting desperately to prevent them from happening again. But how effective has this approach been in preventing sex crimes? The steady yearly increase of registered sex offenders cannot be ignored, with numbers reaching nearly 750,000 in December 2011.
The motive behind law enforcement's reluctance to arm us with factual information is unknown, but one thing is certain: this MUST change. Sheriff McDuffie's decision to utilize Offender Watch for registry maintenance, like many before him, sounds like a no-brainer to the average citizen. But what about the downsides to the service?
Offender Watch's services include providing a Frequently Asked Questions section about sex offenders and sex crimes on the registry websites. One of the most important questions, according to the public, are the re-offense rates for sex offenders. As mentioned above, it is commonly believed that the majority of registrants re-offend, although this is actually far from the truth. But according to Offender Watch - until about two weeks ago - the re-offense rate was a whopping 50%. That's ten times higher than the actual number found in the study Offender Watch listed as their source, a sobering 5%. Even worse? This blatantly misleading statistic was provided on online registries all over the country - for nearly two years.
Offender Watch has since corrected the error, but not after ignoring repeated demands that they provide factual information. Why would a service that exists solely to provide information about sexual offenders knowingly perpetuate such a massive lie? And why did none of the members of law enforcement who lauded the service notice this error, or believe it was worth fixing? Should we really have to choose between law enforcement that is unaware of the truth, or just evasive?
It's time to demand the truth from law enforcement. Ask YOUR local sheriff what he thinks sex offender re-offense rates are, and who is responsible for the majority of new sex crimes against children. You might be surprised to learn they don't know.
For more information on surprising statistics behind sex crime, as well as links to all studies mentioned in this article, visit www.endsexcrime.org.