The myth of high sex offender recidivism could not have taken hold on the culture without the news media playing a role. A new high-profile crime committed by a registered sex offender can create another opportunity to reinforce this myth.
USA FAIR has as one of its primary goals to educate the news media on the facts about low recidivism rates. This is not a field of research with dueling studies producing conflicting results. Every contemporary broad-based study of a widely diverse group of offenders has resulted in findings that show that sex offender recidivism is much lower than what people think. The leading studies over the last decade are available here.
The news media has a fundamental journalistic responsibility to fairly and accurately report on this issue. Too often, the coverage of sex offender issues takes place without a treatment professional or registry reform advocate included in the conversation.
A case in point occurred on September 2, 2009, on MSNBC’s “Hardball”, where host Chris Matthews interviewed former prosecutor Wendy Murphy on the Phillip Garrido kidnapping case of Jaycee Lee Dugard. At one point Matthew’s stated, "But there's a certain recidivism rate with these sex offenders, isn't there? It's something like 100 percent." Murphy let this falsehood stand and there was no one sitting in a chair next to her to correct Mathews. And to not unfairly single out Matthews, such uninformed statements are commonplace throughout broadcast and print journalism.
Another all too common example of media irresponsibility occured on October 9, 2012, when on "The View", Whoppi Goldberg said that on Halloween all registered sex offenders should post a sign on their doors stating that "a real monster lives here." This comment underscores the ignorance within the media about the wide diversity of offenders who are on the registry and the many degrees of crimes that can trigger registration - including many misdemeanor offenses. The registry is not a "sexual predator registry" and if all registrants are "monsters", what word do we reserve for those who do commit truly monsterous acts?
It's time to end the "hate speech" against law-abiding former offenders.
USA FAIR will provide the news media with access to family members of registrants and to successful former offenders who have rebuilt law-abiding lives - particularly in the wake of heinous crimes that dominate the news. At these tragic moments, USA FAIR will stand with the community-at-large in condemning these repulsive offenders and their heinous crimes. We must communicate that the vast majority of former sex offenders are law-abiding citizens and have nothing in common with these monsters. We can no longer sit silent and allow the media and politicians to paint all registrants with the broad brush of the worst offenders.
USA FAIR also calls on journalists to stop misusing the word “pedophile.” Pedophilia is a psychiatric diagnosis described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, as being a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children. Yet, it is not uncommon for a reporter to erroneously refer to an age of consent case involving an adult and an adolescent teenager as pedophilia. This is an important distinction because pedophiles tend to have high recidivism rates, whereas statutory age of consent offenders have much lower recidivism rates. Thus, characterizing all offenses involving minors as “pedophilia”, in addition to being factually incorrect, further reinforces the myth of high recidivism.
USA FAIR calls on AP and The New York Times to provide a journalistic standard for the proper usage of the word pedophile in their manuals of style and usage.