First time offenders who are not listed on the sex offender registry commit approximately 95% of all sex crimes. Yet, it seems as if most of our public policies to combat sexual abuse have been directed at the 5% who are. This focus on former offenders creates a false sense of security – particularly given that we now know that former offenders present much less of a recidivism risk than once thought.
The myth of high recidivism and the exaggeration of “stranger danger” has driven elected officials to focus disproportionally on former offenders, while ignoring the fact that a parent is far more likely to see the picture of the abuser of their child in a family photo album than on the sex offender website.
Family members and acquaintances commit far more sexual crimes against children than do strangers. If a child has been the victim of sexual abuse, the odds are 0.4 in 100 that a stranger who is a registered sex offender victimized the child. The odds are far greater, 87.4 in 100, that a child was victimized by someone they know. (In fact, one-third of sex crimes against children are committed by other children.)
The sex offender registry focuses on sex crimes after the fact. The most effective tool to reduce sexual abuse would be greater public education to prevent offenses before they happen.
The fact is that most child sexual abuse occurs because a parent trusted the abuser. Do you really know your son’s coach well enough to let that person give your son a ride home? Do you really know your daughter’s piano instructor well enough to leave her alone? A grooming process precedes most sex crimes and parents need to be educated to recognize this process. No law can substitute for good common sense and responsible parenting.
USA FAIR believes that a comprehensive education policy should include teaching children and teenagers in an age appropriate manner how to recognize and reject all sexual advances from adults and inappropriate unwanted sexual advances from peers and to report such incidents immediately to their parents or school personnel.
There have been too many tragic cases of continued abuse because feelings of shame have prevented children from reporting such crimes. Children need to know that they have no reason to feel shame if they are the victims of sexual abuse. It is never their fault and they will not get in to trouble.
Ultimately, the best defense against child sexual abuse is open and positive communication between parent and child.