25% Recidivism Rate – Really?

March 6, 2010

by Heather Steele, President & CEO

I admire Diane Sawyer tremendously, and was so gratified to see her achieve such prominence as anchor of ABC’s World New Tonight.  That’s why I tuned in so closely to Oprah’s interview of her yesterday.  Gravely, when the topic of Chelsea King came up, following all the pain we San Diegans have been bearing the last week, I hoped that she would help educate the public on the true nature of sex offenders.

But I stood aghast as Diane told the American public that only 25% of sex offenders re-offend.

There are many studies of recidivism rates, and they track offenders anywhere from 6 months after release to 25 years or more after release, so recidivism rates can fluctuate wildly based on the time period used. The only study to follow sex offenders for 25 years after release finds that 52% are caught re-offending (“Recidivism Rates Among Child Molesters and Rapists: A Methodological Analysis”, Law and Human Behavior, Volume 21, Number 6, December 1997 , pp. 635-659(25) .)

However, it is important to note, that very few sex offenders ever get CAUGHT a second time – that does not mean they do not offend a second time.  In fact, a taste of prison the first time around does wonders for a sex offender’s ability to learn how to be very careful when molesting children from that point onwards.

Even the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), whose members often advocate treatment instead of incarceration of child sex offenders, states, “It is important to recognize that official recidivism statistics are always lower than actual re-offense rates, because…less than 10% of all sex crimes results in a criminal conviction.”

Using ATSA’s math, each released sex offender has 5.2 victims in the 25 years after his release.

A study by ATSA in 2007 of its own members shows that they don’t even believe treatment works.  63% of their member professionals reported “little hope for a cure”, and 88% “feared recidivism after treatment.”

By stating to millions of people worldwide that only 25% of released sex offenders re-offend, a tremendous disservice to the children who suffer heinous sexual abuse has been done and a substantial gain for child molesters, who will continue to try to convince the public that they are not a danger to society, has been delivered.

Please, Diane, we need your help to educate the public that these offenders are extremely dangerous to children, and we must never assume that even a small percentage pose no risk to our most innocent members of society.