We have all seen the media coverage of sensationalized sexual offenses like those of abuse by clergy or coaches. But statistics show that most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.
In fact, studies show that only 7% of all child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a stranger, and only 5% of sex crimes are committed by someone already on the registry. One report found that of children who were sexually abused, 34% were sexually abused by a family member, 59% were abused by someone known to them, and 7% were abused by a stranger. We must also consider that one third of all sex crimes against minors are perpetrated by another minor.
What’s more, despite myths to the contrary, those who commit sexual offenses have the lowest re-offense rates of any class of crime, second only to murder. The National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) reports that only 3.5% of those convicted of a sexual offense reoffended sexually. (For comparison, the 3-year recidivism rate for all classes of crime is roughly 67%)
Sadly, our approach to sexual harm in the United States is based on decades-old assumptions that are founded on gut feelings and myths rather than factual evidence. Recently the American Law Institute (ALI) recommended changes to its model penal code to make these laws more rational. They believe, as we do, that it’s time to revise our laws as well as our thinking so that we can keep our communities safe.
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