The Myth of Sex Offender Recidivism

In the 2002 case McKune v. Lile, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy dealt a blow to those convicted of sexual offenses when he wrote in a plurality opinion that there is a “frightening and high risk of recidivism” for those who commit sexual offenses, and “the rate of recidivism of untreated offenders has been estimated as high as 80 percent.”

Kennedy’s opinion has been used again and again in legal verdicts and to support legislation that restricts the rights of those convicted of sexual offenses, and the idea of a “frightening and high” risk posed by individuals who have committed sexual offenses has become part of our collective knowledge base.

The problem is that the statistics were wrong. Justice Kennedy based his assertion on an article from a 1986 Psychology Today article that was merely speculating and had no statistical basis for its 80% claim.

Ira Ellman discusses this in his 2015 paper, “Frightening and High, The Supreme Court’s Crucial Mistake About Sex Crimes Statistics,” and the New York Time covered it in this compelling video, Frightening and High is a Myth.

Over the last 30 years numerous studies have debunked the 80% myth. According to the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL), the percent of registrants who are reconvicted of another sexual offense within three years is a mere 3.5%. Furthermore, 95% of all sexual offenses are committed by someone who is NOT on a registry.

While Justice Kennedy may have been sincere in his effort to keep our children safe, his opinion has done little more than ruin the lives of those convicted of such crimes, destroyed their families, and given the rest of us a false sense of security.

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