As a Michigan sex crimes attorney, I find myself having to hold back when people around me discuss the Michigan sex offender registry. A friend of mine was showing me an app for her phone the other day – one that quickly allows her to identify all of the sex offenders nearby. She assured me that this app would help keep her child safe.
She is not my only friend who believes the myth that most sexual offenses are committed by strangers. Or the myth that registered sex offenders are likely to re-offend.
The truth is actually far scarier. 9 out of 10 sexual assault cases involve a family member or acquaintance known to the victim (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Greenfield, 1997). Child molesters tend not to pick a random child and attack. Through a process known as grooming, child molesters work hard to develop a special relationship with the child. This relationship allows the perpetrator to build trust with their victim and gradually build up to molestation. The trust factor is huge – this is the way that the molester can make sure children do not tell what is going on.
Further, unlike people who have committed other criminal offenses, sex offenders who are released from prison are less likely to re-offend. 47% of non-sex criminals are re-convicted of other crimes within three years of release from prison. Only 3.5% of those convicted for sex crimes are likely to re-offend within three years of release (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice).
The bottom line is that the Michigan sex offender registry and apps such as the one my friend showed me give people a very false sense of security. The truth is that children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone close to them. As hard as it is to imagine, it would be more beneficial to keep an eye on the family members and friends who surround your children and spend time with them. Knowing the list of neighbors in your area who are registered on the Michigan sex offender registry really does nothing to protect your children.