Fast facts about adults who have sexually offended

Fact 1: There is no specific type of person who commits sexual abuse.

People who sexually abuse cross all socioeconomic, educational, gender, age, and cultural lines. There is no typical profile of someone who is likely to commit sexual abuse. However, the majority of adults who sexually offend are males. Women commit approximately 5% of sexual offenses.

Fact 2: Most abusers know their victims.

Most people who sexually abuse others do so from a position of trust or power within families, among circles of friends, or in professional roles (Snyder, 2000). Stranger-on-stranger sexual abuse is extremely rare.

Fact 3: Once a sexual abuser, rarely again a sexual abuser.

Very few people who commit sexual offenses once do so again. Individuals who sexually offend have the lowest recidivism rate of all crime types. On average, just 5% of people who sexually offend once commit another sexual offense (Langan, Schmitt, and Durose, 2003; Sample and Bray, 2003). Through therapy and treatment, they learn prosocial ways of thinking and behaving, and gain the skills they need to become law-abiding, productive members of society.

Fact 4: Treatment is a good investment.

Providing treatment is cost-effective and makes society safer. Since most people who are incarcerated for a sexual offense eventually are released and return to their communities, it makes good social and economic sense to help them develop the cognitive and behavioral skills they need to build safe and productive lives.

Fact 5: Registries and residency restrictions generally do not make communities safer.

Laws that limit where sexual offenders can live and work, and that require registration and public notification, typically do more harm than good. Here are three reasons why:

  • Because people who have sexually abused others already have such a low recidivism rate, such laws do not reduce reoffenses any further. Enforcing these restrictions uses up valuable law enforcement resources.
  • The majority of sexual offenses are perpetrated by someone who knows the victim, so registration and residency laws based on the concept of “stranger danger” do not generally make society safer.
  • By limiting where someone can live and work, communities make it harder for that person to return to society and become a productive, tax-paying citizen. In fact, many people placed on registries ultimately become homeless and require public assistance. This does not contribute to their reformation, make society any safer, or contribute to the economic health of communities.