Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders


There are many misconceptions about sexual offenses, sexual offense victims, and sex offenders in our society. Much has been learned about these behaviors and populations in the past decade and this information is being used to develop more effective criminal justice interventions throughout the country. the following information addresses the facts that underlie common assumptions both true and false in this rapidly evolving field.

MYTH: "Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers."

FACT: Most sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim or the victim's family, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.

Adult Victims: Statistics indicate that the majority of women who have been raped know their assailant. Also, a Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that nearly 9 out of 10 rape or sexual assault victimizations involved a single offender with whom the victim had a prior relationship as a family member, intimate, or acquaintance.

Child Victims: Approximately 60% of boys and 80% of girls who are sexually victimized are abused by someone known to the child or the child's family. Relatives, friends, baby-sitters, persons in positions of authority over the child, or persons who supervise children are more likely than strangers to commit a sexual assault.

MYTH: "The majority of sexual offenders are caught, convicted, and in prison."

FACT: Only a fraction of those who commit sexual assault are apprehended and convicted for their crimes. Most convicted sex offenders eventually are released to the community under probation or parole supervision.

Many women who are sexually assaulted by intimate, friends, or acquaintances do not report these crimes to police. Instead, victims are most likely to report being sexually assaulted when the assailant is a stranger, the victim is physically injured uring the assault, or a weapon is involved in the commission of the crime.

While sex offenders constitute a large and increasing population of prison inmates, most are eventually released to the community. Short of incarceration, supervision allows the criminal justice system the best means to maintain control over offenders, monitor their residence, and require them to work and participate in treatment. As a result, there is a growing interest in providing community supervision for this population as an effective means of reducing the threat of future victimizations.

MYTH: "Sex offenders commit sexual crimes because they are under the influence of alcohol."

FACT: It is unlikely that an individual who otherwise would not commit a sexual assault would do so as a direct result of excessive drinking.

Annual crime victim reports indicate that approximately 30% of all reported rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use by the offender. Alcohol use therefore may increase the likelihood that someone already predisposed to commit a sexual assault will act upon those impulses. However, excessive alcohol use is not a primary precipitant to sexual assaults.

MYTH: "Children who are sexually assaulted will sexually assault others when they grow up."

FACT: Most sex offenders were not sexually assaulted and do not sexually assault others."

Early childhood sexual victimization does not automatically lead to sexually aggressive behavior. While sex offenders have higher rates of sexual abuse in their histories than expected in the general population, the majority were not abused. Among adult sex offenders, approximately 30% have been sexually abused. Some types of offenders, such as those who sexually offend against young boys, have still higher rates of child sexual abuse in their histories.

MYTH: "All sex offenders are male."

FACT: The vast majority of ex offenders are male. However, females also commit sexual crimes. Studies indicate that females commit approximately 20% of sex offenses against children. Males commit the majority of sex offenses but females commit some, particularly against children.

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