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STRANGER DANGER IS OBSOLETE:
MOST SEX CRIMES ARE COMMITTED BY SOMEONE THE VICTIM KNOWS, IN THEIR OWN HOMES, AND THE
PERPETRATOR MOST LIKELY HAS NO PRIOR RECORD
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com

Created 18 June 2019


…the FBI (in the 1950s) distributed a poster that epitomized this attitude. It showed a man, with his hat pulled down, lurking
behind a tree with a bag of candy in his hands. He was waiting for the sweet little girl walking home from school alone.
” – Ken
Lanning, former FBI Profiler and expert on child abductions  [1]

The concept of the ‘Stranger Danger” has been around longer than many of us have been alive. The 1931 German Film “M” featured
a whistling child-killer who lured children away with candy.[2]  Today, we know that the concept of Stranger Danger is an
outmoded approach. Even the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, once the primary purveyors of this mantra, now
admit the Stranger Danger mantra is outdated and no longer teach it.[3]

If people in America were truly serious about sexual abuse prevention, they should start with the most basic questions:

  1. Where does most sexual abuse take place?
  2. Who is most likely to commit a sexual offense?
  3. Are people listed on the public sex offender registry truly the most likely to commit a sex crime?

The answers to all three questions are as follows:

  1. Most sexual offenses occur at home.
  2. Most perpetrators of sex crimes are known to the victim as family, friends, or acquaintances.
  3. The vast majority of sex crime arrests are of people with no prior sex offense records.

MOST SEX CRIMES OCCUR AT HOME

The2011 report on Crime in Texas reported around three-fourths of sex crimes took place in a residence/ home. Despite recent focus
on churches and college campuses as places where rampant abuse occurs, few of the reported incidents occurred at either location.

Below is the full numbers rearranged from most- to least-common places for sexual offenses to occur:

Location of Sex Crimes, from 2011 Crime in Texas (Locations, Number of Incidents, and Percent) [4]

  • Residence/Home: 15,099 (74.8%)
  • Other/Unknown: 1,767 (8.8%)
  • Highway/ Road/ Alley: 803 (4%)
  • Hotel/ Motel: 572 (2.8%)
  • Parking Lot/ Garage: 462 (2.3%)
  • School/ College: 441 (2.2%)
  • Field/ Woods: 352 (1.7%)
  • Commercial/ Office Bldg.: 135 (0.7%)
  • Bar/ Night Club: 120 (0.6%)
  • Drug Store/ Dr Office/ Hospital: 114 (0.6%)
  • Lake/ Waterway: 83 (0.4%)
  • Gov’t/ Public Bldg.: 74 (0.4%)
  • Church/ Temple/ Synagogue: 55 (0.3%)
  • Convenience Store: 35 (0.2%
  • Jail/ Prison: 22 (0.1%)
  • Construction Site: 21 (0.1%)
  • TOTAL: 20,155

A 2000 US Department of Justice Report found similar results:

“Most (70%) of the sexual assaults reported to law enforcement occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender, or the
residence of another individual. Less than two-thirds of forcible rapes (64%) occur in a residence compared with three-quarters of
other sexual assaults: forcible sodomy (74%), sexual assault with an object (76%), and forcible fondling (74%). Sexual assaults
against females were less likely to occur in a residence than were those against male victims (69% versus 77%).”

“Young victims were generally more likely to be victimized in a residence than were older victims (table 4). The age of the victim
was strongly related to where the assault occurred. Seventy-seven percent of sexual assaults with juvenile victims occurred in a
residence compared with 55% of adult victimizations. Older juveniles were more likely than younger juveniles to be victimized in a
location other than a residence. While just 16% of the sexual assaults of youth below the age of 12 occurred in a place other than a
residence, 31% of the victimizations of youth ages 12 through 17 occurred in such locations. The most common non-resident
locations for sexual assaults of juveniles were roadways, fields/woods, schools, and hotels/motels. For adults the most likely
locations after a residence included roadways, fields/woods, hotels/motels, parking lots, and commercial/office buildings.”

“When a juvenile female was the victim of a sexual assault, the incident was almost as likely to occur in a residence as when a
juvenile male was the victim. Seventy-six percent of juvenile female victims of sexual assault were victimized in their home or in
another residence compared with 80% of juvenile male victims. The proportion of victimizations that occurred in residences was also
similar for female and male victims under age 12 (85% versus 83%) and for female and male victims ages 12 through 17 (69%
versus 72%).” [5]

MOST SEX CRIMES ARE COMMITTED BY A FAMILY MEMBER, FRIEND, OR ACQUAINTANCE, NOT A STRANGER

Before you can understand the scope of Stranger Danger, you have to clear up any confusion between a missing person and a
“stereotypical kidnapping.” The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART)
studies are the largest studies on missing children in America. There are three NISMART studies, the first published in 1990, the
second in 2002, and the third in 2011. It must be noted that even the NISMART estimates are often based on a very small sample
size.

Americans have been trained to fear the “stereotypical kidnapping,” defined by the NISMART studies as, “A nonfamily abduction in
which a slight acquaintance or stranger moves a child (age 0–17) at least 20 feet or holds the child at least 1 hour, and in which one
or more of the following circumstances occurs: The child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom,
abducted with intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.”[6]  These are the kinds of cases that make headlines and inspire
movies and TV shows, but in reality, stereotypical kidnappings are an extremely rare occurrence.

According to a 2011 US Department of Justice report comparing the NISMART-1 (1997) and NISMART-3 (2011) studies, there
have been no major changes to the overall estimate of stereotypical kidnappings in the US. The NISMART-1 estimated 115
stereotypical kidnappings while the NISART-3 estimated 105 stereotypical kidnappings. Perhaps more importantly, only 50 of the
stereotypical kidnappings in the NISMART-1 and 63 of the estimated stereotypical kidnappings in the NISMART-3 involved “sexual
assault or exploitation.”[7]

The researchers still warned that the NISMART numbers are hard to accurately depict because they were studying extremely rare
events: “NISMART–2 determined that stereotypical kidnappings were quite rare. An estimated 115 incidents occurred nationwide in
1997, although the confidence interval for this estimate was wide relative to the size of the estimate itself, which is common for
estimates of rare phenomena.”[8]  

These numbers make up only a small proportion of missing children cases. In the NISMART-2 study, there were 797,500 missing
child reports; they also estimated that adding children missing from caretakers but not reported missing meant roughly 1,315,600
children went missing at some point during the year studied by the NISMART-2 (1999). The study divided the missing person
estimates as follows:

  • Runaways/ “Thrownaways” (i.e., abandoned or kicked out of their homes): 357,600 (45%)
  • Missing benign explanation: 340,500 (43%)
  • Missing involuntary, lost, or injured: 61,900 (8%)
  • Family abduction: 56,500 (7%)
  • Non-family abduction, including “stereotypical kidnappings: 12,100 (2%) [9]

Non-family abductions are defined as “A nonfamily abduction occurs when a nonfamily perpetrator takes a child by the use of
physical force or threat of bodily harm or detains a child for at least 1 hour in an isolated place by the use of physical force or threat
of bodily harm without lawful authority or parental permission; or when a child who is younger than 15 years old or is mentally
incompetent, without lawful authority or parental permission, is taken or detained by or voluntarily accompanies a nonfamily
perpetrator who conceals the child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses the intention to keep the child permanently.” Of
those, 40 had been stereotypically missing or killed/went permanently missing.[10]  But non-family abductions include a variety of
events that were not considered to be what we think of as a kidnapping, like perhaps a teen who leaves on her own accord with a
boyfriend a few years older than her, or enlists the aid of a person not fully acquainted with her to hide her whereabouts.

Stereotypical kidnappings comprise about 0.00012% or about 1 out of every 7970 missing person reports. To further put things into
perspective, In 1999, there were 71.9 million children (anyone under age 18) in America; the chances of a child enduring a
stereotypical kidnapping in America in 1999 was 1 in 719,000. In 2011, 63 of the USA’s 73.9 million children were stereotypically
kidnapped for sexual purposes, or one of every 1,173,016 children. These are incredibly small numbers. In 2011, only 8 children
were killed following a “stereotypical kidnapping.” By contrast, a 2010 report stated 77 children died from choking on food such as
hot dogs.[11]  More children died at the hands of Oscar Meyer than they did at the hands of a “stereotypical kidnapper”!

We’ve only discussed kidnappings up to this point. Many other studies have also concluded that victims and perpetrators of sexual
offenses are often known to each other. The 2000 Dept. of Justice report stated:

“About one-quarter (27%) of all offenders were family members of their victims (table 6). The offenders of young victims were
more likely than the offenders of older victims to be family members. Almost half (49%) of the offenders of victims under age 6
were family members, compared with 42% of the offenders who sexually assaulted youth ages 6 through 11, and 24% of offenders
who sexually assaulted juveniles ages 12 through 17. Overall, just 12% of the offenders who sexually assaulted adults were family
members of the victims, compared with 34% of the offenders of juvenile victims.”

“Except for victims under age 6, most sexual assault offenders were not family members but were otherwise known to the victim.
Sixty percent of all sexual assault offenders were classified by law enforcement as acquaintances of the victim. Just 14% of
offenders were strangers to their victims. Strangers were a greater proportion of the offenders of adult victims (27%) than juvenile
victims (7%). The youngest juveniles were least likely to have an offender who was a stranger. Just 3% of the offenders in the
sexual assaults of children under age 6 were strangers, compared with 5% of the offenders of youth ages 6 through 12, and 10% of
offenders of juveniles ages 12 through 17.”

“In general, the victim-offender relationships were similar for male and female victims; however, there were differences in the
offender profiles for victims under age 12. Compared with young male victims, a greater proportion of female victims under age 12
was assaulted by family members. For male victims under age 12, 40% of offenders were family members compared with 47% of
the offenders of females under age 12.”[12]

Among sex crimes against juveniles, family members and acquaintances pose by far the biggest threat to the safety of children.
Furthermore, about one out of every three sex crime against a juvenile was committed by another juvenile.

Table 2: Sexual Assaults by Family Members, Acquaintances and Strangers [13]














Speaking of Juvenile Offenders, the Dept. of Justice concluded in 2000, “In general, the detailed age profile of offenders in sexual
assault crimes shows that the single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14.
[14]

The Center for Sex Offender Management’s year 2000 myth vs. facts sheet also concluded most sex crimes are committed by
someone known to the victims:

“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. A 1998 National Violence
Against Women Survey revealed that among those women who reported being raped, 76% were victimized by a current or former
husband, live-in partner, or date (Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998). 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 (Greenfeld, 1997).”

“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 (Lieb, Quinsey, and Berliner, 1998). 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.” [15]

Using data extrapolated from the Dept. of Justice’s “Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, 1997,” eAdvocate found the following
facts:

  • Only 6.7% of victims under 18 and 34.4% of victims over 18 were victimized by strangers.
  • Victims under 18: Strangers committed 6.7% of crimes; Family Member, 46.5%; Acquaintances/ friends, 46.8%
  • Victims over 18: Strangers committed 34.4% of crimes; Family member, 10.6%; Acquaintances/ friends, 55.0% [15]

The 2011 Crime in Texas report also concluded the victims were “unknown” or “strangers” to the perpetrators in 15.9% of cases
involving female victims and 1.5% in cases involving males.[17]

While we tend to focus attention on certain occupations, no occupation is immune. For example, one study found 1,475 cases where
1075 sworn law enforcement officers employed in 795 non-federal agencies were arrested for sexual offenses from 2005-2011,
noting that 192 of the arrested officers had multiple cases on file. About half of the cases involved a child.[18]  A crunching of
numbers by a SOSEN statistician found that police officers were more likely to be involved in a sexual offense than a teacher,
clergyman, or a person currently on the public sex offense registry.[19]  In a media frenzy similar to that of the priest abuse claims,
the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 3100 doctors were accused of sexual misconduct, 2400 of which directly involved
patients, adding, “those numbers represent only a fraction of the doctors who had sexual violations since Jan. 1, 1999. Many
violations never came to the attention of state regulators. In other cases, public board orders — i.e., public documents issued by a
state agency that discipline a doctor — weren’t posted on violations that did result in sanctions. So while the vast majority of the
nation’s 900,000 licensed physicians don’t sexually abuse patients, no one knows the extent of the problem.” [20]

In a supplemental report, “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has uncovered 450 cases of doctors who were brought before medical
regulators or courts for sexual misconduct or sex crimes in 2016 and 2017. In nearly half of those cases, the AJC found, the doctors
remain licensed to practice medicine, no matter whether the victims were patients or employees, adults or children. Even some
doctors criminally convicted are back in practice, demonstrating that a system that forgives doctors — first exposed by the AJC in
2016 — has not changed.”[21]  There were around 940,000 practicing physicians in America; thus there is a 1 in 2089 chance your
doctor has committed a sexual offense that was reported. But that also means there is a 2088 in 2089 chance your doctor has not
been charged with a sexual offense.   

MOST SEX CRIMES ARE COMMITTED BY SOMEONE WITH NO PRIOR RECORD

A 2008 survey of New York’s sex offense rates in the 10 years before and after the passage of that state’s public registry found the
following:

“The current study also found that 95.9% of all arrests for any RSO, 95.9% of all arrests for rape, and 94.1% of all arrests for child
molestation were of first-time sex offenders. Thus, as none of these offenders had any prior convictions for sexual offenses, none of
them were on the sex offender registry (or would have been on the registry had it existed) at the time of their offenses. This finding
casts doubts on the ability of sex offender registration and notification laws, as well as residency and occupational restriction laws, to
actually reduce sexual offending. That is, these laws were specifically designed to limit the ability of convicted sex offenders to re-
offend by limiting their opportunities to do so, and it appears that only a small portion of sexual offending (i.e., 4-5%) might be
influenced by these legislative measures.”[22]

In the landmark 2003 recidivism study, the Department of Justice noted that of the 9,691 males tracked in the study, only 1,347
(13.9%) had a prior conviction for a violent sex offense, and only 446 men (4.6%) had a prior sex crime conviction against a minor.
It is also worth noting, however, that for every person previously convicted of a sexual offense in the DoJ study (517 total), six
released prisoners with no prior sex offense record had been arrested (3228 total). [23]

Even the NISMART studies failed to find correlation between people previously connected to a prior sex offense and the feared albeit
extremely rare “stereotypical kidnappings.” The 2011 study found less than five cases where the perpetrator had a prior arrest for a
sex crime against children, although 15 cases were of people whose backgrounds were unknown.[24]  

DISCUSSION

Most sex crimes occur in the home by someone the victim knows, and the offender is more likely than not to lack any prior sex
offense arrest record. In many cases, the perpetrator is a family member or someone closest to the family. We have been trained to
fear the “stereotypical kidnapping” largely in part due to media and victim advocacy, but in reality, stereotypical kidnappings are far
from stereotypical. Most missing children weren’t kidnapped; most missing children ran away from home, were kicked out of their
own homes, or were missing for benign reasons.

It seems almost surreal to discuss an antiquated mode of thinking in the year of this writing, but Stranger Danger has been taught for
generations. The media continues to focus on sex crime panics. Celebrity victim advocates like John Walsh and Nancy Grace (and
even fictional shows like Law and Order: SVU) continue to saturate the airwaves with the notion that Stranger Danger is more
prevalent than in the days of our ancestors.

It was primarily out of the belief in stranger danger that the registry was devised. We wanted to stop what we believed to be an
epidemic of child abductions, fueled by John Walsh’s personal crusade. Walsh famously testified before Congress that this country is
"littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped, strangled children.”[25]  

We are a generation removed from the Satanic Ritual Abuse panics, but we now have new sex offense panics to fear and exploit.
The 2010s focused primarily on campus rape fears and sexual harassment panics (aka the #MeToo Movement). We’ve even seen a
return of the widespread abuse claims Catholic Church from the 1990. However, as noted in this report, sex crimes can come from
all walks of life. Of course, the intent here is not to focus on any one group of people. Pointing out sex crime results in multiple
professions does not mean that any one profession necessarily has more sexual offenders within their ranks than others. In the case
of doctors, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution chose to present the information in an alarmist fashion.

An honest discussion on sex crime prevention begins with the most basic of facts. Turning our attention to the rare tragedy of the so-
called “stereotypical kidnapping” takes resources and focus away from the more common problems such as intra-familial sexual
abuse. Even victim advocates agree that Stranger Danger is no longer the right way to teach sexual abuse prevention.

REFERENCES

  1. Kenneth V. Lanning, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2001, p. 13
  2. You can usually find the film for free online on Youtube. The following link is just one of many:  https://www.youtube.
    com/watch?v=nM0w1dTNAH0
  3. “Experts warn against teaching the phrase 'stranger danger'.” ABC News. 31 March 2017. Accessed 17 June 2019 at https:
    //abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/experts-warn-teaching-phrase-stranger-danger/story?id=46427626
  4. “SEXUAL ASSAULT.” 2011 Crime in Texas. Chapter 7. Accessed 17 June 2019 at http://www.dps.texas.
    gov/crimereports/11/citCh7.pdf
  5. Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., "Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and
    Offender Characteristics." National Center for Juvenile Justice, July 2000. Accessed 17 June 2019 at https://www.bjs.
    gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
  6. “Child Victims of Stereotypical Kidnappings Known to Law Enforcement in 2011.” US Dept. of Justice, Office of Juvenile
    Justice and Delinquency Prevention. June 2016. Accessed on 17 June 2019 at https://www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/249249.pdf
  7. Ibid., p.4
  8. Ibid., p. 3
  9. Andrea J. Sedlak, David Finkelhor, Heather Hammer, and Dana J. Schultz. “National Estimates of Missing Children: An
    Overview.” US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. October 2002. Accessed 17
    June 2019 at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/196465.pdf
  10. Ibid., p. 4, 11
  11. Liz Szabo. “Pediatricians call for a choke-proof hot dog.” USA Today. 22 Feb 2010. Accessed on 17 June 2019 at https:
    //usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-22-1Achoke22_ST_N.htm
  12. Supra.,DoJ 2000, p.10
  13. “Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 NATIONAL REPORT.” National Center for Juvenile Justice. Dec. 2014. Accessed 18
    June 2019 at https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/nr2014/downloads/NR2014.pdf , page 46
  14. Supra, DoJ 2000, p.8
  15. “Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders.” Center For Sex Offender Management. Aug. 2000. Accessed 18 June 2019 at https:
    //ccoso.org/sites/default/files/import/mythsfacts.pdf
  16. eAdvocate. “Department of Justice: Victim Offender Relationship Chart.” Sex Offender Reports and Charts. 2015. Accessed
    18 June 2019 at http://sexoffender-reports.blogspot.com/2015/02/department-of-justice-victim-offender.html , see also http:
    //www.oocities.org/voicism/index-charts.html#chta
  17. Supra, Crime in TX, p. 50
  18. Philip Matthew Stinson, Sr., J.D, Ph.D., John Liederbach, Ph.D., Steven P. Lab, Ph.D., Steven L. Brewer, Jr., Ph.D. “Police
    Integrity Lost: A Study of Law Enforcement Officers Arrested.” National Criminal Justice Reference Service, Office of
    Justice Programs. April 2016. Accessed 18 June 2019 at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/249850.pdf
  19. Will Bassler. “Who Really Commits New Sex Crimes?” SOSEN.org. 29 Dec. 2015. Accessed 18 June 2019 at https://sosen.
    org/blog/2015/12/29/who-really-commits-new-sex-crimes.html
  20. Lois Norder, Jeff Ernsthausen, Danny Robbins. “Why sexual misconduct is difficult to uncover.” Atlanta Journal-
    Constitution. 2016. Accessed 18 June 2019 at http://doctors.ajc.com/sex_abuse_numbers/?
    ecmp=doctorssexabuse_microsite_nav
  21. Carrie Teegardin and Danny Robbins. “Still Forgiven.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Accessed 18 June 2019 at http://doctors.
    ajc.com/still_forgiven/?ecmp=doctorssexabuse_microsite_nav
  22. Sandler, Jeffrey & J. Freeman, Naomi & Socia, Kelly. (2008). Does a Watched Pot Boil? A Time-Series Analysis of New
    York State's Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. 14. 284-302. 10.1037
    /a0013881.
  23. Patrick A. Langan, Ph.D., Erica L. Schmitt, and Matthew R. Durose. “Recidivism of Sex Offenders Released from Prison in
    1994.” US Dept of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nov 2003. Accessed 8 June 2019 at https://www.bjs.
    gov/content/pub/pdf/rsorp94.pdf
  24. Supra, Stereotypical Kidnappings 2011, p.7
  25. John Edward Gill, "Missing Children: How politics helped start the scandal." FatherMag.org, 2000. Accessed August 31, 2010
    at http://www.fathermag.com/006/missing-children/abduction_3.shtml
AGE
0-17
0-5
6-11
12-14
15-17
Male
Female
Family
39%
60%
53%
28%
21%
45%
38%
Acquaintance
57%
39%
45%
68%
73%
52%
58%
Stranger
4%
1%
2%
5%
6%
2%
4%