A critique of Victim Rights Groups (VRG) in relation to sex offender info and legislation
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com
8 April 2008
(AUTHOR NOTE: All references were valid as of April 8, 2008, and as websites change, certain references in the sites can be altered, removed, or edited. Some organizations may not even exist by the time you read this. The purpose was to review the willingness of these victim advocacy agencies to propagate blatant falsehoods, a problem that still exists with such groups to this day.)
There are a number of individuals and organizations known as “Victim Rights Groups” (VRG, may also be called child victim advocates even when handling adult cases). A VRG handles one or more integral roles in the sex crime issue, including victim support, pushing for victim rights legislation, providing prevention information, or focusing on sex crimes and offenders. These organizations vary greatly in methodology, message, and focus. As a result, there are discrepancies in the information these VRGs provide. This article is a critique of the most well known VRGs, as well as a few lesser known organizations: The Jacob Wetterling Foundation (JWF), The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Stop It Now!, Klaas Kids, Parents For Megan’s Law (PFML), The Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation (JMLF), Women Against Sexual Predators (WASP), and Family Watchdog.
Each organization varies in their missions, but all claim to be workers in the victim rights field. In light of conflicting information presented by various VRGs, it is necessary to study these groups in detail in order to ascertain which of these organizations serve their intended purpose. Controversial this may be, the hope in such a project by such an unlikely source is, at the least, to call upon some of the organizations to take a more reasonable approach to addressing the problem of sexual violence in this country.(DISCLAIMER: This study only studies the VRGs in relation to sex crime legislation and emphasis on crime prevention strategies. It is not a critique of their dealings with the victims).
The purpose of this article is to study the various organizations and grade the organizations based upon various factors:
- Mission: What is the focus of the mission? Does the VRG focus on prevention or punishment? Is their purpose noble or dubious? Does the actions of the members honor the mission? (Note: Some of the organizations deal general child safety aside from sex offender issues; for purposes of this article, only articles related to sex crimes and offenders are covered)
Argument: What arguments do the organizations present? How do VRGs justify their existence? Are they using a balanced approach or relying on myths and fear?
Statistics: What resources do they offer? Do they fully disclose the sources quoted? How accurate are the statistics quoted?
Website: Ease of use of the website, how often it is updated, and so forth
Donations: How often does the website solicit funds? Is the purpose merely to solicit funds or sell a product?
The critical factor in determining the grade of the VRG is the statistical information offered, since statistics are commonly used to promote their agenda. In this article, statistics are given double the value of other factors. The score is tallied as follows:
All factors except Statistics: “F“= 0 points; “D”= 1 point; “C”= 2 points; “B”= 3 points; “A”= 4 points.
Statistics: “F“= 0 points; “D”= 2 points; “C”= 4 points; “B”= 6 points; “A”= 8 points.
Total/ Overall Score: “F” 0-4 points; “D”=5-9 points; “C”= 10-14; “B”= 15-19; “A” 20-24
Mission: The “Jacob Wetterling Foundation educates families and communities to prevent the exploitation of children.” The JWF is named after Jacob Wetterling, whose kidnapping led to the Jacob Wetterling Act in 1994, which created the first registry laws (which were intended only for law enforcement purposes). Patty Wetterling, the mother of missing Jacob, founded the organization four months after the abduction. Furthermore, she has remained a voice of reasonable prevention and education in dealing with approaches to sex offender legislation. Per conditions specified in the JWF mission statement, Patty Wetterling has only a mentorship role with the organization. The current head of the organization is Nancy Sabin. Grade: A (Scandal Free, Noble Mission Statement, Balanced approach)
Argument: JWF provides a handy “JWF Overview– A Proven History of Helping Kids and Families” page. Included on the page is a complete vision and list of beliefs and approaches with the organization. JWF holds the following values:
Values – we believe:
It’s a kid’s job to be a kid and it’s the adult’s job to protect all kids. That every adult should see every child as someone who may need their help and protection. The word “willingly” should not be used in the same sentence with the words “children or teens”
To this end, JWF offers both valuable information and a help and support line. JWF is also very active, sponsoring and organizing numerous educational events throughout the year. The focus is on education without resorting to the fear mongering which is so prevalent in our society; see the following testimonial:
“With all the media attention on abductions and sexual predators, I’m afraid to let my kids go out of my site! Yet JWF has helped me realize the importance of doing just that, once we practice what-if scenarios that prepare us for anything….”
Grade: A (Education and prevention, not fear mongering, is the focus)
Statistics: There is a wealth of information on the site’s “Publications” page, which also lists statistical studies germane to the sex crime issue. Furthermore, the site accurately depicts statistical facts without the spin tactics used in many other organizations:
“There are only 115 cases of long-term, non-family abduction called stereotypical kidnappings each year” (From “Jacob Wetterling Story“): This statistic aligns perfectly with the NISMART-2 Findings (US Dept. of Justice, 2002).
“1 in 33 youth receive aggressive solicitations while online by someone who wants to meet your child in person:” The findings from the “Youth Internet Safety Survey” (US Dept. of Justice 2002), a more accurate depiction than the common 1 in 5 misnomer used in many factoids. Also, The statement is “someone” rather than “sexual predators.” According to YISS, that “someone” could be peers. JWF avoids the “sexual predator” misnomer
“Why does it matter if I give the offender a hard time? Though there thousands of sex offenders living among us, it seems like the one known offender living near our home makes our lives very uncomfortable. It’s natural to be angry or fearful when we know a sex offender lives nearby. But if the result of Community Notification is that offenders are harassed, the courts or the legislature could take the law away. Remember: Sex offenders are less likely to re-offend if they live and work in an environment free of harassment, so it is very important that an offender be allowed to live peacefully. You can still be attentive and report any violations or suspicious behavior the offender is engaged in, but do not threaten, intimidate or harass the offender. If an offender is able to build a stable, crime-free life, we will all succeed.” (from the FAQ: Community Notification Page): A rare statement you’re not likely to find repeated in most VRGs, but a true statement backed up by far too many studies to mention here.
“Does sex offender treatment work? As with other types of therapy, certain offenders respond better than others. The offender that does the best is one who admits what he or she has done, feels badly about it and wants to change his/her behavior. There is no quick fix that works for all sex offenders. On the other hand, not all sex offenders are incapable of changing their criminal behavior.” Again, many studies, such as the Ohio Dept. or Rehabilitation and Correction 10 year recidivism study, validate this statement, a far cry from the typical “sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated” mantra.
Grade: A (Studies reflected accurately, no fear mongering or twisting of facts)
Website: The menu bar is horizontal with subcategories. Information is easy to find and the site is extremely well made and easy to navigate. Grade: A (Very user friendly)
Donations: There is one donation section accessible on the menu bar on the site, and that is it. The info provided is free of charge, and there are no aggressive solicitations. Grade A (non-aggressive, and true to their non-profit status)
Overall: A+ (24 points): The JWF sets a gold standard for all VRGs to follow. The site is well put out, their information is free, easily accessible, and factual. Few other VRGs take a sensible approach to the sex crime problem. Simply put, its as close to perfection as VRGs go.
Klaas Kids (www.klaaskids.org)
Mission: Klaas Kids run by Mark Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, whose high-profile murder turned Mark Klaas into a victim rights advocate. As noted in the Klaas Kids Newsletter, the mission statement reads as follows: “Dedicated to the memory of Polly Klaas, the Foundation’s purpose is to inform parents, children and communities about how to prevent crimes against children through personal action and support of legislation.” Klaas Kids is an obvious supporter of public registries, community notification, and the Adam Walsh Act. To his credit, however, no controversies and scandals have been tied to Klaas. Grade: B (Scandal free, noble mission statement, though questionable on choice of the type of legislation to support)
Argument: To justify their position, the site’s “Megan’s Law By State” page offers the following justifications: sex offenders have a “high rate” of re-offending, protecting the public from SOs is a “paramount government interest,” offender privacy is “less important” than public safety, and public info about SOs will help this goal. In regards to community notification, the justification includes “assisting with law enforcement,” establishes legal grounds to hold known offenders, deterrence, and citizen protection and info. There are a few statements used to propagate fear, such as the slogan “A mile a minute… that is how fast your child can disappear.” On the Missing Child Statistics page, Klaas makes the following assertion: “If any other segment of our population were so impacted, we would declare an epidemic: the center for disease control would fund a cure; we would pass and enforce legislation and we would increase private and public security. But, since it is only our children many in our society accept these appalling numbers as status quo.” — Grade: F (High use of myths/ mistruths and heavy reliance on fear-mongering)
Statistics: This sites ranks low on the accuracy of the statistics:
Quoting Sources: On the “Did You Know: Sexual Exploitation of Children” page, 2 of the 12 stats listed have no listed source, and of the 10 articles listing a source, only the source name is listed. No links or names of specific studies were made in any of the statistics.
Missing Children: Compare the “estimated 1.3 million” missing children statistic with the “Missing Child Statistics” page, which states “85% to 90% of the 876,213 missing person reports are of juveniles;” and on page 4 of the Winter 2007 newsletter, Klaas estimates the number of missing children at 1.6 million to 2.8 million, with the added claim a third of runaways are lured into prostitution or porn rings (with no source cited, of course). In contrast, the NISMART-2 study by the US Department of Justice stated that in 2001 found known incident reports at around 790,000, the vast majority of which are runaway/throwaway (Note the vague criterion for what constitutes “missing” status for purposes of estimation). The argument of 1.3 missing children has little to do with sex offenders; NISMART-2 found only 90 of the 790,000 missing person reports involved a “stereotypical kidnapping,” the stranger-danger offenses that helped fuel the registry laws. The site implies all of the reports involve “kidnapping,” then quotes statistics that state otherwise.
Internet Predators: Klaas quotes the “50,000 internet predators” stat, which was attributed to Dateline’s Chris Hanson, who admitted that he made it up during the “To Catch a Predator” series.” The “1 in 5 children are solicited sexually on the internet” stat is a misinterpretation of the Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS). The statistic of teenagers as the largest consumers of internet porn has nothing to do with sex offender registries. Also of concern was the statement “cyber-perverts use anonymity to victimize our children” (a recent internet study, “Online ‘Predators’ and their Victims” found only 5% of internet cases involved deception)
Grade: F (The majority of info inaccurate, lack of references, use of irrelevant statistics to argue a point)
Website: The website is rather well done and fairly easy to navigate. However, materials are largely outdated, the site is rarely updated, and even the “quarterly newsletters” are sporadic at best. That contributes to the lack of correction of stats in light of more recent studies. Grade: C (Great navigation, but some info outdated and irregular updates)
Donations: Donation solicitations are standard; merely a donation button on the site and a donation form in newsletters. Grade: A (No aggressive solicitations)
Overall Grade: D+ (9 pts.)– The founder has never been implicated in scandal, the site is well built, the mission statement is well-rounded, and the organization is not aggressively soliciting funds; on the downside, there are numerous inconsistencies in stat reporting, outdated or false information, a lack of specific resource citing, instances of faulty reasoning and irrelevant stats, and heavy use of fear tactics. Unfortunately, the number of inaccuracies are so severe, it compromises the integrity of the organization.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children- NCMEC (www.missingkids.com)
Mission: “The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them.” So the primary focus is on missing children rather than sex offenders, although they do offer up information on sex offender issues. Of course, The NCMEC has had their share of controversy over the years, including accusations of inflating missing child statistics to the controversial statement made after Foley’s resignation for a sex scandal (see www.operationawareness.com/favorite_links_2.html). The founder, John Walsh, has been equally controversial, from comments about implanting exploding microchips in the rectums of sex offenders to stating we should never hire male babysitters. Grade: D (Lots of controversy surrounding the origins, operation, and members of the organization)
Argument: In support of the Walsh Act, The NCMEC offers the following justification– “Convicted sex offenders are required by law to register their whereabouts with state authorities. Yet it is estimated as many as 100,000 such criminals are noncompliant – possibly living and working in communities unaware of their past conviction. This new legislation imposes stronger penalties for offenders who fail to register and keep their information current.”(2006 Annual Report, p.2) “Despite states’ implementation of the Jacob Wetterling Act, the increased mobility of our society has led to “lost” sex offenders. The “lost” are those who fail to comply with registration duties yet remain undetected due to the inconsistencies among state laws, coupled with the burden faced by authorities to keep track of the increasing number of offenders.” (Sex Offender- History). Of course, the “100,000 missing sex offenders” myth again has no source. It considers the Walsh Act a “high profile, national attack on sexual predators.” (2006
annual report, p. 2) To their credit, they are shying away from other prevalent myths, such as the “stranger danger myth.” “That’s why the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has never supported the “stranger-danger” message, especially because experience has shown us that most children are actually taken by someone they know or are familiar with“ (“Child Safety Is Not A Slogan“) and advocates practicing “what if scenarios.” Despite the prevalent myth, The NCMEC actually provides largely accurate and useful information, and tends to provide consistently updated information. Grade: B (Aside from the misnomers regarding the Walsh Act, possibly due to Walsh, much of the info is up-to-date and devoid of fear-mongering)
Statistics: Many are wary of the NCMEC because of Walsh’s controversial comments, but for the most part, the NCMEC has plenty of accurate statistics on the site. Aside from the 100,000 missing sex offenders and the sex offenders have a high recidivism rate myth, they have provided other valuable information. They are responsible for the NISMART-2, and provides a PDF of the report (see Resources for Media: Statistics)
797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know or a slight acquaintance who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.
According to the latest online victimization research (YISS-2, also available as PDF file),
Approximately one in seven youth online (10 to 17-years-old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet.
Four percent (4%) received an aggressive sexual solicitation – a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere; called them on the telephone; or sent them offline mail, money, or gifts.
Thirty-four percent (34%) had an unwanted exposure to sexual material — pictures of naked people or people having sex.
Twenty-seven percent (27%) of the youth who encountered unwanted sexual material told a parent or guardian. If the encounter was defined as distressing – episodes that made them feel very or extremely upset or afraid – forty-two percent (42%) told a parent or guardian.
Grade: B (A couple of myths remain prevalent; however, they are also responsible for debunking some of the prevalent myths)
Website: The website is user-friendly, and is the source for more than a few valid studies; see the “Resources” menu. There is also a variety of resources available for download, and the site is updated regularly. Grade: A (Easy navigation, current info)
Donations: Aside from a donation page, nothing unusual. Considering the fact that the NCMEC receives a lot of government money, I wouldn’t expect aggressive solicitation from them. To their credit, you can download all their guides for free online. Grade: A (No aggressive solicitations)
Overall Grade: B+ (18 pts.) Despite the controversy surrounding the inception and certain members of the organization, the NCMEC, for the most part, offers up plenty of solid information, if only it could purge itself from the controversy (Walsh) and the leaning onto holding on to the myths listed above.
Parents For Megan’s Law (www.parentsformeganslaw.com)
Mission: “Parents For Megan’s Law, Inc. (PFML) is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) community and victim’s rights organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse through the provision of education, advocacy, counseling, victims services policy and legislative support services. We also staff the National Megan’s Law Helpline. PFML has recently expanded its mission to include the new Crime Victims Center (CVC), a program designed to serve previously invisible victims of crime. Read more about our new program below” (from the “About Us” page) Apparently the CVC is a sort of restitution center for a variety of crimes aside from sex crimes. Megan’s Law promotion is a primary focus; a current project involves email notifications and mapping software of sex offenders. PFML offers the following disclaimer: “Please remember, any information you receive about a registered sex offender must be used responsibly. Be aware that harassing or committing any type of vigilante activity against any individual registered, not only undermines the tremendous effort to bring you this information, but is a crime.” Of course, in light of how the site is presented and the emphasis on the sex offender, the disclaimer will do nothing to deter people from ignoring the warning. The current director is Laura Ahern. Grade: C (Actions and emphasis on sex offender legislation compromise the integrity of their listed mission, bad focus, but devoid of known scandalous background).
Argument: From the “Commonly Asked Questions” page:
Q: Is Megan’s Law Alone Going To Eliminate Sex Crimes and Sexually Motivated Abductions?
A: No. Megan’s Law alone is not going to eliminate sex crimes or sexually motivated abductions committed against women and children. Reducing the prevalence of sex crimes and sexually motivated abductions can be effectively accomplished with a combination of Megan’s Laws’ notifications, stiffer sentencing, effective sex offender treatment programs and the implementation of up-to-date sex abuse and abduction prevention educational programs.
PFML also states: “Keep in mind that if sex offender information is disseminated only to schools and other organizations and is not further disseminated to members in the community then Megan’s Law has not been used to its fullest potential.” While it states registries aren’t the only solution, it advocates allowing private citizens to freely
disseminate this information, which is actually illegal in many states, and rightfully so. That is also a dangerous proposal which seemingly gives the green light for harassment. Grade: C (It does suggest alternative approaches, but remains focused on sex offenders, and propagating private citizens to disseminate registrant information is
potentially promoting vigilantism)
Statistics: As with many VRGs, this website tends to omit actual sources and overestimates risk. Below are a few of the worst stats:
“Q: How Common Is Childhood Sexual Abuse? (Prevention Tips Page) A: In the United States, studies report that up to one girl in three or four has been sexually abused by age 18 and one boy in four to 10 has been sexually abused. These statistics do not accurately reflect the actual number of sexual abuse occurrences because most abuse goes unreported. According to the FBI only 1% to 10% is ever disclosed and according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the average molester of girls will victimize fifty girls before being caught and convicted and the average molester of boys will have victimized 150 boys before being caught and convicted. Further, the typical pedophile commits an average of 117 sexual crimes during his lifetime (280 for those molesting boys). The most vulnerable age for sexual abuse is between 7 and 13 years. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that 54% of sexually abused children are victimized before the age of 7 and 84% before the age of 12.” Compare the suggestion that only 1-10% of sex crimes are reported stat with the National Crime Victimization Survey 2003 (US Dept. of Justice) which lists failure to report for all crimes at 58.5%; Rapes AND attempted rapes at 67.3%; and sexual assault at 53.2%. The 50 to 280 victims per offender myth is prevalent, but offers no actual sources for the myth.
“While many initiatives have been discussed, none could be implemented because the solution cannot be found in county, state or federal law, but in town zoning laws. And if towns can zone an area residential or commercial, they should be able to change the zoning so that only one convicted registered sex offender can live in any one home. This is our most viable proposal so far… There are 65 registered sex offenders in the [Coram part of the] Gordon Heights area. When young children are getting off their school buses, they are walking alone past houses with convicted sex offenders in them, some sex offenders even standing outside the homes, watching the children walking by. It’s like these children are living in a prison” (From “Walsh to Tackle Sex Offender Over saturation” from “News and Current Events” page): Here PFML proposes anti-clustering laws with no evidence to back up their claims, instead relying on “appealing to emotion.”
Q: Is Most Childhood Sexual Abuse Committed By Strangers? A: No. Strangers are not the most common perpetrators of sexual abuse. Most children are sexually abused by someone known or related to them, often in a position of trust or authority. Studies indicate that no more than 10% to 30% of sex offenders were strangers, meaning that up to 90% of children sexually abused had some type of relationship with their abuser.” (Prevention Tips): At times, PFML does offer up accurate info at times, though there are too many misnomers and fear mongering tactics to be considered accurate
From National Registry and Links Page: “Parents for Megan’s Law recently conducted three national surveys. The first survey evaluated sex offender registration compliance. Our results indicate that approximately 24% of the nation’s sex offenders are failing to comply with state registration requirements. When citing this statistic please refer to www.parentsformeganslaw.org.” What they DON’T tell you is how they came to the conclusion or their methodology. Also, they grade states by Megan’s Law compliance AND civil commitment: “The second and third studies evaluated accessibility of sex offender information, the extent of information available and states’ participation in civil commitment laws. These two studies resulted in national report cards being issued. States are assigned grades based upon their answers to ten questions and bonus points were assigned in the 2006 report card.” Again, they fail to mention methodology. Florida was given an A+, despite having thousands of dead, incarcerated, deported, and offenders who no longer lived in Florida on its registries (James Carlson, “Ghosts in the Machine?“ Orlando Weekly, Nov. 24, 2005, http://www.orlandoweekly.com/util/printready.asp?id=8531) “As of Nov. 16, there were 541 dead or reported dead on the state rolls. It’s FDLE’s policy that offenders’ names will remain on the rolls for one year after their death.”
Grade: D (Good prevention tips are countered with fear mongering and inaccuracies in reporting and assessing the risk posed by sex offenders)
Website: The Website is hard to navigate at times, especially in the “News and Special Interests” page. Most of the available articles feature Laura Ahern or articles from the New York Post, which loves to use the term “pervert” in its headlines. Grade: B (A few articles in the site is not easily accessed, questionable choice of news articles)
Donation: Many of the pages add the following mantra: “Order Laura Ahearn’s newly released book, Megan’s Law Nationwide and The Apple of My Eye Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Program for an in-depth discussion about childhood sexual abuse prevention. ALL proceeds from the book are donated to Parents For Megan’s Law.” In fact, many of the prevention tips refer to the book for more information. Grade: C (Fairly aggressive solicitation, heavy book promotion)
Overall Grade: C- (11 pts.): PFML focuses primarily on Megan’s Law but is increasingly involved in other endeavors. The site has major inconsistencies in regards to certain statistics, which even includes their own studies. Of great concern is their newest endeavors, the Megan’s Law grading system and the Email Alert/ Mapping system. Despite many disclaimers regarding the information on their site and subsequent usage of the info, I find room for major improvements to their site is in order.
Stop It Now! (www.stopitnow.org)
Mission: “Stop It Now! prevents the sexual abuse of children by mobilizing adults, families and communities to take actions that protect children before they are harmed.” “Stop It Now! believes that all adults must accept the responsibility to recognize, acknowledge and confront the behaviors that lead to the sexual abuse of children. We offer adults tools they can use to prevent sexual abuse – before there’s a victim to heal or an offender to punish.” Prevention is the key to reducing sex crimes, and Stop It Now! Is a firm supporter of the organization. Grade: A (Emphasis on prevention; scandal free)
Argument: On the “About Us” page, Stop It Now! Offers this three step approach to the problem:
Challenge adults – as individuals, in families, in our communities and as a society – to learn about the risks that lead to sexual abuse of children; to confront the barriers and misunderstandings that keep people from acting to prevent sexual abuse; and then to support thoughtful policies and interventions to overcome those risks and barriers.
Inspire courage in all adults to look beyond easy stereotypes about sexual abuse and to face the real people and situations that put children at risk for child sexual abuse – relatives, friends, and respected leaders in our families and social circles, who have lost control of their impulses.
Encourage policy makers to use the best available research to invest in a full range of prevention strategies including, effective treatment, reduction of risk factors, parenting education and programs that educate adults about steps they can take before a child is harmed.
Stop It Now! believes the following: “Contrary to popular belief, sexually abusive behavior can be treated and people who abuse can stop.” “Often, those on the Registry have committed themselves to turning their lives around and to never repeating their offense. In many instances, the greater risk is posed by someone we know and love, who in secret, has horribly lost control of their impulses and needs help to stop. Those who are struggling with sexual thoughts about children must be held accountable for their actions. But just as importantly, they need to be given options and support to get help to stop.”
Grade: A (Focus on prevention rather than shaming offenders after the fact based on proven tactics)
Statistics: Again we find an organization which quotes their sources of information, and brings up facts to paint a total picture of the issue:
“In as much as 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the person that commits the abuse.” (offers link to report from Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention)
Studies show that treatment for people who sexually abuse children can reduce the likelihood that they will reoffend. Statistically, people who are held accountable for sexual abuse have a lower recidivism rate than people convicted of other major offenses. Even without treatment, recidivism rates for those convicted of sexually abusing a child are estimated to be about 15-20%. With treatment, many studies show an additional reduction in recidivism by as much as a third, to as low as 12%. (Quoting Harris and Hanson and other studies)
“Up to 50 percent of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18.” (From “Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment) Not all VRGs bring up this statistic, though many of them are aware that age is a counted risk factor in determining sex offender recidivism
Grade: A (Treatment-oriented, quotes sources, balanced approach, no fear mongering)
Website: Another easy-to-navigate site with available facts and publications that call for a reasonable approach to dealing with sex offenders. In regards sex offenders, Stop It Now warns against overreacting and harassing the former offender. Grade: A (Easy navigation, true to mission statement)
Donations: As with any self-respecting organization, donations are limited to a separate menu link, and solicitations are not aggressive. Information can be downloaded for free. Grade: A (Non-aggressive solicitations, lots of free info)
Overall Grade: A+ (24 pts.) Another solid effort that takes a balanced approach to the sex crime problem. Stop It Now calls upon adults to take responsibility and accountability for their actions and seeks a balanced community approach.
Family Watchdog (www.familywatchdog.us)
Mission: “Our goal is to eliminate the scourge of child molestation as an epidemic in one generation. Family Watchdog’s mission is to build awareness of nearby threats by providing accessible and accurate sex offender location information. To meet this goal, Family Watchdog has built a bilingual safety portal on both the online and mobile platforms. Our service is extremely easy to use, contains information from all states, and is updated on a daily basis to ensure that our information is as current as the states from which we receive our sex offender data” (From “Who We Are” page) I’m not sure FWD is technically a VRG as much as it is a private sex offender registry with a mapping feature. Thus, it is not surprising the site cares little for offering solutions or even accurate statistics, though it didn’t stop them from attempting to debunk the Human Rights Watch Report in a mere 24 hours (see http://rebuttal-familywatchdog.blogspot.com). Grade: F (mission contradicts goal, no work towards prevention, lack of relevant facts)
Argument: In stereotypical fashion, FWD justifies its existence on high profile cases– “In early 2005, 9 year old Jessica Lunsford was brutally assaulted and murdered by a neighbor and convicted sex offender. As a result of this and the senseless assault and murder of several other children and young women, Family Watchdog was launched as a tool to aggregate sex offender information from all states and distribute that information to the community using an easy-to-use mapping interface” (“Who We Are” page). As previously mentioned, FWD implies registries are the solution to the sex crime problem, which is untrue. Grade: F (Blatant fear mongering, registries touted as an end all)
Statistics: Does this site have statistics? Not really, aside from the usual stereotypes–
“The typical sexual predator will assault 117 times before being caught. The re-arrest rate for convicted child molesters is 52%.” The cited study is actually an article from the CSOM which merely stated one debated study suggested a high level of victims (a study that relied on polygraphs); and the recidivism rate is another myth, a GENERAL re-offense rate, not a rate of sexual re-offending. Even the 15 year Harris and Hanson study found no more than a 24% recidivism rate.
They do bring up the fact that 90% of sex crimes are committed by acquaintances, which contradicts their same statement found on the “Who We Are” page, “Unknown sex offenders in our communities represent a danger to our children unlike any other.”
Grade: F (Inaccurate and contradictory statistics, what little argument actually exists)
Website: People who go to FWD will be going to look up offenders that live in the area. For all the hype, the mapping system is rather cumbersome, especially in areas with multiple registrants. The home page is rather cumbersome as well. Grade: C (Mapping does not live up to hype, bad homepage)
Donations: They don’t solicit donations per se; instead, the site is riddled with annoying banners and ad links. They have also received celebrity endorsements. Aside from the maps, the site offers little in the way of safety tips.
Grade: C (Excessive ads, excessive ads, excessive ads)
Overall Grade: F (4 pts.) “Until our service is no longer needed, Family Watchdog resolves to be the premier source of sex offender information available.” There is already a national registry with mapping available, making FWD obsolete, yet they still exist. Perhaps most damning to their organization, aside from their focus on former offenders, is the bad attempt at “debunking” of the Human Rights Watch. Don’t forget their program to make private court records public (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/10/03/usdom17012.htm) (http://www.familywatchdog.
us/submitcourtdocs.asp) Family Watchdog should go the way of “Old Yeller” and be retired.
Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation (JMLF) (www.jmlfoundation.org) [NOTE: NOW DEFUNCT]
Mission: “The Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation has been established to help children in crisis. Our children are our last hope in this world. There is an evil that preys on the innocence of these precious souls and the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation is a result of one man’s struggle with this evil which has claimed his daughter’s life. We cannot get rid of this evil…but we can contain it, so that our children can be free.” “I have four main goals: (From FAQ)
1.Fight to change legislation.
2. Provide a grassroots awareness and continuous support base.
3. Search, locate and help law enforcement apprehend absconder pedophiles.
4. To be with Jessie again.
Fight to change legislation: Placing Jessie’s law in every state and by lobbying for a federal law that will give funding for tougher laws (HR3132 Child Safety Act 2005).”
While the cause may be noble, Lunsford has been riddled in controversy since his rise to prominence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Lunsford). The Citrus Co. (FL) Chronicle reported that during the investigation into Jessica’s disappearance, child porn was found on Lunsford’s computer. The article has since been taken down, but Court TV brought up the issue again in 2007 (http://www.courttv.com/chat/transcripts/2007/0309lunsford-floyd.html). In May 2007, Mark’s 18 year old son was arrested on sex charges in Ohio (but was only sentenced to 10 days in jail and no registry). Recently, Mark Lunsford has been criticized for possible misuse of funds for his foundation and for suing the sheriff for wrongful death. His MySpace page was also the subject of controversy. The following blog has more info on Lunsford, including screenshots: (www.sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com). Furthermore, in the JMLF’s first newsletter, it mentions the creation of Women Against Sexual Predators (WASP), a group implicated in cyber crimes. Grade: F (Lunsford has serious credibility issues, supports vigilante activity)
Argument: Obviously, the death of his daughter Jessica is the argument. You will be greeted with a picture of Jessica, and a section devoted to her. It seems the primary focus is on pushing Jessica’s Law, a mandatory minimums act, and finding “absconder pedophiles.” The use of “pedophiles” of course is used to label all sex offenders. There is no other argument offered, no statistical facts offered, no argument offering a solution to the sex crime issue. Grade: D (Reputation and tactics clouds memorial to daughter)
Statistics: There is a lack of statistical argument to validate his claim. Lunsford does, however, make the following assertion: “To search, locate and help apprehend some of the 130,000+ absconded pedophiles in the USA, bring awareness to the public about the absconded and there [sic] information.” Lunsford amplifies the “100,000 missing sex offenders” myth. Again, Lunsford offers no research to validate his claims. He also provides links to Klaas Kids, which I graded D-, and to the NCMEC, which I ranked B+, but none to Stop It Now! Or the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, the top two prevention oriented organizations. Worst of all, the letter of support from an alleged North Carolina Registrar offers up nothing but the typical “stranger danger” and “all sex offenders reoffend” myths that permeate throughout our society. Grade: F (Stats? What stats?)
Website: The website itself is standard, but of course, offers no education on child safety or even of its own position besides the aforementioned stat and letter. The rest of the site is devoted to notifying people of all of the foundation’s activities. There hasn’t been a newsletter in a year, and much of the information dates back to 2005, when the Walsh Act was known as the Child Protection and Safety Act of 2005. Grade: D (Serves its intended purpose but has little useful information)
Donations: There is a nice big donation sign on the front page of the site, and Lunsford hosts lots of fundraisers throughout the year, which you’ll find many links too. In light of criticisms regarding how Lunsford has spent the foundation’s money, it seems the amount of emphasis on fundraising may only reinforce the belief that money is a primary objective of the foundation. Grade: F (Highly aggressive, suspicions about use of the money)
Overall Grade: F (2 pts.) It is hard to separate the controversial Mark Lunsford from the mission the JMLF. Scandals tend to cloud any mission, and is especially the case in the JMLF. There is a definite lack of solutions at this site; if you are looking for a balanced approach, I suggest you look elsewhere. It is difficult to shake the growing belief Lunsford is exploiting the death of his daughter.
WASP Ohio (www.waspohio.org) [NOTE: NOW DEFUNCT]
Mission: “WASP is a grassroots organization started in Columbus, Ohio by Tracy Golden after finding sexual predators in her neighborhood that were within 1000 ft of a school… Tracy formed WASP in hopes of uniting women and parents to take a stand against sexual offenders, get schools more involved in child safety education, and to
serve as a liason [sic] between Law Enforcement and the community.” (From “About Us” page). The site makes no mention of the connection to the Lunsford foundation, though the Lunsford foundation Newsletter Vol. 1 does. However, The founder, Tracy Golden is actively involved in (and listed as a charter member of) a cyber-vigilante organization called “absolute zero,” which has been implicated in a recent civil suit involving slander, defamation of character, and cyber stalking (Kruska v. Perverted Justice et al., see corrupted-justice.com for details). Absolute zero is, in turn, connected with perverted-justice, a controversial group listed in the Rick Ross Institute list of cults and controversial movements (http://www.rickross.com/groups/perverted_justice.html). Cyberstalking, by the way,
was made a Federal crime per the renewal of VAWA of 2008. Grade: F (Strong links to organizations engaged in cyber-crimes, harassment)
Argument: “Faced with the harsh reality that the Sheriff’s office was overwhelmed with the task of keeping track of these offenders, and desperately underfunded and understaffed to do so, Tracy decided it was time to take a stand.” (“About Us” Page). If you check out the site’s Stats page, WASP begins with the following line: “Internet
Predators– Millions of Dr. Jekeylls and Mr. Hydes [sic] may have a key to your diary, and you’ve given it to them: Internet Memo;” Most of the statistics provided have little to do with internet sexual predators; instead, the emphasis is on the general availability of pornography, mixed in with only a couple of stats relevant to the issue. In short, the
argument is full of “red herrings.” WASP also has a “Sex Offender Advocates” page, in which they state, “Yes, believe it or not there are actually groups out there that are advocates for sex offenders and their rights! Sex offenders feel that their rights are being violated, and that the restrictions and requirements that come with being a
sex offender are too harsh. These sex offenders and their advocates spend a lot of their time lurking the internet, posting blogs, creating websites, support groups, and leaving comments on other websites spouting their propaganda of how we are persecuting them, and quoting old studies of how unlikely they are to reoffend.” The argument is followed by another red herring– statistics which have nothing to do with re-offense rates. She fails to offer a valid statistic, like how many sex inmates in prisons are repeat offenders. The page, of course, is meant to promote the controversial absolute zero group. Furthermore, the site itself offers no solutions, tips, or factual information. Grade: F (More red herrings than Red Lobster, heavy fear mongering, and promotion of vigilantism)
Statistics: I already mentioned that many of the statistics mentioned, even when quoting sources, are red herrings which have little or nothing to do with the argument they try to make. However, the stats used in their “About Us” Page is a copy of the Family Watchdog stats (see the FWD section). Unsurprisingly, WASP omits that as the source of the stat. Why? Also, their entire “statistics” page is devoid of statistics on sex offender risk and recidivism. What IS offered is rape statistics, statistics regarding how often sexual abuse is reported, and a part of an article stating the difference between a child molester and a pedophile. There is no sense of direction with the statistics dumping; the only intention is to overwhelm the reader with “factoids” in order to lead you to the conclusion that all sex offenders are responsible for the sex crimes. Studies have shown sex offender recidivism to be quite low, and furthermore, the vast majority of sex crimes are committed by first time offenders. Ironically, WASP does the very
thing it accuses other groups of doing, such as spin doctoring. The entire site smells of Red Herrings. Grade: F (focus on punishing former offenders not validated by the stats it presents, omit’s the source of the only stats on sex offenders).
Website: The site is not the most well-built and filled with typos. Aside from the inflammatory materials, the website reads more like a blog than a website, with articles simply text-dumped onto the page. Be warned when entering this site– it contains spy ware which tracks your personal location and maps it. The site promotes the absolute zero group, which is also filled with spy ware, as well as perverted-justice, which has been known to hack into both computers and websites. Furthermore, included in the site links are links to Family Watchdog, Stop Sexual Predators (a sister site to the JMLF also run by Mark Lunsford), and of course, links to other vigilantes, such as “perverted primates,” “lost in Lima Ohio,” and BACA. Grade: F (Bad site, use of spy ware, links to sites that also use spy ware, risk of computer hacking)
Donations: Even vigilantes solicit money. However, the only way to contact this group is by email. A legitimate organization has a physical address; WASP fails to provide one, so apparently you have to sign a guestbook, which will not appear unless you enable cookies, which includes spy ware with physical location mapping. Grade: F (No physical address for donations)
Overall Grade: F (0 pts.) No surprise the organization with the closest ties to absolute zero would score an absolute zero in this study. This site is the exact opposite of what a child victim advocate should be. Instead of emphasizing prevention, offering potential solutions and hope for a victim free society, instead WASP takes the low road, advocating illicit vigilante actions. Enter this site at your own risk; if you lack adequate spy ware protection, avoid it at all costs.
Even within the noble cause of dealing with sexual violence, there are vast differences in approach, methodology, and ideology of the issue. As we have seen, some groups focus on prevention, others advocate targeting former offenders. Logically, prevention should remain superior. The Jacob Wetterling Foundation and Stop It Now offer the most prevention-oriented solutions and the most balanced approach. The biggest is not always the best; however, the NCMEC, despite some controversy in its history, is improving on its approach. Some organizations are emotion-driven more than fact-driven, such as Klaas Kids. Some others, like Parents For Megan’s Law and the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation, teeter on the exploitive. But by far the most dangerous are those organizations such as WASP Ohio which promote vigilante actions and blind hatred.
Hopefully this report will inspire those organizations who ranked low to reassess those criticisms and work towards resolving their perceived deficiencies. It is my sincere hope that we can place our focus on prevention and provide services for those individuals who have never offended (or have been rehabilitated) and needing help in staying offense free; if we are to be true to the mantra “NO MORE VICTIMS,” we must be dedicated to finding solutions built on facts and truth rather than emotions and hate.