To anyone living in Minnesota, Kare 11 is a household name in news. They are largely a reputable company with many investigations and news articles under their belt. However, a recent investigation into sex offenders this past February, and the follow-up to that investigation, should appall you. Why? Because their investigation not only was extremely incomplete, but touts a minute handful of examples as the legal norm in Minnesota for sex offenders, and argues that all sex offenders are dangerous (a myth even the US Supreme Court has swallowed). In fact, their opening headline for the primary investigation in February read:
KARE 11 Investigates: Minnesota’s Secret Sex Offenders
A LITTLE-KNOWN LEGAL LOOPHOLE IS ALLOWING HUNDREDS OF CHILD SEXUAL PREDATORS IN MINNESOTA TO SLIDE UNDER THE RADAR, LEAVING PARENTS IN THE DARK ABOUT THE DANGER THEY MAY POSE.
Hundreds Of Predators?
If you read very far into their report, however, you see that “hundreds of child sexual predators” includes a fair amount of juveniles who received a stay of adjudication, and 210 other adults 22 years old and older. A stay of adjudication means that an offender must complete a series of requirements, and their crime is not available in public databases unless they do not complete the requirements.
Some of the requirements, for example, are to complete a lengthy probation sentence and complete sex offender treatment (treatment which usually requires at least two years to complete). Standard probation requirements for sex offenders typically involves no contact with anyone under 18 years old, and no pornography.
What their investigation completely ignores is that Minnesota is home to 17,654 registered sex offenders as of December 6th, 2016. The ability to find out just how many of those 17,654 offenders are considered “high-risk” by the state is challenging at best. To the best of my recall, the amount of level 3 sex offenders in the state does not exceed 2,000 people. 210 people, compared with these numbers, is miniscule.
To the average person, that may sound like a good thing… until you realize that many low-level sex offenders, including those convicted of child sexual abuse and sexual abuse material crimes, are frequently given probation if they are a first-time offender. Why? This is because they are very unlikely to commit a further sexual offense, and probation is more than sufficient to correct their behavior.
What About Recidivism And Megan’s Law?
Minnesota’s Department of Corrections has done two “recent” studies on sex offenders that would matter to the average person: The 2007 report on recidivism, and the report on Megan’s Law in 2008. Both of these reports are flawed and incomplete: The 2007 report on recidivism looks at 3,166 sex offenders released from a correctional facility (read: prison) between 1990 and 2002, which means their report ignores the majority of sex offenders, only focusing on those released from prison. This lack of complete information is not limited to just the MN-DOC, it exists in every recidivism study.
The report discussing Megan’s Law is also extremely narrow in its scope, and contains methodological errors that would shame any statistician: They conclude, based on their study of recidivism rates of 155 level three offenders subject to notification and 125 who were not, that notification has a strong deterrent effect and reduces recidivism. They essentially claim that correlation proves causation, with no control methods used to distinguish between the results of these groups. A broader look at the research shows that Megan’s Law is a waste of money at best, and at worst, it actually contributes to increased recidivism by interfering with re-entry.
Overall Sex Offender Statistics
The statistics discussed in the aforementioned reports are shockingly incomplete, and give the public just enough data to avoid looking harder into the issue. However, a plethora of other studies have also been done on sex offenders. A study done in New York on 21 years of arrest data found that 95% of new sexual crimes were committed not by registered sex offenders, but first-time offenders new to the criminal justice system. Other studies have yielded similar results, usually finding that at least 90% of sex crimes are committed by first-time offenders. This means that the numerous processes we have to address sex offenders attempts to answer approximately 5–10% of new sex crime.
That study, combined with the numerous meta-analyses done on sex offender recidivism, point to the idea that sex offenders are not nearly as dangerous as people believe: Around 12% of sex offenders will re-offend with a sexual crime on average, and around 30–40% will reoffend with any crime. Minnesota’s statistics paint a much brighter picture, and both the national norm and Minnesota’s findings contrast to the national average for criminal recidivism being around 60–75%. It has been said in media articles on the subject that the only crime with a lower recidivism rate is murder.
Some advocacy programs, like the Mama Bear Effect, do not even focus on recidivism because it accounts for such a small faction of sexual violence:
I know from previous experience with the Minnesota legislature that Minnesota spends $300K on preventing sexual assault, and I learned recently from Chris Serres of the Star Tribune that we spend $93 million on managing and tracking sexual offenders. I believe this is very imbalanced, and makes it clear that our focus is not on preventing sexual crimes, but on reacting where they do occur. This focus, in the wake of predators like Roy Moore, Jerry Sandusky, and Jimmy Savile, is simply not good enough. We need to prevent the next would-be sex offender from committing a sex offense, not react when it happens.
Kare 11 focuses on a miniscule fraction of 5% of new sex criminals in the making. Already, some of Minnesota’s legislators, including Gov. Mark Dayton and Rep. Tony Cornish (who himself was recently accused of sexual misconduct) are promising to fix how stays of adjudication are used. But nothing is being promised in Minnesota to address and prevent 95% of new sex crime, which is not committed by sex offenders, but by those new to the criminal justice system. Minnesota, like so many other states, is focusing its efforts on endlessly punishing those who pose the smallest amount of risk in terms of future sex crimes, and focusing next to nothing on preventing sexual crimes before they can happen. Indeed, Minnesota spends $93 million a year on SORN policies, and only $300,000 on sexual assault prevention. Our priorities are not on keeping the public safe.
As an advocate pushing the end of child sexual abuse before it can happen, I am outraged that not only Minnesota’s leaders, but also its major media outlets, are doing nothing about the majority of sexual crimes in Minnesota. We are weak: The only statement worth supporting in Kare 11’s investigation is that Minnesota has created an atmosphere of legal tolerance of sexual violence. While that statement was intended to address how sex offenders are treated in the legal system, I think that statement is used far too narrowly.
I am ashamed to call myself a Minnesotan.
There are several solutions that many of my readers may already be familiar with, like knowing the facts and the warning behaviors in potential abusers, and many of my other suggestions center around reforming sexual offender laws to be more effective at protecting the public. Some of them concern educating families, and educating children. The take-away is that not only is it possible to prevent sexual abuse before it occurs, the research and statistics show that doing so is the best approach to sexual violence that we could use.
The current sexual misconduct accusations, the #MeToo campaign, and the many revelations that people we know and trust have been misusing that trust and authority to sexually harm others shows we must do better. It is time that Kare 11 and the media get on board with educating communities about the facts around these issues, rather than fear-mongering with a handful of examples that are not the norm in Minnesota or nationwide.