I rant a lot about people refusing to accept the truth and completely disregarding facts even when they are undeniably proven. Because it's a concept I absolutely cannot get my head around, I was very intrigued by two studies I discovered yesterday - one from CSOM and the other from an author out of Canada - exploring and analyzing public awareness, perception and attitude towards sex offenders and sex crime in general.
The Canadian study (here) surveyed 102 first, second, and third year behavioral science students studying at St. Lawrence University in Ontario. Overwhelmingly, young people who obviously have some interest in learning about the internal workings and capabilities of the human mind, were largely incorrect in their perceptions about recidivism rates of sex offenders. 41% of the students believed a person who committed sexual assault involving a threat to life was "very likely" to re-offend, and 31% of the students believed a person who committed sexual assault without threat to life was "very likely" to re-offend. The same students believed that people who commit assault with a threat to life, assault, arson with threat to life, and arson are all less likely to re-offend than those who committed sexual crimes. Statistics indicate that recidivism rates for assault and arson (among other crimes) are actually much higher than sexual assault, which interestingly, is notably contradictory of the students' perceptions.
The majority of the students (96%) believed that sexual assault with threat to life would pose the most trauma to the victim out of all the scenarios. It was believed by the majority of the students that treatment would not be at all effective for perpetrators of sexual assault, and the majority also indicated that the longest prison sentences (life in prison) should be assigned to those found guilty of sexual assault. Actual prison sentences for sex crimes vary quite a bit depending on all kinds of factors, however it is not uncommon for those convicted of sex crimes to receive longer sentences than those convicted of non-sexual violent crimes. Again, the students' perceptions as well as reality does not accurately reflect the documented effectiveness of sex offender treatment, which has been shown to be helpful in reducing re-offense as opposed to longer sentences.
In the CSOM study (here), which is is a project of the US Department of Justice, the 1,005 participants were individuals deemed to be representative of an average community member. They were similarly asked to indicate their knowledge of sex crime. Surprisingly, the majority of participants accurately believed that most victims are acquainted with their offenders. However, the majority of participants also believed that recidivism rates were very high (75% or above), and that post-release restrictions (such as residency restrictions, GPS monitoring, community registering and notification, etc.) are necessary in preventing or reducing sex crime. 74% indicated that the majority of what they know and learn about sex crime is via news media. Only 3% of those surveyed accurately believed that recidivism rates are under 25%.
None of these results were surprising to me - the sentiments expressed in both studies are very similar to the attitudes of people I encounter when discussing the topic of sex crime. It is frustrating to know that public awareness is so skewed, but what I found next in the study was beyond frustrating - it was disturbing.
The participants were asked if they would still support residency restrictions even if such restrictions were proven to lead to unintended consequences (which most experts believe is the case). Over half responded that they would.
This seems strange, considering that the majority of participants also indicated that they would support treatment for sex offenders if it was shown to be effective, that they believed lawmakers should base legislation on what research indicates, and that they wanted more information than they currently had about how to prevent sex crimes in the community. However, their opinions regarding residency restrictions seem to contradict all of those statements.
Although the CSOM study was personally validating to me, as it scientifically documented my experiences with the public to be mostly uninformed and based mainly on what the media tells them, it did nothing to explain why the public consistently reacts this way. As a person who desperately looks forward to the day when sex crime legislation reflects facts and not emotions, this study made me feel even more hopeless than I sometimes feel after a fruitless attempt to educate someone who simply does not want to learn. As I struggle daily attempting to figure out what the key is to breaking the cycle of ignorance, after reading the study I am even more uncertain.
I suppose for now I will plod along as I always do - allowing myself to be the recipient of daily public floggings in hopes that just a few will silently read what I offer and be strong enough to wonder if it might be true. Even if someone wants or needs to publicly degrade me and our cause, and then secretly chooses to think twice, I will have accomplished my goal.