‘Do not make sex offender registry public’
A forensic psychiatrist said there was no clear evidence to show that public sex offender registries result in a reduction in the reoffending rate — and that they could even increase the risk of further crimes.
Seb Henagulph, a consultant at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute and Westgate Correctional Facility, said research showed only about 12 per cent of sex offenders go on to commit a second similar offence.
He added the figure was 22.8 per cent for child sex offenders, but that was still “lower” compared to other offences, including violent and property crimes which have a 40 to 50 per cent reoffending rate.
Dr Henagulph said: “The majority of those on a register would not have gone on to offend anyway and the majority of first-time sexual offences are committed by those with no previous history of sexual offending.
“The California Sex Offender Management Board produced a report in 2008 which noted that of those convicted of a sexual offence only 10 per cent had a previous conviction for a sexual offence.
“Other research found that of all individuals released from prison who went on to commit a sexual offence, only 13 per cent had a previous conviction for a sexual offence.”
Dr Henagulph added that reoffending rates are difficult to measure because the majority of offences are either unreported or do not lead to a conviction.
He added: “Finally, these rates are for all offences of a particular class — that is offences against adults versus offences against children.
“If one looks at different subgroups, some have higher rates than others.
“For example, while the rarest of all offences is stranger offences against children — about 3 per cent of all sexual offences against children as the vast majority are committed by family and acquaintances — there is evidence that a subgroup who offend against male children do have much higher rates of reoffending and often persist over many years.”
Dr Henagulph said that he supported a closed registry available to police and probation officers and suggested that the impact on the offender and family named and shamed in public could increase the risk of a paedophile reoffending.
He explained: “The detrimental effects on the offender, and offender's family and friends, such as economic hardship, housing difficulties, and further social isolation, can actually increase the risk of reoffending.
“There is also an economic impact on those who live near registered offenders with evidence of decreased house prices and, rarely, mistaken vigilante attacks. There can be increased levels of fear and anger in those living in the neighbourhood.
“There is also an increased workload on police and probation services — I agree with a closed registry, but I do not support a public registry for the reasons I outlined.”
Counselling and rehabilitation will become mandatory for offenders if the recommendations of a House of Assembly Joint Select Committee are implemented.
But Dr Henagulph said: “While mandatory treatment may seem like a good idea, there is little evidence that it achieves the desired outcomes any more than voluntary participation in treatment.”
Dr Henagulph said that paedophiles could be cured — or at least made less likely to commit another offence.
He added: “While sexual interest in children — paedophilia disorder — is commonly thought to be a central factor in offending, evidence shows that this is only the case in 40 to 50 per cent of offenders against children.
“Those with paedophilia disorder can and do respond to treatment. While their core attraction to children cannot be easily changed, if motivated, they can learn to manage their desires and not offend.”
Dr Henagulph said: “In all offenders, other risk factors can be addressed such as social isolation, substance misuse and untreated mental illness, typically depression.”
He added that there was evidence that up to 1 per cent of the population experienced some sexual interest in children that did not amount to a clinical diagnosis of paedophilia disorder.
Dr Henagulph said: “Of these, very few go on to commit offences and even fewer commit contact offences with children.
“One major area of prevention would be to reach out to this population and provide treatment before an offence is committed, as has been done in Germany.
Dr Henagulph said: “Unfortunately, in my opinion, the proposed measures such as a public registry/notification and mandatory treatment are unlikely to reduce the overall levels of sexual offending in our society.
“The highlighted areas of prevention and education are where the focus should be.”