Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

“Survivors and Perpetrators Are More Similar Than Different”

I’ve posted before about the work of Alissa Ackerman, a University of Washington criminologist who’s authored numerous studies on sexual victimization and sex-crime policies over the last decade. Ackerman is also herself a rape survivor. In this unforgettable presentation last year in Australia, Ackerman talks about her research, her advocacy, and her story (starting at about minute 5 and ending at about minute 36). If you don’t get a chance to listen, here are some highlights.

“From the research I’ve conducted, I can tell you, in short: these [sex offender registration] laws don’t work…. Being on the registry actually increases [offenders’] rate of reoffending even though we know that sex offenders actually have very low rates of reoffending. The stress of being on the registry influences them to commit more offenses—and they’re typically not sex offenses….”

“We have this idea that these registries will help people—but only 37 percent of sex crimes are ever reported…most people who are victimized will be victimized by someone not on a registry.”

“If we actually wanted survivor-focused policies, we’d have free or low-cost access to mental health care,…safe housing, trauma-informed forensic interviewing,…a system that understands the neurobiology of trauma and the short-and-long term impacts of sexual violence,…and a system that would reduce harm for everybody.”

“What I realized…as an individual survivor is that we [survivors and perpetrators] are so much more similar than we are different…over 90 percent of perpetrators [that I worked with] were also survivors.”

“There’s a lot of work in the U.S. right now…around sexual assaults on university campuses, and a lot of that activism is about making our laws harsher…. As a scholar and sex-crimes policy researcher, I’m saying ‘This is not how were going to end sexual violence on campuses.’”

“We’re spending billions and billions of U.S. dollars to put people on registries. We are going to hit a million people [on registries] in the next year or two. And it does nothing. It actually makes us less safe.”

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