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Polygraphs Get Past the Tip of the Sex Abuse Iceberg


Polygraphs Get Past the Tip of the Sex Abuse Iceberg


J. Michael Sharman


 




            One day last week the front page of our local paper was dominated by three news articles which involved the sexual abuse of minors: A 38 year-old free-lance photographer was arrested for the rape-murder of a 17 year-old girl; a longtime area pastor was bonded out on the second indecent liberties charge lodged against him in a week by former students of his Christian school; and a man pled guilty to three counts of carnal knowledge of a 13 year-old girl when he was 29 years-old and was sentenced to serve six years in prison.


We may feel overwhelmed with those three cases all being reported in one day. But unfortunately, these reported cases of molestation are probably just the tip of the iceberg.


The Bureau of Justice's Statistics reports that, as of February 2001, there were approximately 386,000 convicted sex offenders registered. That's the good news. The bad news is that researchers say the registered number of convicted sex offenders is probably less than 10% of all sex offenders actually living in the U.S.[1], which means we likely have nearly 4 million sex offenders in our nation.


If sexual molestation were a physical disease it could honestly be described as an epidemic. Even though a study cited by the Department of Justice says that only 12% of sexual assaults are reported[2], the most commonly cited statistic is that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18.[3]


Think about it: this means that one in every four people who pass you on the street or one in every four people who are in line with you at Wal-Mart have been sexually molested. Consider it this way: if there are ten people on the church pew with you, two to three people on that pew have been molested, but only one of them has ever reported it to law enforcement.


One way to begin dealing with those non-reported crimes is to sentence every convicted sex offenders to take a polygraph exam as part of their correctional system diagnostic process, and then to take regular polygraph exams as part of their probation or parole.


When we begin to see the results of those polygraph tests, the problems reported in the headlines of last week's paper will soon look very small in comparison to the real amount of pain that is probably out there.


If you remember only one thing out of this article, remember this: A large study of convicted sex offenders found that the average sex offender in the study group had only two known charges and five known offenses on his criminal record. By the time of the offender's second round of polygraph testing during the study, each sex offender confessed to an average of 110 victims and 318 offenses[4], and they had a history of offenses going back an average of sixteen years before they were arrested.[5]


For each victim known to law enforcement, there were 55 more. For each offense charged, they were 64 more.


The polygraph exam requirement needs to be made an immediate and ongoing requirement for each person who is required to register as a sex offender.[6]


First, they need to be ordered to take the polygraph upon their sentencing in order to identify other, unknown, victims. If the convicted sex offender refuses to take a post-sentence polygraph exam, they should not receive the benefit of any suspended jail or prison time. Next, prior to or as a condition of their being placed back into the community, they should again take a polygraph exam since it has been found that subsequent exams tend to reveal successively more victims and more offenses. Finally, the legislature needs to add to the very few private polygraph examiners who are currently working with local probation offices to monitor sex offenders who have been released back into the community.[7]


The next time you read a front page full of articles about sexual assaults, keep in mind that each victim you do read about represents 55 more for whom justice is not being done. The polygraph requirement is one small thing we can do to help those unknown victims.











[2] Kilpatrick, D., Edmunds, C., and Seymour, A., "Rape in America: A Report to the Nation," National Victim Center (Arlington, VA, 1992).



[3] Diana Russell, Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children, 1988; http://www.vaasa.org/vastats.html



[4] Ahlmeyer, S., Heil, P., McKee, B., and English, K. (2000). The impact of polygraphy on admissions of victims and offenses in adult sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 12 (2), 123-138.



[5] Ahlmeyer, S., English, K., & Simons, D. (1999). The impact of polygraphy on admissions of crossover offending behavior in adult sexual offenders. Presentation at the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers 18th Annual Research and Treatment Conference, Lake Buena Vista, FL.



[6] Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry Act, Code of Va. §§ 9.1-900 - 9.1-920




[7]"Mental Health Services Within the Department of Corrections", http://dls.state.va.us/GROUPS/reentry/meetings/091205/VADOChulbert.pdf