Division of Criminal Justice Services

"Myths and Facts"

April 2014

The Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) is not endorsing any of the research cited below, nor taking sides on these issues. Instead, we are presenting a balanced summary of what we know (and do not know) concerning these issues.

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Myth: Most sexual offenses are committed by strangers.
Fact: Most sexual offenses are committed by family members or acquaintances.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 86 percent of all sexual assault cases reported to law enforcement were committed by someone known to the victim (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
  • Approximately 47 percent are victimized by family or extended family (Briere J. and D.M. Eliot, 2003)
  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 93 percent of victims under the age of 17, and 73 percent of victims age 18 and older, were assaulted by someone they knew. Where the victim was a child, 34 percent of offenders were family members and 59 percent were acquaintances (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
  • Multiple studies have shown that sex offenders often establish contact with their victims through their relationship with another person, most commonly an adult. For example, repeat sex offenders in one study used romantic relationships with women to gain access to the women's children. Offenders can also gain access to victims through babysitting for someone they know or by living with friends who have children (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2007).

Myth: Only males commit sex offenses.
Fact: Although most offenders are male, females commit sex offenses too.

  • As of April 2014, about 2 percent (769) of the people required to register under New York's Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) were female (data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Sex Offender Registry).

Myth: Children who are sexually assaulted will grow up to sexually assault others.
Fact: A percentage of sex offenders were abused as children, although certainly not the majority

  • Becker and Murphy (1998) estimated that while 30 percent of sex offenders were sexually abused as children, 70 percent were not.
  • Hindman and Peters (2001) found that 67 percent of sex offenders initially reported experiencing sexual abuse as children, but when given a polygraph ("lie detector") test, the proportion dropped to 29 percent, suggesting that some sex offenders exaggerate early childhood victimization in an effort to rationalize their behavior or gain sympathy from others.

Myth: Adolescents do not commit sex offenses.
Fact: Adolescents represent a fair number of sex offenders.

  • Juveniles committed approximately half of all child molestations reported and one-fifth of all rapes (CSOM 1999).
  • Nationally, 36 percent of sexual assault offenders against children were juveniles (Crimes Against Children Research Center, UNH, 2010).
  • Forty percent of the offenders who assaulted children under the age of six were themselves less than 18 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
  • Approximately one-third of sexual offenses against children are committed by teenagers. Sexual offenses against young children under 12 years of age are typically committed by boys between the ages of 12 and 15 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999; Davis & Leitenberg, 1987).

Myth: Child molesters spontaneously attack when they see a vulnerable potential victim.
Fact: Many child molesters and pedophiles spend years positioning themselves into a place of authority and trust within the community, and can spend a long time "grooming" one child.

Grooming is aimed at an intended child and the offenders behave in ways to gain a parent's trust, often ingratiating themselves with the victim's family or guardian. They often select their potential victims carefully, targeting children who are seeking adult attention. Often there is a period before the offender engages in any inappropriate behavior and during this time, the potential offender exhibits interest in and spends time with the child (Lanning, Kenneth 2010).

Myth: The majority of sex crimes are reported.
Fact: Most sex crimes are not reported and, therefore, are not prosecuted.

  • Research indicates that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. Approximately only 30 percent of rapes were reported to police (DOJ 2005 National Crime Victimization Study).
  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' 2006 report on the National Crime Victimization Survey, rapes and sexual assaults of victims age 12 and older were reported to police in 38 percent of cases. This varies by the relationship to the offender, with 56 percent of offenses involving strangers being reported, and only 28 percent of non-strangers being reported.
Victim Age Percent Reporting the Assault to Police
12-19 33%
20-34 30%
35-49 62%
50-64 37%
  • Eleven percent of child rape victims reported the crime, though not necessarily to the police (Smith, Letourneau, Saunders, Kilpatrick, Resnick & Best, 2000); between 2 and 8 percent of incest victims report sexual offenses (U.S. Department of Justice, 2003).
  • Although 50 percent of violent crime victims over the age of 12 contact police, only 36 percent of sexual assault victims over the age of 12 report the crime to authorities (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).
  • Studies using the polygraph ("lie detector”) test have found that sex offenders have often committed sex crimes that went undisclosed and were never reported to police or child protective agencies (Ahlmeyer, Heil, McKee, & English, 2000; English, Jones, Pasini-Hill, & Cooley-Towell, 2000).