Violent Sex Offenses: How are They Best Measured from Official Records?

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In the United States, sexually violent predator (SVP) commitment statutes generally require assessment of an offender's risk of subsequent sexual violence. Current actuarial methods for predicting sexual reoffending were actually designed to predict something else—charges or convictions for offenses deemed sexual based on information obtained from police “rapsheets” alone. This study examined the referral and past offenses of 177 sex offenders. Results showed that police rapsheets (and data based on them) underestimated the number and severity of sexually motivated violent offenses for which sex offenders were actually apprehended. Rapsheet violent offenses seemed a more accurate index of the conduct addressed by SVP legislation than were rapsheet sex offenses. We suggest that, when evaluating sex offenders for SVP status, actuarial instruments designed to predict violent recidivism (as measured by rapsheet violent reoffenses) might be preferable to those designed to predict sexual recidivism (as measured by rapsheet sexual reoffenses).

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