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Iowa Sex Offender Research Council, Report to the Iowa General Assembly, January, 2011

January 2011:

Statement of the Issue:
The Sex Offender Research Council (SORC), at their June 23, 2010 meeting chose to emphasize the effect that Iowa’s current legislation and practices has on juveniles accused and adjudicated on sex offenses. Significant changes were made during the 2009 Legislative session with regard to the treatment of juvenile sex offenders, specifically in response to compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act. The SORC requested a more comprehensive analysis of the changes made to IA Code 692A, and the impact on juveniles.

Over the last several years, lawmakers have responded to several highly publicized child abduction, assault, and murder cases. While such cases remain rare in Iowa, the public debates they have generated are having far-reaching effects. Policy makers are responsible for controlling the nature of such effects. Challenges they face stem from the need to avoid responses whose primary motivation is political and the desire to make informed decisions that recognize both the strengths and the limitations of the criminal justice system as a vehicle for promoting safe and healthy families and communities.

One of the standing goals of the Research Council is to provide nonpartisan guidance to help avoid or fix problematic sex offense policies and practices. Setting this goal was a response to the concern over what can result from elected officials’ efforts to respond to the types of sex offender-related concerns that can easily become emotionally laden and politically charged due to the universally held abhorrence of sex crimes against children.

An issue of perhaps the greatest interest to many Council members is a belief in the benefit of viewing Iowa’s efforts to protect children from sex crimes with as comprehensive a platform as possible. It has been suggested that much more can be done to prevent child-victim sex crimes than would be accomplished by concentrating solely on what to do with offenders after a crime has occurred. To prevent child victimization, most laws and policy provisions rely largely on incapacitation and future deterrent effects of increased penalties, more restrictive supervision practices, and greater public awareness of the risk presented by a segment of Iowa’s known sex offenders. For some offenders, these policies will no doubt prevent future sex crimes against children, and the Council supports long-term studies to examine the desired results and for ways to improve such results through better supervision tools and more effective offender treatment.

Unfortunately, many of the effects from the new policies may primarily influence persons who have already committed sex offenses against minors and who have already been caught doing so. The evidence suggests, however, that most offenders coming to the attention of the justice system for sex crimes have not previously been adjudicated for such crimes. Thus, Council members continue to discuss the need for a range of preventive efforts and a need to think about sex crimes against children from other than just a “reaction-to-the-offender” perspective. This is particularly true for juvenile sex offenders, where early intervention has the best potential to stop future offending behaviors.

Along with incapacitation and deterrence, comprehensive approaches to the prevention of child-victim sex crimes would also involve ensuring that parents have the tools needed to detect signs of adults with sex behavior problems, to both help teach their children about warning signs and to find the support necessary for healthy parenting. School, faith-based, and other community organizations might benefit from stronger supports and better tools to more effectively promote positive youth development and the learning of respect for others, respect for boundaries, and healthy relationships.

All of us who have children, or who live in communities where there are children, need to understand the limitations of our justice system and the importance of our own ability to play a role in preventing sexual abuse and protecting children from sex offenders, who are often the child’s own family members. Over 1,000 incidents of child sexual abuse are confirmed or founded each year in Iowa, and many such acts take place in the child’s home or the residence of the caretaker of the child. Efforts to prevent child sexual abuse and to provide for early interventions with children and families at risk should be strategically examined and strengthened.

Summary of Recommendations
Following are the specific recommendations to be found in the body of this report.
1. The Sex Offender Research Council recommends that juvenile court officials, when determining the appropriate charge(s) when making an allegation of delinquency for a sex offense, should take into consideration the type of abuse, the use of force, and the comparative ages of offender and victim.

2. The Sex Offender Research Council, through an evaluation of available research, recognizes the mandatory placement of certain juvenile offenders on the sex offender registry based solely on offense classification is not the best practice for addressing the treatment and rehabilitation needs of the juvenile offender. The research suggests a better approach would include a registration determination based on case specific information including the nature and circumstances of the offense, comparative ages of the offender and victim, the offender’s background and a determination of the risk to re-offend.

3. All juvenile sex offenders should be evaluated by a team of multi-disciplinary personnel prior to any final dispositional orders; the timing of such an evaluation is not being specified at this point in time.

4. As recommended in past reports, the State should establish criteria and licensing/certification for individuals and programs providing sex offender treatment to juveniles.

5. The Sex Offender Research Council recommends that further research be conducted to determine the best practice for supervising sex offenders, using criteria based upon risk assessment, recidivism, public safety, and optimal use of scarce public resources.

6. Although the Council recognizes that policies requiring prevention efforts are difficult to enforce, members encourage the dissemination of evidence-based materials to the widest audiences possible, and encourage all agencies, institutions, and providers that work with parents and children to include information on sexual abuse and healthy relationships in materials, conversations, and education sessions. Further, as funds become available, the Council would recommend providing funds to help with the dissemination of materials and supporting the training of key individuals who work with the target population.
For the remainder of this paper: by Iowa Sex Offender Research Council

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