Research shows that violent sex offenders often were abused as children, says Minnesota Public Radio in a series of stories on the problem. Many experts pointed to prevention as a key area that gets little attention. Ramsey County, Mn., identifies children who get in trouble and are at risk of becoming violent offenders, and targets them for intensive intervention. Those children are significantly less likely to go on to a life of crime. Nancy Sabin, head of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, says she believes prevention is the most neglected solution to sexual violence. She says it’s easy to focus on stranger danger. It’s harder to address family issues closer to home. “The question I’d like to ask the public is, where do we think these guys are coming from? They’re coming from our homes,” says Sabin. “We’ve got to get over some of the fear, and find the right words to have really important conversations so none of us are raising sex offenders in our homes. because that’s where they’re coming from. If we can’t help fix this problem, who can?”
Starting that public discussion may not be easy. Talking about sex raises issues of morality and religion. North Dakota State Sen. Tim Mathern says he’s convinced successful solutions to sexual violence won’t happen until the public is engaged in a meaningful debate. “These public policies have to be discussed. And the citizens have to start influencing their legislators to use facts, to use research, to use an approach that actually works, not an approach that just gets more votes,” says Mathern. “We have to make sure we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot by being righteous, but making things worse.” In Minnesota, a panel of experts recently completed a comprehensive report to serve as a guide for sex offender policy. One of the report’s authors says the biggest challenge is just getting lawmakers to read it.