An article about sex offenders in today’s Washington Post cites an unspecified Danish study which found a recidivism rate of 80 percent among sex offenders who have molested children. According to the study, this likelihood of repeat offenses dropped to 2.3 percent among offenders who were subsequently castrated.
Judging from his web site, that’s not the kind of data that convicted sex offender, exgay activist and Exodus regional representative Bob Van Domelen seems to want exgay movement supporters to hear.
Let’s take a brief look at Van Domelen and what he has to say about the tendency of convicted child sex offenders to repeat their crimes.
According to Mark Pietrzyk, a contributing author at the Independent Gay Forum:
During his college years, Van Domelen struggled with his sexual orientation and frequented public restrooms for homosexual encounters. After graduating from college, Van Domelen became a teacher and married a woman. As a teacher, however, he developed the troubling habit of molesting his male students. Fourteen years later, in 1985, he was confronted by a former student who reported him to the police. Van Domelen was sentenced to five years in prison for first- and second-degree sexual assault against minors. [He served three years.] He spent his time in prison studying the Bible, which led him to repent and seek to overcome his homosexuality. When Van Domelen was released, he started his Broken Yoke ex-gay ministry. Today, Van Domelen says that he is mostly healed, but that he still has to say a quick prayer before entering a public restroom.
Most of these details are volunteered and clarified by Van Domelen in his undated autobiography, which seems to oversimplify and conflate the origins of both his sexual orientation and his past compulsion to abuse teen-agers.
After taking the reins of Broken Yoke, Van Domelen says, he was appointed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson to serve seven years as a director on a Wisconsin state commission on child abuse, beginning during his final year of parole.
But beyond prayer, Van Domelen’s web site is vague about recommended treatment or punishment for sex offenders. He certainly does not recommend castration. And he seems to offer a false sense of security about convicted offenders’ likelihood to re-offend:
Van Domelen claims that unspecified “research” finds low recidivism — 13.4 percent — among sex offenders. Van Domelen neglects to cite any specific research study, though; he merely links to the home page of one low-profile prison-reform group in Alberta, Canada, as a general source for further information on recidivism.
Yet that organization, the John Howard Society, hosts numerous advocacy papers on criminal justice, among them a white paper on recidivism that cites recidivism rates of 61 percent among sex offenders — not the 13.4 percent that Van Domelen claims:
The 1996 study* by Hanson et al. looked into the difference between the recidivism of child molesters and nonsexual criminals, using the same group of child molesters as in their 1992 report. The study included 191 child molesters and 137 nonsexual criminals, 15-30 years after their release from a maximum security provincial institution. The authors reported that long term recidivism rates for the child molesters were substantial, but the rates for nonsexual offenders were even higher: 61% versus 83.2% respectively. Although child molesters had much higher rates of sexual recidivism (35%) than did the nonsexual offenders (1.5%), the overall lower rate of recidivism for child molesters challenges the assumption that child molesters are a particularly high risk group of offenders.
* Hanson, R.K. & Bussière. (1996). Predictors of sexual offender recidivism: A meta-analysis (No. 1996-04). Ottawa: Solicitor General of Canada.
(Perhaps Van Domelen’s confusion about recidivism results in part from his choice of source material: Even the John Howard Society white paper is confused in its distinction between sexual recidivism rates of 35 and 61 percent.)
Which are we to believe — Van Domelen’s unsubstantiated claim of 13.4 percent recidivism, Canadian government and advocacy-group findings of 35 to 61 percent, or a vaguely cited Dutch finding of 80 percent? More to the point, why is Van Domelen’s selective statistical claim about repeat offenses among child molesters so extremely positive, at the same time that his portrayal of homosexuality consists solely of filthy, unsafe, underage sex in restrooms? Is he seeking to redirect public outrage at sex offenders toward sexually responsible gay couples instead?
Furthermore, why does Exodus vaguely refer to Van Domelen as a “convicted sex offender” — as though he might have been arrested on a triviality such as public nudity? Why not use clearer language such as former molester or former pedophile? And why does Exodus grant a national soapbox to someone who, by his own acknowledgment, remains only partially cured of his attraction to sex with possibly underage persons in public restrooms?
I believe Van Domelen owes the general public — and not just those persons who pay to attend Exodus conferences — some clearer answers to basic questions that should not be glossed over with God-talk. wildly optimistic and oversimplified references to unspecified “research,” and bigoted insinuations about the private bedroom behavior of emotionally, socially and spiritually mature gay couples.