Sir Young and the “Typical Sex Offender”

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A sexual assault case out of Texas is making national headlines based upon the comments and sentence imposed by the judge. From the CNN article on the case:

She could have sentenced him to 20 years in prison after he admitted to raping a 14-year-old girl in her high school.

Instead, a Texas judge gave the defendant a 45-day sentence and probation after implying that the victim was promiscuous. next in Texas rape case?

Judge Jeanine Howard told The Dallas Morning News that she based the sentence, in part, on medical records indicating that the girl had had three sexual partners and had given birth.

She told the newspaper that the victim “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be” and said the defendant, 20-year-old Sir Young, “is not your typical sex offender.”

This, of course, begs the question: What is the typical sex offender?

Many would say that there is no such thing as the “typical sex offender.” For instance, according to Expert Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Litigation, 68 Neb. L. Rev. 1, 144 (1989), “[t]he relevant scientific literature does not support the conclusion that there is a reliable profile of a ‘typical’ sex offender.” See also Commonwealth v. Trowbridge, 636 N.E.2d 291 (Mass.App.Ct. 1994) (“‘[S]cientific and clinical literature does not support the conclusion that there is a reliable profile or set of personality traits found in ‘typical’ sex offenders.”).

Others would say that the public perception of the typical sex offender is the opposite of the reality. As noted in The New Scarlet Letter: Are We Taking the Sex Offender Label Too Far?, 60-DEC R.I. B.J. 17 (2011), Katherine Godin notes that “[t]he public perception of the typical sex offender is the scary man lurking in the bushes or luring children into cars with candy.”

This seems to be the perception applied by the judge in Sir Young case:

“We don’t think that he qualifies as your typical sex offender. This is not somebody who has preyed on some young kids or unsuspecting people.”

While there might not be a “typical sex offender,” the Sir Young case looks like a lot of other sexual assault cases. Most rapes are not committed by strangers on unsuspecting victims; instead,

The reality is that 97% of child sex abuse victims up to 5 years old knew the offender (as a family member, family friend) prior to the offense. For those victims 6-11 years old, 95% knew the offender previously. For those 12-17 years old, the statistic is 90%. In general, for sexual assault victims under 18 years of age, 93% knew their offender before the incident. Id.

Moreover, while the judge seems to distinguish Sir Young from those who prey on “young kids,” a few studies have shown that the average age of underage sexual assault victims is 14-15. See, e.g., Owen D. Jones, Sex, Culture, and the Biology of Rape: Toward Explanation and Prevention, 87 Cal. L. Rev. 827, 871 (1999). 

-Colin Miller

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