Same-Sex Offenses Draw Twice as Much Time as Heterosexual Offenses
The Percy Foundation has long been concerned about the pattern of disparate sentencing between same-sex and opposite-sex sex offenders, particularly among men who are convicted of sexual contact or enticement offenses involving minors. As it enrolls new prisoners into its Insiders’ Bookstore program for free books, it continues to collect detailed questionnaires from them for its database, permitting us to update and re-analyze the data each year with a larger total sample. At present, we have usable data from 1,175 inmates, of whom 318 were incarcerated for contact offenses with minors.
Our previous studies have shown that men convicted for contact offenses with minor males are more likely to draw severe sentences of more than 20 years, and the disparity in sentencing is particularly strong for those convicted of offenses with teenagers. The additional surveys received and tabulated in 2021-22 and new ways of looking at the data now help us quantify the difference in sentencing more clearly. We have determined that it is best to examine median sentences, i.e. the middle sentence length when all sentences are ordered from shortest to longest. Mean or average sentences, especially for this category of offense, tend to be skewed by the extreme sentences of life or hundreds of years that occur in cases of intense moral outrage. We have further determined it is proper to concentrate on the sentences given to offenders with either one male victim or one female victim so as to be unbiased by any effect of moral revulsion over multiple victims.
Analysis of both contact and enticement offenses together shows that sentences become significantly shorter in cases involving females aged 14-17 relative to those 13 and under. However, that does not apply to male victims: offenders are sentenced almost as harshly regardless of victim age. Where as the median sentence for an offense involving an adolescent girl was 15 years, that for an adolescent boy in the same age range was 30 years. Gay sex with a teenage boy is considered more damaging than heterosexual contact with a girl.
Logistic regression analysis established that victim sex is the most important variable in predicting a longer sentence, although number of victims and age of victims (for females only) were also significant factors.
On the other hand, victim sex had no predictive value for the length of the sentence in non-sexual crimes such as homicide, assault, or robbery. This difference highlights the exceptionalist nature of homosexual sex with a male minor, which is still falsely considered to pose a greater danger to the minor’s future development than heterosexual molestation of a female of approximately the same age.
The difference in sentencing cannot be ascribed to the male victims being younger (a mean of 9.77 vs. 10.45 for girls), as the difference is statistically non-significant. A logistic regression analysis was performed on the data for all 318 contact offenders to determine which variables of victim sex, age of victim, age of offender, prior sex convictions, and number of victims were most predictive of longer sentences: number of victims, age of offender, and prior sex offenses had no predictive value; victims being under 13 had some predictive value, but the victim being male was the single greatest determinant in predicting a longer minimum sentence. A similar pattern was also evident among those imprisoned for non-contact enticement offenses. On the other hand, victim sex had no predictive value for the length of the sentence in non-sexual crimes such as homicide, assault, or robbery. This difference highlights the exceptionalist nature of homosexual sex with a male minor, which is still falsely considered to pose a greater danger to the minor’s future development than heterosexual molestation of a female of approximately the same age.
A SECOND QUESTION that our research has sought to address from the data is whether those who are attracted to underage teenagers are also likely to offend against younger children and vice versa, or whether the two groups should be considered quite distinct in their preferences. Should all sex offenders against minors be lumped together indifferently into the class of “pedophiles,” as popular wisdom would have it? Or should we follow the lead of mental health professionals and be careful to distinguish between pedophiles (those with a primary attraction to pre-pubescent children), hebephiles (those with a primary attraction to minors at the cusp of pubescence), and ephebophiles (those, like the Greek pederasts, with a primary attraction to adolescents who have already experienced the full onset of puberty)? This question has great bearing on how we deal with the various classes of minor-attracted persons.
Our survey instrument was designed to yield light by asking not just the sex offenders, but all prisoners about their attractions to different age groups of both males and females. They were asked both to choose their age group of primary attraction and to list all age groups to which they felt any attraction. Of those who designated females aged 15-to-17 as their greatest preference (the heterosexual ephebophiles), only 12.2% expressed any attraction at all to female children under 12; among those with a dominant attraction to adolescent males aged 15-to-17 (the homosexual ephebophiles), only 14.2% admitted any attraction to boys under 12. Conversely, among genuine homosexual pedophiles, only 20.9% felt any attraction to post-pubescent boys (15-17), although the proportion of heterosexual pedophiles who felt attraction to adolescent girls was almost twice as high. Both groups had considerable overlap with the intermediate category of hebephilia, however. Among the 522 prisoners with bi-sexual attractions, age preferences for females and males tended to be consistent. Sex-offender management professionals should recognize that men who have had a statutory rape conviction involving an older teenager are mostly not a threat to smaller children. These populations are distinct and should be treated as such.
Another common misunderstanding of sex offenders is the notion that they must be permanently segregated from society because they are incapable of satisfying themselves with legally available partners and will always return to molesting minors. A 2019 study by the DOJ’s own Bureau of Justice Statistics (Bjs.ojp.gov/library/publications/recidivism-sex-offenders-released-state-prison-9-year-follow-2005-14) found that 92.3% of sex offenders committed no other sex offense within nine years of their release. We also find that the proposition of an exclusive minor-fixated orientation is not consistent with our data: 50% of the inmates who say their primary attraction is to pre-pubescent females say they are also attracted to adult females, and the number goes up to 63% for those with a primary attraction to girls aged 12 to 14, and 85% for men mostly attracted to older teenage girls. The numbers are lower for those attracted to underage males: only 28% of homosexual pedophiles are also attracted to adult men, but the numbers go up to 59% and 65% respectively for homosexual hebephiles and ephebophiles. With the partial exception of homosexual pedophiles, most sex offenders are capable of channeling their erotic impulses toward legal associates, so therapeutic programs should encourage healthy and legal desires and relationships among those who are elastic in their range of attraction, and abstinence for the rest. Whether post-carceral restrictions on internet use or the stigma of being labeled a “sex offender” render them unlikely to succeed with other adults is a different question.
MUCH WORK continues to be done. Surveys distributed in spring 2022 inquire in a more focused way concerning the motivating factors behind contact, enticement, and child pornography offenses. Popular theories abound (e.g., “they want power and control” in relationships), but little concrete evidence has been collected to justify any of them. We are also inquiring how much incarcerated offenders knew about the unlawfulness and serious penalties attached to their actions, and thus whether the long prison sentences common in U.S. jurisprudence really have the intended deterrent effect. We have recruited an experienced criminologist to help us publish this data in appropriate scholarly venues where it can influence future policy debates.