Josh Duggar, member of the 19 (maybe 20, now) Kids and Counting Duggar family, and until-yesterday, lobbyist for the Family Research Council, has admitted to “acting inexcusably” when he was a young teenager of approximately 14 or 15 years old. The admission comes after In Touch magazine published an offense report detailing investigations into his alleged touching of his female siblings (and possibly outsiders) on their breasts and vaginas. The investigation ended when it was determined that charges could not be brought because the statute of limitations had run. You can read more about it in the various stories that have been written about the news, and I’m not going to discuss the details of the allegations any further here. Again, I don’t really talk politics on a specific level here, and this feels like a story that has political implications because of who the Duggars are.
What I do find interesting about this story are the conversations I have had with people about the family’s response, along with questions about how it’s possible that CPS wasn’t brought in immediately, how the investigation could have lagged for so long, and how it’s possible that the statute of limitations could have been so short. After all, here we are in 2015, when the mugshot of every teacher accused of having sex with a student, every man or woman accused of viewing child pornography, or every high school senior prosecuted for having sex with his or her sophomore boyfriend or girlfriend is paraded on the 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 news and all across our preferred social media. And on top of that, aren’t the statutes of limitation on sex assault cases really long now, like, in some cases, lifetime? Like murder?
People Were Concerned About Different Stuff in 2002
To examine those questions, you need to do a couple of things. First, you need to remember what the connected world was like in 2002 or 2003 when the alleged activities occurred. Facebook, for example, wasn’t founded1 until April 4, 2004, and back then it was called “Thefacebook.” At the time, it was still limited to college students. In 2002, broadband penetration in the home was still very low; according to the Pew Research Council, as low as approximately 11% in March of 2002, and 16% in March of 2003. (Surprisingly, home internet access, period, was fairly low across the board in those days.) The iPod debuted only in October of 2001. And, oh yeah, most of the country was still dealing with the shock of 9/11, and the ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
In other words, even though it was 12 or 13 years ago that these acts allegedly occurred, it was a different world.
From a law enforcement perspective, it was also a different world. Looking at statistics of prosecutions brought against individuals for sexual offenses (sexual abuse or assault, child pornography, et cetera) can yield some insights into how prosecutions have increased in the past decade or so for these types of allegations.
Sex Offense Prosecution Trends
According the the USDOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, federal prosecutions of sex offenses skyrocketed from 1996 to 2006. Most of the increase is attributable to child porn prosecutions, as seen in Figure 1:
Table 17 of the 2001 Sourcebook published by the United States Sentencing Commission shows that only about 750 cases were sentenced under reference to Section 2G of the sentencing guidelines; Section 2G refers to sexual crimes of any nature. While the overwhelming majority of these cases involve offenses against minors, the total number of these cases pales in comparison to, say, fraud cases (roughly 6,000 sentences referring to section 2B1.1) or drug cases (roughly 26,000 cases referring to section 2D1.1).
That was in 2001. By 2010, federal sentences involving 2G offenses had grown to 2,356 cases, while fraud cases had only increased to roughly 9,000. As noted, the vast majority of the increase in 2G sentences is attributable to child porn prosecution, but this increase in prosecutions has flattened out somewhat. The 2014 Sourcebook shows that federal sentences involving 2G offenses had only grown to 2,756 cases.
Prosecution Trends Among the States
Federal statistics tell only a part of the story, though, because, as the figure above shows, sex abuse isn’t highly prosecuted by the federal government. That’s because you pretty much need an interstate or transnational component for federal jurisdiction, and most cases don’t easily present that. Child porn, though? It’s easy to make the argument there’s an interstate or transnational component when bits are getting routed all over the country.
The states are therefore where the vast majority of sex offenses are prosecuted, and the trends tell an interesting story.
According to the Arkansas Department of Corrections, in 2004,2 sexual offenders comprised 13.4% of all offenders in Arkansas prisons (of which, at that time, there were about 13,000), which was about equal to the ranks of those in prison for homicide. Doing the math, that comes out to about 1750 inmates who are there for sex offenses. By 2010,3 there were 2,269 inmates in Arkansas prisons for sex offenses, which was only slightly less than those there for drug offenses at 3.055. Homicide was in third place with 1,979. The sex offense numbers stayed largely the same by 2014.4 And remember, this is only for the prison population. In fiscal year 2003,5 there were, on average, 1200 individuals on some sort of community supervision (probation, parole, or pretrial monitoring) at any given time. By fiscal year 2013,6 there were, on average, 2,900 individuals on some sort of community supervision at any given time.
Texas has similar trends. In fiscal year 2005,7 the total jail and prison population comprised 10.401 individuals convicted of sexual assault of a child. By fiscal year 2014,8 the total jail and prison population for sexual assault of a child and indecency of a child had swelled to over 17,000.
Obviously, a lot of things go into increased prosecutions for various offenses (general population growth, for example) but it’s clear that prosecutions indubitably increased over the past decade or so. And that’s notable.
It also goes toward explaining why people are sitting here in 2015 asking the questions they are, when they weren’t necessarily asking those questions over a decade ago: because it was a different world.
1Link to Wikipedia, so, you know, treat it as a Wikipedia link.
2See page 37.
3See page 4.
4See page 4.
5See page 25.
6See page 14.
7See page 18.
8See page 18.