I GREW UP believing that I would be murdered by a stranger. I was eight years old when Sian Kingi was murdered. I was thirteen when Ebony Simpson was killed. I knew too many facts about Sharron Phillips’ death and had an age-inappropriate understanding of Anita Cobby’s case. I was a child of the stranger-danger generation and my father was in the media. My mother taught me to talk, but my father taught me to do it in a ‘radio voice’. My parents told me it could happen to me. I looked just like the girls on the news. I wasn’t allowed to walk to the corner store and I knew exactly why. My preadolescent brain convinced me that it would happen to me. I set out to learn everything I could about what this might mean. I wanted to understand who would do such a thing and why. I became fascinated with true crime and forensics long before it was cool.
Three decades later, as a criminologist, I have now interviewed more than one hundred men in three countries who have been incarcerated for serious sexual violence. I’ve also learnt a great deal about the causes and consequences of sexual offending, and those lessons create the structure of this essay. It addresses two major misconceptions (stranger danger and recidivism) surrounding perpetrators of child sexual abuse, explains why our reliance on these myths renders our current approach so profoundly inadequate, and describes how to prevent sexual violence and promote community safety.
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