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Sex offenses on the rise locally, in Ga.
Are more sexual offenses occurring or are victims reporting more often?
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Brandon Wiggins pleaded guilty to molesting his two stepsisters, one was consensual, and the other was by force. Donald Waite was found guilty of the ongoing molestation of a 3-year-old child. And a former college professor pleaded guilty to obscene Internet contact.

In Newton County, and throughout the state, the number of sexual offenses continues to increase. People, predominately men, are increasingly accused and found guilty (or accept plea deals) of sexual offenses, more often than not against children.

It is not unusual to see a charge levied against someone at least once every two weeks in Newton County, which begs the question: Are sexual offenses happening more often or are people simply more willing to report cases?

From 2007 to January 2012, the number of sex offenders in Newton County increased from 125 to 188, while the number of people incarcerated in the state for sex crimes increased from 7,261 to 7,789 during the same period. And the total number of sex offenders in the state (both incarcerated and on the streets) has jumped from 4,694 in 2007 to 21,192 in 2011.

"There has been an increase of sex offenders moving into Newton County, and the contributing factor is due to changes in Georgia's sex offender registration law," said Lt. Gwen Freeman-Hightower with the Newton County Sheriff's Office Sex Offender Registration Unit. "Two years ago [the new law] went into effect; this law determines where a sex offender can reside and work. The deciding factor is the sex offender's date of offense rather than conviction. Sex offenders with offense dates prior to June 4, 2003 have no proximity restrictions; so they can live and work wherever they want and the years after have a little more restrictions."

According to a study by the Georgia Department of Corrections, between 1992 and 2007 sexual offenses comprised 11 percent of charges per year.

"The growth can be partially explained by a national crack down on sexual offenders in the late 1970s. ‘It is OK to tell' was the slogan used to encourage parents to talk to their children about inappropriate touches and to encourage them to report sexual abuses," according to the Georgia Department of Corrections report.

"Instrumental law reforms were also made to foster reporting. The rules of evidentiary admissibility in rape cases, for example, were changed in many states. Now, references to the victim's past could only be made if they were related to the incident in question. Sexual offenses law reforms also included tougher punishments to keep sexual offenders off the streets."

Freeman-Hightower said she believed the number of increased cases may have to do with the increase in reporting the abuse.

"I believe people are reporting more because people have been educated that it's OK to tell and that they, the victims, are not responsible," she said. "To some degree there is [still a stigma attached] because there is a mark of shame and guilt that some victims feel that other's associate (with) the abuse."

And while a stigma may not be attached now to victims of abuse, state statistics show that people abused in the past have a higher rate of sexually aggressive behavior and that roughly 30 percent of adult sex offenders report being sexually abused themselves. Those that abuse boys have higher rates of childhood abuse.

Freeman-Hightower confirmed that out of the 188 registered sex offenders in the county, some had disclosed being a victim of abuse in the past.

Perhaps another reason for the increase is that there are so many more things that are considered sexual offenses now that weren't 20 years ago. Issues with Internet predators were not an issue, and the influx of dating and social media sites and more adults, teens and tweens on those sites opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for predators.

Just like many other crimes, those convicted of sexual offenses do have a relatively high rate of recidivism.
In Newton County there are just three - 1.5 percent - of the 188 known offenders that have re-offended, according to Freeman-Hightower. The DOC said that as of 2007 the rate of recidivism was 28 percent within three years of release. Nationwide, about 15 to 20 treated sex offenders are likely to re-offend, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Left untreated, that number jumped to 80 percent.

So what can be done? Many prisons have tried different methods to "cure" offenders.

Research done by the University of London shows that psychological therapy may reduce the rate at which sex offenders re-offend, though it does not cure them. In Georgia, treatment is decided after conviction and in the sentencing of an offender. Treatments range from therapy to chemical castration for serious offenders.

Chemical castration uses hormones to drastically reduce the amount of testosterone levels, which essentially makes the offender impotent. Georgia was one of the first states in the U.S. to legalize this form of treatment. Combined with intense therapy, it has dropped the repeat offender rate in Texas down to 2.2 percent (statistics were not available for Georgia).

Brandon Wiggins will serve 25 years behind bars before being eligible for parole. For his victims, the pain doesn't go away. One of the girls he admitted to assaulting has since died; the other is left to pick up the pieces. And Donald Waite is scheduled to be deported back to his homeland of Jamaica after he serves 20 years, but a 3-year-old child may suffer for the rest of her life because of the ongoing molestation she was subjected to at his hands.