Posts tagged ‘sex offender registry’

‘Zero Tolerance’ May Harm More Than it Helps

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

Six-year-old first grader, Zachary Christie, was recently at the center of a debate over a school district policy when he brought a camping utensil to school. The tool looked like a pocket knife and contained a fork, spoon, can opener, and a small knife. For bringing a deadly weapon to school, Zachary was suspended for five days and was prohibited from returning to Downes Elementary School until after 45 days at an alternative school. Zach says he brought the tool to school so he could eat his pudding. (source)

The Christina School District, in Newark, Delaware, has a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy against bringing dangerous items to school, spurred mostly by safety concerns raised by Columbine and other school shootings. But after public outcry over the extreme sentence for a 6-year-old who wanted to eat pudding, the Christina School District decided to reexamine it’s harsh policy. “We need to recognize the cognitive level of these kids,” said school board member John Mackenzie. “We need to provide a little leeway.”

Political Rhetoric

“Zero-tolerance” is great political phrases. When a politician or a school board member up reelection uses it, they’re seen as “tough” on crime and someone who is protecting the public from all the bad people out in the world who want to harm them. But a one-size-fits-all approach to punishing criminals is rarely productive and can often be harmful to both the criminal and society.

Drug Policy

For example, ANY drug offense will bar the offender from receiving any future federal student aid money. This zero-tolerance policy means that any person convicted of possession of any amount of controlled substance can never receive federal loan or grant money to attend college. I realize that this punitive measure is meant as a deterrent to keep kids off drugs, but it also harms ex-drug users by denying them any help in getting an education and turning their lives around. On the other hand, if you are a child molester, rapist, or murderer, you can receive federal student aid without any problems.

Sex Offender Laws

In addition, sex offender residency restrictions are very popular for obvious reasons: no one wants a convicted sex offender living next door to them or next to a school or playground. However, overly harsh restriction laws also prevent former offenders from finding descent housing, pushing them to edges of society where their likelihood of re-offending is actually higher—as evidenced by the case of Philip Garrido. Offender residency restriction laws have also been used to keep sex offenders from attending church and receiving counseling, and, in Florida, has created a homeless sex offender camp underneath a bridge where over 100 registered sex offenders live, creating a public health and safety concern. These one-size-fits-all policies not only punish violent sex offenders like rapists and child molesters, but—in some states—punishes those who have urinated in public or had sex with their high school girlfriend after they turned 18.

Get Smarter

As citizens, we need to step back from zero-tolerance rhetoric and take a smarter approach to handling criminals in our society—not a “tougher” approach. Fortunately, the Christina School Board reversed its zero-tolerance policy and allowed for the age and cognitive ability of the perpetrator to be taken into account when assigning punishment. Now that Zach can go back to school, what has he learned from the whole experience? I’m sure he’s learned not to take a camping tool to school anymore, but how will this experience affect the way he views teachers, rules, law enforcement, and any other form of authority from now on? Will he see them as allies and protectors, or will he see them as vindictive enforcers who would rather punish instead of teach? For his sake and for ours, I hope it is the former.

Check out this video of the Christina School District debating the policy, as well as reactions from concerned parents:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

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October 15, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Preventing Sexual Abuse Through More Than ‘Stranger Danger’

Jaycee Lee Duggrad, kidnapped in 1991 by Phillip Garrido

Jaycee Lee Duggrad, kidnapped in 1991 by Phillip Garrido

As someone who follows sex offender issues, I have seen a myriad of recent articles in the media that throw blame at the California parole system, the Contra Costa County Sherriff’s Office, the California state sex offender registry and other governmental agencies for not better protecting Jaycee Lee Duggard and not catching Phillip Garrido sooner (see this article for a blame list that runs the gammut). But throwing blame at governmental agencies only distracts us from the real threats to our child’s safety.

Family and Friends

High-profile cases like this stoke our fear that our children will be abducted by the creepy guy at the end of the block or that some stranger will snatch our children off the street. But, really, that creepy guy at the end of the street is probably much less of a threat to your child than your friendly neighbor, a family friend, or close relative: 93% of first-time sex offenders are friends, acquaintances, or family members—people who are not yet on any registry.

It’s scary to think that your husband, brother, son, aunt, or niece is the most likely person to sexually assault your child. So we put it out of our minds, and we focus on the registered sex offender down the street who we have never met and never talked to.

What We Can Prevent

In reality, despite the waves of criticism being lobbed at California laws and law enforcement for not finding Duggard sooner, there is little to no evidence that Duggard’s actual kidnapping could have been prevented. It has been widely reported that Duggard was snatched off the street—within sight of her own home—as she walked to a nearby school bus stop. Her own stepfather saw the kidnapping take place and was powerless to stop it. But this is an extremely rare case. Protecting your child from sexual predators within your own circle of friends and family is much more preventable.

Go Beyond ‘Stranger Danger’

The first step is talking with your children, not just about “stranger danger,” but about inappropriate touching or inappropriate conversations with people they already know. Let them know that they have the right to say “no” to an adult or teen who makes them feel uncomfortable—even if that person is a friend or family member.

In addition, create a relationship with your child wherein they feel comfortable sharing anything with you. Many child predators shame their victims by telling them that their parents won’t love them or want them anymore if they found out what they did. Make sure your child knows they can always talk to you about anything without shame or remorse.

More Tips

I highly recommend taking a look at this list of suggestions about how to talk to your child and prevent sexual abuse by someone they know:

Also, here is a sobering site that lists sex offender statistics:

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September 17, 2009 at 7:55 am 1 comment

Teen ‘Sexting’ Could Label Them Sex Offenders for Life

Although we’ve discussed “sexting,” the practice of sending sexually explicit images through cell phones, before, it’s an issue that bears repeating multiple times and something that parents need to discuss with their teens.

Sexting Laws

A recent article posted at eAdvocate warns of the dangers that teens may fall into if they either send or receive sexually explicit images through their phone. For example, some states are making sexting between teens a misdemeanor; however, many state laws consider the possession or transmission of sexual images of teens, between teens punishable under child pornography laws—even if the one sending the material is a teen.

As a result, under current laws, if your teen takes a nude or semi-nude picture of him or herself and sends it to anyone, they could be tried and convicted of felony distribution of child pornography. As well, if your teen receives nude or semi-nude pictures of other teens, he or she could be charged with felony possession of child pornography. Either offense could require your teen to register as a sex offender and abide by state sex offender regulations, including residency restriction laws.

Teen Sexting is Not Harmless

Although some think that sexting is harmless—akin to finding a skin magazine under your teen’s mattress—the effects of sexting are extremely far-reaching. Images sent by phone can immediately be forwarded on to hundreds or thousands of individuals. In fact, one quarter of the 2,100 children identified as victims of online pornography sent the original image themselves (according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). That original image was then taken, forwarded, uploaded, and posted for hosts of other people to see.

What Sexting Means for Parents

Communication is the first line of defense. Talk to your teens about the potential dangers of sexting, warn them about the far-reaching effects one sexually-explicit image of themselves or one of their peers can have, including prosecution, humiliation, and registering as a sex offender.

Second, their phones are your phones. Check their text messages and images on a regular basis. They may see it as an invasion of privacy, but your phone policing can keep them honest and out of trouble. Or course, your actions should all be based on what will work best for you are your teen.

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September 1, 2009 at 6:00 am 3 comments

Protect Your Child From the Sex Offender Near Their School Bus Stop

In Kentucky, recently, a man found out that his child was waiting at a bus stop every morning that was right near the home of a registered sex offender. The man raised his concerns to the public school district and the stop was eventually moved, but the incident raises some questions about the danger of sex offenders living near your home or in your neighborhood.

First of all, I’m sure the man was grateful for the sex offender information in his areas, whether it was through a state sex offender registry or through Making sex offender information available to parents makes parents feel safer, knowing that they can get the information they need to make decision regarding their family’s safety.

However, knowing where a sex offender lives in only part of keeping your children safe from predators. The truth of the matter is that most sex offenders are family friends or related to their victims. A recent article published by eAdvocate points out some warning signs for parents.

The article warns, “If a family member or friend is taking an unusual interest in a particular child or children in the household–there should be a red flag to other family members to watch for signs of sexual abuse.” You can read more about warning signs of sexual abuse and predators’ silencing tactics by reading the entire article here.

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August 24, 2009 at 11:31 am Leave a comment

A Call for Sex Offender Laws that Make Sense

Miami Sex offenders forced to live under a bridge

No doubt about it, sex offender laws are popular. It’s hard to find a citizen or politician who wants to relax laws that keep sex offenders away from schools, parks, and daycare centers. Drafting and selling these laws to the public is easy because, as a society, when we hear “sex offender” we immediately think of socially awkward, overweight, men with thick glasses, who slobber over child pornography in cave-like basement apartments and wait in the shadows around elementary schools. But the truth of the matter is much more complex.

Due to a myriad of varying state and regional crime classifications, there are many sex offenses that technically designate an individual as a sex offender who poses virtually no risk to society. A drunk college student who makes the mistake of urinating in public can be arrested for public lewdlness and labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. An 18-year-old girl can have sex with her 17-year-old boyfriend, be arrested for statutory rape and labeled a sex offender for the rest of her life.

This is not to say that these offenses are okay. Clearly committing these offenses is against the law, but does the 18-year-old girl deserve to show up on a sex offender map 15 years later, when she is a happily-married housewife? Should the college kid be arrested for living too close to a public park (violating a sex offender residency restriction law) for a dumb, youthful indiscretion?

The problem is that current laws do not differentiate between violent sex offenders and people who made stupid mistakes, and there is a growing backlash against such laws. Recently, Miami-Dade County’s sex offender residency restriction laws forced 100 sex offenders to live in a homeless shantytown under a bridge, creating a public health and safety hazard that ignited a media firestorm, garnering national attention. As well, Andrea Cassanova, mother of a woman killed by a sex offender in 2002, founded a non-profit organization to research and combat useless and harmful “headline legislation” surrounding sex offenders restriction laws. Even Lenore Skenazy, “free-range kids” advocate, recently told parents to “burn your sex offender map,” arguing that sex offender maps are useless.

In addition, today there is a story about North Carolina man who was arrested for going to church. The man is a sex offender because of an offense against a teenage girl, six years ago. Since the church runs a daycare center during the week, county deputies arrested the man for violating sex offender restriction laws for going to church. Also in North Carolina, another church graciously moved its daycare center off premises so that a single sex offender could attend services on Sundays.

Forcing sex offenders to live under a bridge or keeping them from seeking rehabilitation through faith-based worship and counseling are not solving any problems. In fact, the further restrictions imposed on sex offenders, the greater the possibility the offender will break parole, abscond, and create a new life in a new neighborhood without anyone knowing who they are or what they have done—which isn’t good for anyone. Sex offenders who have absconded are less likely to seek treatment, and community members will be completely unaware of their past crimes, opening themselves up to future attacks if the offender has a violent past.

Fortunately, Miami-Dade County has found a temporary solution to the homeless sex offender colony and is finding affordable housing in the county for these individuals. But legislators and citizens need more information on recidivism rates and sex offender classifications. As well, law makers need to approach these problems in a less reactionary way, looking for solutions that keep tabs on violent, dangerous sex offenders, and stop punishing individuals that pose no threat to society. At the same time, there needs to be more emphasis on rehabilitation and counseling, and less emphasis on pushing sex offenders to the fringes—increasing the chances that they will go underground, reoffend, and hurt more innocent people and children.

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August 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm 3 comments

GPS Tracking Keeps Tabs on Sex Offenders

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is leading the way in sex offender tracking by issuing 6,000 GPS tracking bracelets to paroled sex offenders across the state.

The tracking bracelets send GPS information to a central server every 10 minutes so that analysts can map movement and anchor points for sex offenders. The system will also alert parole officers if a sex offender’s GPS data shows a correlation between a sex offender’s location and the time and location of a recent crime.

Clearly this system cannot predict a sex offender’s movements or the likelihood that he or she will re-offend; however, with the knowledge that their movements are being tracked, sex offenders will be less likely to travel into restricted areas and less likely to re-offend. And in the event that they are involved in a crime, the tracking system will make it easier to catch and prosecute the offenders.


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August 17, 2009 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

National Institute of Justice Examines Sex Offender Residency Restrictions

No doubt, sex offenders are among the most hated a feared criminals in society, so creating laws that restrict sex offenders from living with a certain distance of schools, playgrounds, parks, day care centers, etc., have been extremely popular and garner broad support across the nation. However, in a report issued by the National Institute of Justice, such laws can have unintended consequences.

Namely, because schools, parks, and other exclusion areas are spread throughout a city or town, many of the exclusion zones overlap, in some cases, covering almost the entire city and most of the available housing. This can create real problems. When sex offenders can’t legally find a place to live, they might go underground or become homeless and lose access to employment and mental health services.

In fact, just recently, NPR ran a story that covered Miami, Florida’s sex offender restriction laws. The restriction laws cover virtually the entire city, leaving the area around one bridge available for sex offender habitation. As a result a large, homeless sex offender community has grown up around the bridge, which isn’t healthy for the sex offenders, the community, or law enforcement.

Certainly, no one wants a sex offender living next door, but as more research is done into sex offender residency restriction laws, it might be helpful to modify these laws for the benefit of the community.

What do you think? Leave a comment.


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June 3, 2009 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

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