Monday, May 24, 2010

Understanding Sex Offender Registries

I meant to include this in my post yesterday because I think it is worth noting. This is an excerpt from the Joyful Child Foundation booklet I picked up yesterday:

"There are a variety of online sex offender registries that people may use to search for registered sex offenders in a given neighborhood. These registries are a valuable tool, but it is important to understand the service and level of accuracy that these databases provide. First and foremost, you should remember that online registries are databases of convicted sex offenders who are required to register themselves as sex offenders. It is up to states to determine which sexually based crimes warrant registry. Not all states, counties or even judges use the same criteria for establishing which crimes warrant registry. The federal government, furthermore, has established guidelines for recommended sentencing and registries, but they are guidelines and not mandates, which means that, ultimately, the decision to register a sex offender is up to state governments and/or based on the individual case. In fact, few states comply with federal law.

"Not all convicted sex offenders are required to register publicly. This means that there are sex offenders who will not appear on public registries although they do register with local law enforcement agencies. When a convicted sexual predator is required to register, it is also important to understand that they do not necessarily have to register for life. The term of the registry may be as little as a few months or as long as the perpetrator's life. Furthermore, registries are created based on publicly available records and self reporting. If someone's record is protected by the court system, it will not appear in a registry. Most states rate sex offenders' level of risk to re-offend from 1 to 3, 1 being the lowest risk. Some states only publish the information of high-risk offenders. If a sex offender fails to register himself or herself, they may not be in the registry at all or their information may be incorrect. Furthermore, if a sex offender registers as homeless, they will only be searchable by name and not by location.

"Harassing anyone on the offender registry is a punishable crime that can not only result in jail time and monetary fines, but may lead to a sex offender's registry record becoming protected by the court. The purpose of sex offender registries is to identify sexual predators so that you may keep yourself and your children away from them. The registries are not to be used as a tool to hunt them down. Vigilante aggression against registered sex offenders will jeopardize public notification thereafter, reversing the progress we have made.


"Once you begin checking the sex offender registries, you will find sex offenders in your neighborhood. It is a good idea to find out what type of sex offender this person is based on what crimes they have been convicted of. Keep in mind that many offenders have had their offenses reduced as part of a plea bargain process to avoid a criminal trial."

A good example of a sex offender's record being protected by the court is in the case of an offender who is a minor. It is not uncommon for a teenage perpetrator's record to be expunged when s/he reaches adulthood. Ummm, I'm talking from personal experience here. I am related to somebody who molested a four-year old neighbor girl as a teenager and spent six months in juvenile detention for it. His court record was expunged when he turned 18, so there is no public record of his crime. And sadly, studies and statistics all show that sexual predatory crimes are never a one-time occurrence; chances are if there is no record of this person having committed any further sexual offenses over the years, it's only because he hasn't been caught.

Personally, I have never checked any of the public registries for sex offenders in my neighborhood. It's probably foolish, but it seems to me that there are too many loopholes, like the ones outlined in this booklet. And really, what about the sex offenders who undoubtedly live in every neighborhood who haven't been caught, and therefore have never been required to register? I pretty much treat every neighbor as a potential sex offender, meaning I keep a very close watch on my kids and we are very clear with them about safety, and who and under what circumstances it's safe to talk to and interact with, and who and when not. Although there are always further measures that can be taken, and I'm really interested in this radKIDS program.

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