“Mom, the bus driver said some of our bus-stops had to be changed because parents were complaining about a registered sex offender that was near our route,” said The Tortoise last night on the way home from a soccer game.
I waited. I knew there would be more than just this blunt statement.
“What exactly does that mean?”
Yes, what exactly does that mean? Convicted offenders are required to register so that the public is somehow able to better protect their families. But have you ever really looked at those sites? The information is incredibly limited. The person’s age, photo, address and convicted offense is listed, but not much detail. The offense information is often vague or general and you have to research the terms to even understand what the conviction means. I don’t want details of the actions, but I would like to know how old was the minor involved. Was the minor abducted? Was the offender a stranger, neighbor or relative? All valid questions I think when you are trying to asses how much concern you should have for the safety of your children. Based on the date of conviction and the offender’s age, the best any parent does is come to an assumption. It’s hard not too when the statistics of abuse are so staggering. According to the website, Darkness to Light, an online resource to help educate families and help prevent child sexual abuse, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are abused before the age of 18. Another shocking statistic on their website states that Nearly 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under 12. Think about your own children. The next time you host a birthday party or sleepover and you look at all of those sweet faces, there is a high probability that at least one of them has already experienced or will experience sexual abuse.
Friends and neighbors had already told me about a registered offender that had recently been updated to the system in our community. My first reaction was of shock and fear, of course. But then when you look at how many people that are on this registry in your community the numbers are overwhelming, and the offenses quite diverse. There is no way to hide your children away from all of them and I am certainly not going to create an environment of fear by pulling them out of school, living in seclusion or showing them every picture of every offender they might encounter. The best you can do is educate your children about this situation in general, teach them the correct names of their body parts so that there is no confusion when they need to talk to you, make sure they understand that there are bad people everywhere and stress that they need to make safe choices and tell a trusted adult as soon as someone makes them uncomfortable. (Download 7 Steps to Protecting our Children).
DW and I disagree greatly about this registry. He is of the opinion that once someone is convicted and paid the price, they shouldn’t have to live the rest of their lives as the leper of their community. It’s as if we are asking them to be branded with a Scarlet Letter to keep them separate from the rest of society. He also thinks having a registry only creates paranoia and hate crimes. I can see his point of view in regards to the latter, I suppose. The moms in my circle did become quite paranoid, calling the bus transportation department to have stops moved, emailing the National Registry link to one another, perhaps even pointing out the house to their children or other people in the community. The fear was that the offender’s target was a school aged child and that any one of our children could be a potential victim. However, what finally came to light after speaking with state officials, was that this minor was actually a prostitute, so it is plausible that the offender didn’t even know that she was under 18. Yet somehow this new piece of information has not settled my stomach. There is still a level of mistrust that I have for a person whose moral compass points the way towards paid sex with a person knowingly at least half their age. I do understand that this could have been their first and only offense, and that there are many, many reasons that drive people to participate in prostituion. I detest the idea of prostitution. I have no level of understanding why someone would pay for that, especially in an industry (if you can call it that) that consistently exploits women who are desperate and have absolutely no self-esteem or understanding of self-worth or else they most likely wouldn’t be engaged in this activity in the first place. There is a reason it is illegal in most states. I believe it is far less about trying to subject a society to one moral agenda, but to protect the women that end up selling their bodies to pay the bills, feed a drug or alcohol addiction, or are forced and abused. Prostitution is symptomatic of a larger problem.
Although I understand DW’s point about the danger of paranoia, there still is the unending debate about whether or not sex offenders can be rehabilitated. And if they can’t, what are our options? I don’t support the death penalty or think we should create “islands” or communities where we send offenders to live. I also don’t believe forced castration is the answer. My other frustration is understanding how there can be different levels of offenses, as if there is an acceptable limit or boundary. Had this prostitute been 18 or over, would that have made it okay, despite the fact that the offender would still have been at least double her age? I once heard someone I trusted (let me clarify, used to trust) make this statement, “The only pornography that I look at is appropriate pornography…and some beastiality…but definitely no child pornography.” Seriously? How is it that there could be this idea of appropriate pornography? And can someone really draw-the-line at beastiality? Somehow in this person’s mind that was okay but child pornography wasn’t? I find it unlikely. Isn’t it like a drug – after extended periods of time of exposure, the body builds an immunity and a stronger drug has to be prescribed?
I truly have no answer, other than to keep talking to my kids about being safe and to keep educating myself about the people in my community. Until there is some other productive and fail-safe option, I agree with this registry. And although in this particular circumstance the offender is not likely to be a threat to my family, I am somewhat thankful that we can be more educated about the people who have been convicted of crimes that could potentially affect my family.