Here’s a fun exercise for you readers in California. Go to this link:
And when you do, enter your ZIP code in the box to the far right of the screen. Be sure to select the “map” option for viewing your results.
See those little blue squares on the map? Each one represents a person in your area who is required to register as a convicted sex offender. Try clicking one of the boxes. Ew! Look at that creeper’s mugshot! Look at what he was convicted of doing! Afterward, grab every minor within arm’s reach, run to your concrete panic room, throw the bolts, and keep your 12-gauge aimed at the door. Because that’s what you feel like doing, right? I mean, there are incurable pedophiles everywhere! Surely the local used car dealerships are fielding countless inquiries about windowless vans and ice cream trucks.
However, even if you take these measures, sex offender registration has not and will not make you or your children safer.
“Megan’s Law” is the popular phrase used to describe a set of laws that requires people convicted of certain “sex offenses” to register with the state. Registered sex offenders (RSOs) must inform local law enforcement of their current address within five days of their birthdates or within five days of acquiring a new address (whichever comes first in a given year). Local law enforcement must notify neighbors if an RSO moves into their neighborhood. Some laws prohibit RSOs from living within a certain radius of a school.
“Megan’s Law” is named for a young girl in New Jersey who was sexually assaulted and killed by a convicted sex offender living in her own neighborhood. Megan’s father used this tragedy to lobby (successfully) for laws that would alert parents of convicted predators moving to their neighborhood.
However, senseless tragedy is rarely vulnerable to sweeping preventative measures designed to make people “feel safe.” Here are some of the folks whom I have represented who – despite being registered sex offenders with profiles on the Megan’s Law website, are no more or less likely to be after your kid.
I. The Live-in Abuser
The overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse happens at the hands of someone the child knows. The father. The step-father. The live-in uncle. The mentally-disturbed older brother. The swim coach. The chances of a child being abused by a stranger with a van, raincoat, and lost puppies that need finding are astronomically small; chances are much greater that you’ve already invited and welcomed the abuser into your life. And chances are even greater that this person is not (yet) on the Meghan’s Law website.
Otherwise, why would you allow such a creep into your child’s life?
II. The Jailbaited
Sometimes parents receive uncomfortable reminders that their minor daughters have the bodies of grown women, and are thus attractive to grown men who are not pedophiles. Having sex with a 16-year-old will probably not get you on the Megan’s Law website so long as you are not more than ten years older than she is.
However, if the sixteen-year-old who you met through your community sports league sends you the following text message:
“O hai. Want 2 see my boobz?”
And if your response is anything other than an emphatic, all-caps NO, you will have just solicited child pornography. If she sends you a picture of herself, topless, in front of the bathroom mirror making a sideways “peace” sign and ducklips, you are now in possession of child pornography. Remember to let the police department know within five days of changing your address!
And although this person now has plenty of free time during the day now that he is effectively unemployable, he’s not lurking near jungle gyms looking for prey. No child is safer…unless the child is a post-pubescent with the thirst for exhibitionism that comes having too many parents skipping too many piano recitals during childhood.
III. The Transient
Mental illness, drug addiction, poor hygiene, and Megan’s Law are patches in the sad quiltwork of reasons why a registered sex offender might have no residence at all. Some localities are more restrictive than others. Local ordinances in San Diego were recently found unconstitutional; since no part of San Diego is fewer than 1000 yards from a school, local laws effectively banished all RSOs from the city limits.
Some manage to find apartments or trailer homes outside of town…often finding other RSOs as roommates. But others sleep under bridges, or in doorways, or on the streets. I’m not necessarily asking you to find sympathy for these people, but doesn’t this completely undermine the intended purpose of sex offender registration?
In California, transient sex offenders must register as transients every thirty days. Sometimes local prosecutors – in their zeal to prosecute those who violate the terms of their sex offender registration – will prosecute transients who habitually sleep under the same stairway for too many nights per month on the theory that they have developed a “concurrent address” that must be registered; failing to re-register in a timely manner is a felony offense in its own right.
And so prosecutors provide a perverse incentive for transient sex offenders to not seek shelter. Is anyone safer when more and more people don’t have a permanent address?
I have many more things to say about the accidents that happen when voters amend our criminal sentencing laws through ballot initiative and popular vote, but that may be for a future post.