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It's my opinion that the number of sex offenders is increasing NOT because of any increase in the number of people who decide to commit sex crimes, but because the lawmakers are creating laws to expand the definition of what a sex crime is. Things that once were not considered a sex crime have now been put on the list. More and more people are being caught in the net and getting charged with something that at one time was not on the list.
Carol Willoughby was minding her own business -- a small daycare in her Massachusetts home -- when a neighbor moved into the house two doors down from hers in spring 2005.
She sometimes saw him walk past her driveway, marked by a painted daycare sign.
Willoughby would not find out her neighbor, Robert Gorczyca, was a repeat sex offender until a year later. Two little girls in a neighboring town told police they were waiting for the morning school bus when a man sitting in a car with his pants down fondled himself.
The girls ran away, screaming for help.
Police arrested Gorczyca, one of more than half a million convicted sex offenders living in the United States.
Laws in every state are designed to protect children from repeat sex offenders, but crime figures suggest those laws may not work. What's more, residence laws in some states may put children at greater risk because these sex criminals forced to leave their homes sometimes disappear from police sight.
All states have required sex offenders to register their addresses with local police since 1996. That's when Megan's Law was enacted, after a girl in New Jersey was snatched, raped and murdered by a neighbor no one knew had committed sexual attacks on two young children.
The Adam Walsh Act of 2006 updates those registration guidelines nationwide, ranking offenders by severity of their crimes.
In Illinois, state law says sex offenders must live at least 500 feet from a school and that they must stay at least 500 feet from a park where children play.
A 2005 Illinois law, the latest in the series, precludes more than one sex offender from living at the same address. Only state-owned or operated facilities, or transitional homes licensed by the corrections department, are exempt from this one-sex-offender-per-address rule.
Residence restrictions through state law or local ordinance designed to deliver predators from temptation are in effect in more than half of all states.
Statistics not clear
But do residency laws deliver on the promise of safety?
Crime numbers in states with such bans don't reflect a clear-cut decrease in sex offenses or crimes against children after the laws are enacted. Most molestations track back to perpetrators children already know. Few result from stranger danger.
And residence restrictions for sex offenders are proving expensive, costing taxpayers in lawsuits, enforcement and drops in property value.
Strict residence laws that relegate offenders to society's fringes do not appear to be holding sex offender numbers down. The count keeps growing. And the laws don't determine where sex offenders will settle once released from prison, despite their supporters' claims that absent residence laws, a state or town becomes a pedophiliac haven.
Illinois saw a jump from 1,187 sexual offenses against children in 1999, the year before its residence laws began, to 1,871 offenses in 2005, the most recent year the state police released statistics.
Illinois has 14.7 sex offenders per 100,000 residents.
Alaska leads all 50 states in sex offenders per capita. The northern state of 670,000 has 630 offenders per 100,000 residents -- and no residence laws. But neither does Pennsylvania, at the bottom of that same list, with 62 offenders per 100,000 residents -- about one-tenth of Alaska's rate.
More laws passed
Meanwhile, legislators continue to draw ever-widening circles around parks, schools, playgrounds and bus stops where convicted offenders may not live and sometimes may not loiter.
In June, Nevada became one of the latest states to push through a law that bars the most dangerous offenders from entering a safety zone around kid hangouts: schools, daycares and video arcades.
In Florida, where a 1,000-foot state rule bars pedophiles from schools and parks, many counties and municipalities widened the circle to 2,500 feet. In Miami, that left only a swath of land for five offenders under a bridge, where they lived with state approval.
Willoughby's hometown of Marlborough enacted its law in June -- finalized as a 1,000-foot loop around schools, parks and daycares where sex offenders can't live, plus a 500-foot "safety zone" where they can't loiter.
But a Colorado study found that molesters who reoffended didn't live any closer to schools or childcares than those who didn't abuse again. Sex offenders in that state can live wherever they choose.
"Placing restrictions on the location of ... supervised sex offender residences may not deter the sex offender from reoffending and should not be considered as a method to control sexual offending recidivism," the study stated.
Counting stranger danger
Random stranger attacks on children grab headlines but account for only about 10 percent of sexual assaults on kids, according to the Department of Justice.
Only about 100 of 60,000 annual sex assault reports involve abduction by a stranger.
To challenge residence bans as unconstitutional banishment and ongoing punishment, offenders have sued. Lawsuits dragged on in Iowa and Ohio and continue in Georgia and Missouri. Those ruled on have deemed any retroactive law unconstitutional.
Still, the laws are popular among voters and politically tricky to oppose.
Kansas shot down a residence ban and prohibited local laws, citing the troubles experienced in Iowa. After Iowa enacted its residence law, police lost track of 400 offenders who gave fake addresses or moved without telling police, compared with 140 the year before.
National sex offender registry
As states sign on to the federal Adam Walsh Act of 2006 (they have until July 2009 to do so or lose federal money), sex offenders nationwide will be ranked according to the same criteria and told to register for 15 or 25 years, or for life, depending on the severity of their crimes.
Meanwhile, in 12 states, offenders must register for life, no matter how trivial the crime. In other states, offenders who insist they pose no danger to society -- those caught having sex with teens a few years younger -- say their years of registration are solely for punishment.
The mother of a Texas teen, who ended up convicted of sexual assault after a Romeo-and-Juliet romance soured, can't believe her son is lumped into the same class as dangerous child rapists.
"The effects of the lifetime sex offender status will never end," she said. "Did my son break the law? Certainly. Should he be punished? Definitely. But should his consequences be the same as those for a violent, forced rape or an offense against a young child?
"Is using a lifetime of resources to monitor someone like this a sensible use of taxpayer money?"
Sunday, August 26, 2007
MA - Despite growing laws, sex offender numbers increasing
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