By Tammy Francois
A Two Harbors woman threatened to stand outside the home of a juvenile registered sex offender on Halloween to warn trick-or-treaters after she says the criminal justice system failed to protect the community.
But before she could make good on her threat, she was served with a temporary restraining order barring her from making contact with the offender and his family. She must also keep at least a block away from his home.
According to court documents, all the parties are related. The victim is a child under the care of the woman making the complaint. The sex offender is the woman's 16-year-old step-brother. His two brothers, 19-year-old twins, have also been charged; one is awaiting sentencing, the other has yet to be tried.
The restraining order was taken out against the 32-year-old woman by the brothers and their parents, who are also the woman's father and stepmother. The News-Chronicle does not disclose the identity of victims of sex crimes. Because of the relationship of the parties, none can be named without identifying the victim.
The documents state that the woman's father and stepmother learned of her plan to protest on Halloween from posts on social media.
"(We) discovered through friends that (the woman) has posted on Facebook information about our juvenile son being a registered sex offender," the parents said in the document, acknowledging that their juvenile son is a sex offender.
But they say that the juvenile's case has been adjudicated, the 16-year-old has pleaded guilty and a sentence has been handed down. Their concern is that the woman "threatens or perhaps has 'outed' his registration in the school and community."
The cases against the two other brothers, are being handled as extended-jurisdiction juvenile cases since the crimes for which they've been charged were allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The woman said the victim was under 10 years old. Although they are now of age, a provision in the law extends the age that cases involving serious, violent or chronic offenders continue to be handled in the juvenile court system.
The woman said she is frustrated that the system seems to protect sex offenders at the expense of public safety. Though the 16-year-old is a registered sex offender, as a juvenile his record is not public.
"People think they know who sex offenders are," she told the Lake County News-Chronicle. "You see the teenage kid and the church-going, white picket-fence family and you just don't see it, but they're just really good at hiding it."
The family of the alleged perpetrators declined to comment for this story but expressed concern for all the parties involved.
The woman says she wants to see the laws changed so that the status of all offenders is made public.
She said the victim has "done everything right," with the child reporting the abuse more than once. She said that the child eventually disclosed the abuse to her, and that she then contacted authorities. The child underwent a forensic interview and a physical exam to collect possible DNA evidence and look for injuries.
The child, who the woman describes as brave and strong, "had to tell her story so many times," she lamented, adding that the victim has been seeing a therapist to process all that's happened. "It changed everything and it made victims of all of us." She said that her frustration motivated her to take matters into her own hands and warn trick-or-treaters.
The boys' parents, in turn, sought the court's protection from the woman's efforts to expose their sons' status.
"All of this mess has worked through the courts, but that is not enough for (her)," the petition reads.
The case illustrates the tension that experts say exists and has been debated for decades said Gary Keveles, a University of Wisconsin-Superior criminology professor.
"This is a fundamental issue in criminal justice," he said. "We have to make the hard decision about which trumps what. Does community protection trump fairness or does fairness trump community protection?"
On one side of the balance is the victim and her caregiver. Keveles acknowledged the "stunning betrayal they must have felt" when the sentence doesn't meet their expectations. On the other side is a justice system recognizing that most offenders will serve their sentences and return to their communities. The long-term protection of others, he said, sometimes lies in ensuring that offenders have the tools, education and treatment to become productive citizens. He noted, however, that trends shift as political winds change.
"Criminal justice is politics and politics can get awfully frustrating to deal with," he said.