* * * WARNING: May not be suitable for young children! * * *
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
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WASHINGTON (AFP) — In a normal working day, US criminal investigator Flint Waters will surf the Internet, chat online with someone whose acquaintance he made a few weeks earlier, and exchange photos and videos.
And every so often, Waters goes for stress counseling to try to get some of the images he's seen in a day's work out of his head, because the reality of his line of work is in sharp contrast to the attractive job description.
Waters is an undercover agent who investigates online sex crimes against children.
"It's difficult to deal with. We have post-traumatic stress arrangements with an expert to help us to deal with the material we come across," the father of four from Wyoming told AFP.
At a US congressional hearing in Washington earlier this month, Waters described in graphic detail the horrors he has seen as he tracks what officials believe are millions of child sex offenders around the world who thrive in the anonymity of the Internet.
He spoke of a video of a toddler on a changing table who is penetrated by an unknown adult male, of pictures of "a young girl, about six or seven, nude and tied to a chair, who is being sexually assaulted by a dog."
"I've posed as a mother with two-year-olds and had offenders show up to have sex with the two-year-olds," Waters told AFP.
The Internet has made it easier for law enforcement officials to track and arrest would-be child predators, but a lack of manpower means that only two percent of known offenders are investigated and brought to justice.
"We have licensed 800 investigators around the world who work the system," Waters said.
They are up against a formidable enemy: a map put together with data supplied by Internet sex crimes investigators around the world showed at least 27,000 computers that contained child pornography files in the month of September alone.
"This is a huge problem, the use of the Internet by pedophiles," said Kevin O'Connor, the US Attorney for the state of Connecticut, where a 52-year-old man faces up to life in prison and a 500,000 dollar fine after he pleaded guilty last week to enticing a minor into sex via the Internet and possession of child pornography.
The minor he was trying to lure into having sex was, in fact, an undercover agent.
In Florida, a man was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison for distributing child pornography, including videos of men having intercourse with girls as young as five.
The suspect had come to the attention of law enforcement officials after he had sexually explicit chats with someone he believed to be a 14-year-old girl from Ohio, but who was really an undercover detective.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida has co-sponsored a law which would ensure that each US state has a cyber unit dedicated to combatting Internet crimes against children.
"This legislation would train federal, state and local police forces to lift the digital fingerprints left by child sex predators so they can be put behind bars," she said in a statement.
Waters hailed the Internet for giving law enforcement agents "a chance to catch child molesters without them realizing we can see what they're doing."
But he also said the Internet has made it easier for predators to find their victims and to learn "how to do their crimes better and be harder to catch."
"Perhaps more importantly, it's given people who have these thought processes some validation," said Waters.
"Where before they might have felt that what they were thinking was wrong and they needed to overcome this, now they can get on the Internet, find people with the same interest and 'normalize' their view," said Waters, who started his professional life as a beat cop.
O'Connor agreed that the Internet was a double-edged sword in the fight against sex crimes committed against children.
"When you speak to kids who have been victimized and they say they met the man who assaulted them on the Internet, you think, 'Boy, that's a dangerous weapon in the hands of the wrong people,'" he said.
"We have seen our (Internet child sex crimes) caseload in Connecticut double or triple. And we are using undercovers with much greater frequency... the more lines you throw in the water the more fish you catch," he said.
"It's disturbing when you see what these people do but it's rewarding when you're able to stop them," he said.
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ATLANTA (AP) — The tough Georgia law that sent Genarlow Wilson to prison for having oral sex with a fellow teenager has been watered down. But in Georgia — and in many other states — it's still a crime for teenagers to have sex, even if they're close in age.
Legal experts say it's rare for prosecutors to seek charges. But, as the Wilson case illustrates, they can and sometimes do.
And the rising popularity of sex offender registries can often mean that a teen nabbed for nonviolent contact with someone a year or two younger might face the same public stigma as a dangerous sexual predator.
"It's ludicrous," Wilson's lawyer B.J. Bernstein said. "In order to look tough on crime they (lawmakers) are criminalizing teen sex."
Wilson was freed Friday after the Georgia Supreme Court found that the 10-year mandatory sentence he received for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's Eve party in 2003 when he was 17 was cruel and unusual punishment. He had served almost three years in prison.
Georgia's law has since been rewritten to make the same act a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
Across the country, ages of consent range from 14 to 18.
Lawyers and health educators say most teens — and even many parents — are unaware that even consensual teenage sex is often a crime. The patchwork of laws and ages from state to state leaves many confused and critics say more education is badly needed.
"We do a disgraceful job of educating kids about the very real consequences that they face," said J. Tom Morgan, a former DeKalb County district attorney who has a new book coming out called "Ignorance Is No Defense: A Teenagers Guide to Georgia Law."
"If society is going to punish them as adults," said Morgan, "then society ought to educate them."
What schools teach in sex-education classes varies from district to district, but Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said those that receive federal funds for abstinence-from-sex education programs are encouraged to teach age of consent laws as part of their classes.
Trudy Higgins-Edison is one such teacher. She began asking a police officer to teach a class on sex and the law to high schoolers at her Sugar Land, Texas, school two years ago. She said it's probably her most popular class.
"The kids are really engaged and ask a lot of questions," Higgins-Edison said. "And most of them are completely amazed that they could actually be arrested."
Some states have moved in recent months to craft so-called Romeo and Juliet exceptions to prevent sexually active teenagers from being lumped together with child molesters.
Indiana changed its law so that teens in "dating relationships" would not be prosecuted. Exactly what that means is unclear, said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.
"I think there is a view now that 'hey, maybe we overdid it on the sex offender registry,'" Landis said.
Connecticut changed its law to stop prosecuting teens if the age gap is three years or less. And Texas has changed the way it classifies sex offenders so that some low-risk teens will no longer have to register.
Wilson said in an interview Monday that he hopes to use his newfound celebrity to raise awareness among high school and college students. He said sex education classes are lacking.
"Most of the time they just tell kids, 'Use condoms,'" Wilson told The Associated Press
"That's not the only thing they need to know about sex. They need to know that they can actually go to jail."
Wilson will appear on behalf of an organization set up by his lawyer to help teens learn their rights.
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IN NOVEMBER of 2006, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 83, a measure banning paroled sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park where children "regularly gather." The measure requires offenders to wear GPS ankle bracelets for life.
No doubt, the 70 percent of the electorate that voted for Prop. 83 wanted to crack down on sex crimes and keep dangerous predators away from children.
However, the law is far too broad, severely limiting the liberty of former offenders. The 2,000-foot limit makes it almost impossible for paroled offenders to find a place to live in an urban area. In too many instances, the law forces people out of stable environments and into apartments and houses in areas far from their jobs.
Once former sex offenders are no longer on parole, they are still required to wear GPS bracelets. But no one knows who will keep track of them. Also, there are not enough GPS units for the 3,500 current parolees, a number that is growing by 400 to 700 every month.
An estimated 500 offenders have left parole since the law went into effect, but no one is tracking them.
Fortunately, a federal judge ruled that the 2,000-foot rule did not apply retroactively to about 90,000 registered sex offenders convicted before Prop. 83 passed. But as the years go by, there will be tens of thousands of offenders forced to live in restricted areas.
Parolees cannot live in places close to schools or parks, but they can visit those areas any time they choose, making the value of residence restrictions questionable.
Certainly, there are some sex offenders who have served their time but are still a threat and should be monitored. But many, if not most, of those who come under Prop. 83 need not be monitored for life.
Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court blocked the state from forcing four parolees to move and agreed to consider constitutional objections to the measure. We hope the court can correct the flaws of the law. If not, the Legislature or the voters should do so.
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ELYRIA — The girl who accused Jose Velez of molesting her recanted her accusation a month after Velez was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms last year, her therapist testified Monday.
Barbara Maher said the girl, who was 5 when she was raped in 2004, told her during an August 2006 therapy session that she felt guilty about what she had done to Velez, who was convicted of rape, gross sexual imposition and felonious assault and kidnapping.
Velez, who is HIV positive and was when the girl was assaulted, has asked county Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski, who found him guilty, for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Betleski has not made a decision on the request.
“She appeared to feel genuine guilt. She kept calling herself a liar,” Maher said. “She felt very bad about what she did.”
Maher said the girl told her that her grandmother had promised her toys and other rewards if she would implicate Velez instead of her grandfather, whom the girl said was the one who actually touched her.
Assistant County Prosecutor Tom Cahill has argued against granting Velez, 36, a new trial.
“He was convicted of felonious assault for having sexual relations with a minor child while HIV positive,” he said.
Cahill suggested that the girl, her mother and her grandmother all take lie-detector tests to prove their story, something Betleski said he wasn’t going to order.
Laura Perkovic, Velez’s attorney, said her client deserves another trial if the girl told Maher the truth.
“If indeed there is a chance this child recanted and it’s genuine, it definitely deserves another look,” she said after the hearing.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will said investigators reviewed the girl’s statements and don’t believe there’s enough there to justify a new trial.
Velez, who was in prison from 1989 through 1998 for a prior attempted rape conviction, also was convicted of felonious assault on a 13-year-old girl during his trial last year. He has been classified as a sexual predator.
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Genarlow Wilson a 17-year- old, African-American male was convicted of aggravated child molestation, for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's eve party in 2003.
As a result of his conviction, Wilson was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in jail with one year of probation. In addition to his jail sentence, Wilson was required to be on a sexual offender registry. A Supreme Court hearing Oct. 26, 2007, overturned Wilson's conviction, releasing him that afternoon, following two and a half years of jail time.
As a result of Wilson's conviction, a new bill, House Bill 1059 of the 2006 Legislative session was put into effect. Because Wilson's case happened, lawmakers of Georgia created this bill to ensure no other citizen would be judged unfairly. Had Wilson's case not happened it is likely those laws would still be enforceable.
Despite community outcry and the disapproval of political leaders such as former President Jimmy Carter, the courts refused to overturn Wilson's conviction. Officials of the case defended their decisions regarding Wilson's prosecution, citing that legislators had specifically made the law non-retroactive.
Wilson's release is following a hearing of his case with the Supreme Court. The court overturned his conviction in a 4-3 ruling, calling his punishment under the law cruel and unusual.
A major disparity in this case was that if it were actual intercourse and not oral sex, that Wilson engaged in with his 15-year-old partner, his sentencing would have been shorter than the time he received.
He would've instead been charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months and would not have been a registered sex offender.
Another legal stipulation that worked against Wilson's favor was his partner's inadmissible consent in the sexual activity.
Her repeated, confessed, consent was inadmissible because in the state of Georgia consenting age is 16. She was 15.
Another, "low blow" on behalf of the prosecution is not allowing Wilson to benefit from a law that was created as a result of his unjust punishing.
Even though the rulings of his case were deemed unjust, so unjust in fact that they created new legislation to prevent against it ever happening again, Wilson was still denied a reduction to his sentencing. Where was the idea of justice exercised? Where was Wilson's justice?
Wilson's case represents a rapidly rising problem within our legal system.
Prosecution and conviction of citizens according to unjust interpretations of the law has been demonstrated with the Jena Six case, as well as Marcus Dixon, and the list grows daily.
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The man had been accused of touching a girl improperly during a flight.
TAMPA - A federal judge ordered Monday that home detention and electronic monitoring remain for a man accused of inappropriately touching a young girl on an airplane, even though the charge against him was dropped.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins said Ronald Mays and his alleged victim both live in Pinellas County, geographically close enough that the judge was unwilling to grant his request to remove his curfew and home detention restrictions before his sentencing in January.
Mays, a Palm Harbor businessman, was found guilty in February of abusive sexual contact with a child while on an aircraft. But in June, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday ordered a new trial. The judge said he should not have allowed prosecutors to discuss allegations that Mays tried to destroy child pornography stored on his computer.
"I've never ever looked at child pornography in my life," Mays said Monday after court.
He also maintains that he never touched the 8-year-old girl who accused him of placing his forearm against her chest during a Southwest Airlines flight on June 20, 2006.
"I never touched anybody," Mays said, "and some day it will come out."
Frank Louderback, Mays' attorney, argued that the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act no longer applies to Mays since the charge was dropped. Therefore, Louderback said, certain mandatory bail restrictions that the judge imposed should be lifted.
The Adam Walsh Act, signed by President Bush in 2006, strengthened federal penalties for crimes against children.
Earlier this month, Merryday dismissed the sexual abuse charge against Mays at the government's request.
Mays still faces sentencing on Jan. 7 for the one conviction that remains from his trial - a guilty verdict on obstruction of justice.
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By Judith Reisman
History teaches us that any population can be coarsened and degraded. The United States allowed black slavery circa 1660 until the end of the Civil War. "White slavery," the sexual traffic in women and children, was legal circa 1890 until criminalized by the Mann Act in 1910.
From 1910 to the 1950s, however, despite depressions and wars, the Judeo-Christian view of children as asexual, of female and male virginity as the norm, and of sex as a potent force deserving protection in the marriage bed was the American legal and social "ideal." Until Al Kinsey's books (1948, 1953), this socio-sexual ideal was taught in schools, homes, houses of worship, in law and even in the mass media. Sex was supposed to occur only within the safe and secure bounds of love and marriage.
How quickly a nation can slide back into the sewer.
In June, a group of Democratic senators led by Joseph Biden, D-Del., was joined at a press conference by the Surviving Parents Coalition to launch yet another act to protect our children – the "Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2007."
The Department of Justice and the FBI had testified to Congress that child sexploitation was growing rapidly, with nearly 500,000 individuals trafficking child pornography over the Internet. The proposed Act would authorize $1.05 billion over the next eight years to create and train more agents to locate and convict child predators.
Since its introduction June 28, the bill has been languishing in the good intentions box, and isn't as yet even scheduled for debate. Moreover, this is the 19th child protection bill (and still counting) targeting sexual violence against children in 13 years. Consider, beginning in 1994, fully 16 out of the 19 child protection acts are in memory of a sexually violated, murdered child:
- 2007: Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2007 gives $1.05 billion over 8-years for law enforcement training.
- 2007: KIDS ACT of 2007 requiring registered sex offenders to submit e-mail addresses (generic victims)
- 2006: The Jeremy Bell Act of 2006 would penalize the "Interstate Transfer of Child Sex Offenders."
- 2006: The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act subsumes many other acts punishing offenders.
- 2006 The Joanne and Alyssa Act, Massachusetts, allegedly to strengthen Sex Offender Registry laws.
- 2005: Amie's Law releases information on juvenile sex offenders who may re-offend.
- 2005: Christy Ann Fornoff Act limits habeas corpus for killing of a person under age 18.
- 2005: Jetseta's Bill: Prevention and Deterrence of Crimes Against Children Act.
- 2005: The Jessica Lunsford Act, Florida, 25 years to life for some first-time child sex offenders.
- 2005: Jessica Lunsford and Sarah Lunde Act, a federal "Sexual Predator Monitoring Program."
- 2003: The Protect Act of 2003 citing 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart, says states should enact Amber Alerts.
- 2004: Carlie's Law allows possible parole revocation if felons violated children under 16.
- 2002: The Amber Alert would signal media, business personnel, police to speedily locate abductees.
- 2002: Levi's Call, a program for when an abduction is confirmed.
- 1996: Megan's Law amends Wetterling Act and requires a community notification system.
- 1996 The Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Act for lifetime registration for certain recidivists.
- 1995: The Jimmy Ryce Act would review inmates for probability of re-offense.
- 1995: The Morgan Nick Alert is a cooperative effort of 250 radio stations in Arkansas in case of abduction.
- 1994: The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Act provides stronger penalties.
Each act named for a child victim reflects the fallout of the Sexual Revolution and the subsequent political clout of Big Pornography.
Now, of course, child pornography is collected at crime sites, but the Big Pornography lobby has managed to spike any mandated crime-site data collections of its so called "adult" material.
Law enforcement reports sexual predators are commonly "adult" pornography users. Yet no state agency, to my knowledge, collects data on the mainstream pornography found in the possession of our growing gangs of sexual psychopaths.
This is inexcusable.
If we are to restrain child exploitation at all we must a) mandate crime site statistics on all erototoxic media used as stimuli in sex crimes, and b) end paroles and plea bargains for child molesters.
The $1.05 billion dollar Combating Child Exploitation Act will not stop the child exploitation epidemic. Until law enforcement is mandated to collect every shred of sexual media involved in any sexual crime, Big Pornography will continue to spew out its erototoxic wares, and the public will continue to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Must there be a 20th act named for yet another sexually murdered child while Big Pornography continues to reap billions by marketing its evil?
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Because of laws, sex offender living in a car under bridge
MIRAMAR - A registered sex offender, living in his car since his release from prison in September, today will ask a Broward judge to let him move into his mother's rented house.
Because there is a school within 2,500 feet of the home on Acapulco Drive, Miramar ordinance bars Lee Chang from living there. In August 2005, the city joined dozens of other municipalities around the state in prohibiting anyone convicted of a felony sexual offense from living that close to a school, day care center, public school bus stop, park or playground.
Chang, 25, was found guilty in July 2005 of lewd and lascivious battery for engaging in sexual activity with a child age 12-15. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and 12 years of sex offender probation.
"The people I'm representing aren't predators," said Chang's attorney, Chris Mancini, who said his clients fall more into the Romeo-and-Juliet category. The problem with many sex offender laws, said Mancini, is that they treat offenders and predators the same.
Today, he plans to argue before Broward Circuit Judge Pedro Dijols the sex offender laws are unconstitutional and violate due process.
Since his release, Chang has been living in his car under a bridge in Fort Lauderdale.
Chang's mother, Mercedes Lopez, said she looked at more than 200 houses and apartments for a place where she could live with her son, only to find that almost every place was off limits.
"I was back and forth from Miramar to Hollywood because of the misinformation I kept receiving from all these places," said Lopez. When she asked police departments which areas were out of the zone, she was told to figure it out online using MapQuest, she said.
In July, when she finally found the three-bedroom house she rents for $1,875 a month, she said she thought it was out of the zone.
"I moved here thinking I could help him and he could help me, too," said Lopez. She explained that her son could contribute to the rent with his job assisting land surveyors and she could make sure he gets counseling.
But Lopez was notified by her son's parole officer that her house was too close to a school, according to the lawsuit Mancini filed on Friday.
"This is not a little problem," Lopez said, because her son can't get court-ordered counseling without a proper address.
"It's hard to see him sleeping under a bridge when I have three bedrooms," she said. "It breaks my heart every night. I can't sleep where I am. What kind of security does he have under a bridge?"
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff acknowledged the hardship families face.
"It's increasingly difficult for sex offenders to find places to live in Florida," said Rackleff, whose agency monitors offenders after their release. Still, "it is the responsibility of the individual who broke the law to grapple with this situation."
Miramar's city attorney, Jamie Cole, said his office will defend the city's ordinance in court.
"Our ordinance is constitutional and an appropriate exercise of the city's authority," he said.
Lopez said she put down $6,000 to get the place she now rents, has a one year lease and doesn't want to have to move again.
"I didn't know the law was this tough," she said. "It's breaking me emotionally."
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Cape Coral - It's estimated one in seven kids will be approached by a sexual predator on-line and a computer is just one way to open up the access.
Cyber safety expert Russell Sabella said, "I think it's very similar to leaving your front door wide open in the middle of the night."
Sabella warns any gadget that connects to the internet opens the door to on-line threats. This includes some IPODS, cell phones, even some gaming systems.
On Monday night, he explained to a group of parents that sexual predators are just one of many danger lurking on the world wide web.
"There are web-sites that promote things like eating disorders, self injury hate and racism," said Sabella, "Kids can easily, with three clicks, access the most hard core pornography you've ever seen."
The parents tell WINK News they had no idea.
Connie Sissons said, "Everything they can pull up, it's horrific. It's unbelievable."
But she's learning how to protect her three children while they're on-line. Sabella says the first thing parents can do...know what is going on in their child's life and never put a computer with internet access in a child's bedroom or any other room where they cannot be supervised.
Sabella warns there is also the threat of your child's peers through cyber bullying, which can sometimes inflict a more devastating blow than the playground teasing parents may remember
Debbie Johnston's teenaged son Jeffrey committed suicide after she says he suffered years of bullying on line. She said she wanted to attend Monday night's meeting to not only learn but share her experience with others.
Johnston said, "If I had the technological expertise to find out what was going on there was maybe that window of opportunity that I missed."
Sabella says he doesn't like to use the word prevention, rather reduce the risk. The dangers will always be there, he says parents just have to learn how to keep their child away from the threats.
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A local court ruling could have statewide ramifications if it stands, jeopardizing cases against alleged online sexual predators across Louisiana.
In the last couple of years law enforcement nationwide has worked to catch those who would use computers and the Internet to prey on children. There are well tested laws to prosecute those who have physical contact with underage victims. But in cases where alleged wrongdoing is limited to online chatting across the Internet, a variety of legal challenges are being raised. And now State District Judge Wilford Carter has ruled as unconstituional, part of Louisiana's online solicitation of minors law.
Defense Attorney King Alexander is one of several attorneys challenging the law which he says infringes on free speech protected by the constitution. "Electronic text communication is speech and when a statute would prohibit speech it's supposed to approached in a particular way. When I defend the accused I'm defending you, I'm defending everyone, because this is how we keep our constitutional rights."
Alexander says another issue is entrapment since in most cases defendants were talking to police officers rather than children. "The cases that we're seeing have all been made by adult police officers pretending to be minors online."
However Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier says police officers are properly trained to prevent such challenges. "Law enforcement officers do not precipitate conversations about anything sexual. That is always done by the perpetrator."
And DeRosier says solicitation online or offline is not protected by free speech. Prosecutors will appeal Carter's ruling. "We think it is a valid statute. It is certainly a vital tool in protecting our young children and that's what this program is all about. So, whether prosecutors and lawmakers will have to write a new law to go after online child predators, remains to be seen."
Carter's ruling goes straight to the Louisiana Supreme Court since it challenges the constitutionality of a state law. The federal online child protection act is also facing constitutional challenges.
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In 2005, Genarlow Wilson was sentenced to ten years in prison by a Georgia jury for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl. Wilson was only 17 when this "crime" was committed. Last week, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the case, deciding in a 4-3 decision that the conviction "constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."
It would be easy for those of us in blue state California to look at this case from afar and see yet another miscarriage of Southern justice, but that would be a mistake. There is a lesson here for California, and it's a lesson we'll almost certainly ignore.
Before his conviction, Wilson was repeatedly offered plea deals that might have allowed him to avoid prison, but he refused because a plea would have forced him to register as a sex offender. "It might've been lesser time, but then again, I would have nowhere to go because I would have no home," Wilson explained. "I wouldn't be able to stay with my mother because I have a little sister. You know, when you're a sex offender you can't be around kids. Basically, I can't even have kids myself, you know, so what is the point of life?"
Wilson, an Ivy League-recruited honor student who was homecoming king and one of his school's best track and football athletes, lost two years of his life because of an inflexible sex offender registry that didn't see many differences between sex crimes. Under Georgia law, Wilson was guilty of "aggravated child molestation." No room for explanation. No room for context. Certainly no room for sympathy. So on the registry he goes.
California isn't all that different. To be registered as a sex offender in California is to be branded an undesirable for life. Our state's Megan's Law database includes many sex offenders of the Genarlow Wilson variety. People convicted of public urination, nude sunbathing, and mooning have had their names tarnished for life by being included in the same database as serial rapists and violent child molesters. And under last year's unworkable Proposition 83, sex offenders were barred from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park. As the San Francisco Chronicle explained:
"Prop. 83 is a terrible initiative that does not stand up to close scrutiny. One of its most obvious flaws is the ban on sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of any school or park. What this will mean is that most urban areas in California will be placed off limits to sex offenders. They will instead be forced into living in rural areas -- an unfair burden to those communities and a barrier for those ex-offenders who are making an effort to find employment and straighten out their lives. In addition, understaffed law enforcement and social service agencies in remote parts of the state might not have the resources to adequately monitor these individuals. Public safety may be endangered rather than enhanced."
Under Prop 83, which passed by an overwhelming 70.5-29.5 margin, the sex offenders with a high likelihood of repeat offense are now barred from the cities most capable of dealing with them, while everyday folks who make the stupid decision to piss on a tree one day are forced to go along for the ride. Oh, and regardless of their offense, they're all forced to wear ankle monitoring bracelets for life, on the public dime of course.!
Why is the California electorate so afraid of drunken frat boys who moon their chancellor? Because voters in California all too frequently reflexively support anything labeled "tough on crime," even if it actually puts us at greater risk. Because any crime bill cravenly claimed to be for the children is like a scalding iron that none of the state's more sensible politicians want to touch. Because anyone who dares approach public safety with an air of rationality is branded "pro-criminal" by those who would rather posture than make us safer. And because some of our state's most powerful lobbying groups directly benefit from keeping more people in prison and under close scrutiny.
And there's no reason to think any of this will change. It will always be easier to score cheap political points through scare tactics and code words than to actually work on the thankless task of creating real solutions to our crime problems, and the victims of the system are too disparate, too disorganized, and frequently too poor to have a voice at all.
So while we celebrate Genarlow Wilson's release, and as we scorn the flaws of his state's justice system, let's not forget that California -- us, the voters -- have created our own generation of Genarlows, deprived of the freedoms we take for granted because we would rather be "tough on crime" than smart on crime.
View the article here | 12/04/07 Article
HARTFORD - Federal authorities say an East Windsor police officer has been arrested for allegedly using the Internet to lure an 11-year-old girl to have sex with him.
FBI agents charged 38-year-old Officer Darren Seligman on Monday at East Windsor police department.
He was ordered held without bond pending a hearing in Hartford federal court Thursday morning.
If convicted, Seligman faces up to life in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Prosecutors say the arrest stemmed from an investigation that is part of the federal government's Project Safe Childhood Initiative.
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When they greatly reduced the penalty a year ago for consensual oral sex between teenagers, state legislators sent a clear message as to how society views the punishment, the Georgia Supreme Court said Friday.
For this reason, Genarlow Wilson's 10-year sentence now constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment," even though lawmakers failed to apply the "Romeo and Juliet" exception retroactively to benefit inmates like Wilson, the court ruled. In its 4-3 decision, the court overturned Wilson's conviction for aggravated child molestation on the grounds his prison sentence was "grossly out of proportion" to the severity of his crime.
The 2006 amendment represented "a seismic shift in the legislature's view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants," Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote for the majority. "Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson's crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children."
Senate President pro tem Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) condemned the ruling, saying that, by a single vote, the court opened the prison door for the release of "hundreds of sexual predators."
Georgians, he said, "may cheer the release of Genarlow Wilson, but they should be scared to death of what that means for their own safety and the safety of their children. This is scarier than Halloween."
But Sears wrote that the ruling will affect "only a small number of individuals" whose crimes and circumstances were similar to Wilson's. This would involve a willing teenage partner no more than four years younger than the defendant, consensual oral sex and no harm to the victim, Sears wrote.
According to the Department of Corrections, as of this summer, 58 of 1,322 inmates imprisoned for aggravated child molestation were 18 years or younger at the time they were sentenced.
Lisa Kung, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, estimated there are "a handful at most" whose crimes and circumstances were similar to Wilson's. "This is just fear-mongering by Sen. Johnson, based in neither fact nor law," Kung added.
Those inmates sentenced under similar circumstances as Wilson's are now expected to file new legal challenges to their convictions, citing the state Supreme Court's decision in the Wilson case. "They should be granted relief, too," Atlanta defense attorney Tom West said.
Law not retroactive
When it cleared the Legislature, the 1995 Child Protection Act included a "Romeo and Juliet" exception for teenagers who engaged in consensual sexual intercourse. Those cases were to be tried as misdemeanors.
But because of an oversight, the exception did not apply to cases of consensual oral sex — which as a result were to be treated as felonies resulting in a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence.
In 2006, the Legislature addressed the quirk, but did not make it retroactive to apply to Wilson and others. State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Ellenwood) introduced legislation this year to give judges the leeway to revisit some of the sentences. It failed to pass, but Jones said he'll try again next year.
Key Republicans, however, said they will continue to oppose the measure. "I think making laws retroactive second-guesses the judicial process," Johnson said.
Matt Towery, who as a Republican lawmaker sponsored the 1995 legislation, said it was never his intention for teenagers like Wilson to be prosecuted under the law.
"It was a weight on me," Towery, now a political analyst, said of Wilson's conviction. "It was something that prosecutors from the beginning understood that was not to be applied in this manner. We did not intend for oral sex to carry a 10-year sentence."
Chief Justice Sears, writing for the court's majority, said in determining what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment the court turned to well-established precedent — "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."
Laws passed by the Legislature, Sears wrote, offer the "clearest and best evidence" of how contemporary society views a certain punishment. She noted the court responded similarly on two previous occasions.
In 1989, the state Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded shortly after the Legislature had passed such a law. In 2001, the court held the electric chair unconstitutional after the Legislature replaced it with lethal injection, but failed to apply it retroactively.
Changes to law
Wilson was convicted after having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. When the Legislature changed the law, Sears wrote, it appeared to recognize that large numbers of teenagers are engaging in oral sex and that teenagers should not be classified among the worst offenders because they do not have the maturity to appreciate the consequences of irresponsible sexual conduct.
Also, Sears noted, eight states would not punish Wilson's conduct at all and four other states would punish it, like Georgia does now, as a misdemeanor.
Sears was joined by Justices Carol Hunstein, Robert Benham and Hugh Thompson.
To rule in favor of Wilson, the majority had to address an earlier decision in which the court upheld the conviction against Josh Widner, who has been in prison since 2004 for having consensual sex with a 14-year-old Henry County girl when he was 18.
Sears wrote that Widner's case was different because Widner was more than four years older than his 14-year-old victim. The Legislature only changed the punishment for oral sex with a 13-, 14- or 15-year-old when the defendant is "no more than four years older than the victim," Sears wrote.
Writing in dissent, Justice George Carley noted that when the court upheld Widner's conviction, it said his sentence "does not unconstitutionally shock the conscience." Also, Carley noted, the court did not cite the more than four years' difference in the ages as a basis for upholding Widner's conviction.
Carley, joined by Justices Harris Hines and Harold Melton, said the majority disregarded unambiguous legislative intent to not apply the amendment retroactively.
"The majority fails to acknowledge this provision of the statute," Carley wrote, "presumably because to do so would completely destroy the foundation upon which it bases its ultimate conclusion that Wilson's felony sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."
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DECATUR -- When Amy Lovell dropped off her son at school, she had to make sure the fifth-grader didn't dash off without his French horn. It was strapped to the back of her bicycle with a pair of bungee cords and rope.
Each morning, Lovell and her 10-year-old son Allen don helmets and ride their bicycles for the 10-minute commute to Glenwood Academy in the Atlanta suburbs, joining dozens of other parents and pupils who wheel into the public elementary school the same way.
On a nearby sidewalk, parents lead a group of children to school on a "walking bus" — a convoy of kids without the bus. It's part of the Safe Routes to School program, a $612 million effort to increase physical activity among students throughout the nation by getting them to bike or walk to school.
The program's first conference will be held in Michigan next month.
"When we started the pilot project two years ago, there were three bikes, now there are 60 to 70" attached to the school's bike rack, said Fred Boykin Jr., a local bicycle shop owner who is the chairman of metro Atlanta's Safe Routes coalition.
Today, only about 15 percent of schoolchildren travel to school under their own power. The program seeks to change that by offering federal Department of Transportation funds to help build sidewalks, post traffic signs and find ways to make it easier for students to bike or walk to school, said Robert Ping, of Portland, Ore., who assists states with the Safe Routes program.
"Safe Routes is potentially the tipping point to increasing opportunities for kids to be physically active," Ping said. "The trip to school is happening anyway."
Planners have to overcome the reasons why many children don't bike or walk to school. It's easier for busy parents to make a quick drive to drop off their kids. Or parents worry about their child's safety because of traffic or strangers. Plus, buses pick up children at street corners and it's common for students to live miles from school.
The program seeks to overcome those obstacles by getting parents involved. Parents go with students on short walks or bike rides to school and work with police departments and city planners to make the commute easier for kids.
Another problem is the program doesn't provide much money to states, especially smaller states.
About 20 states have Safe Routes programs rolling and some of the most successful programs are in largely populated areas such as California and Florida. Advocates say the program may be easier to carry out in urban areas with plenty of sidewalks as opposed to rural locations where children live far from school.
Georgia was given $16 million to spend through 2009 and the state Department of Transportation has been trying to get communities beyond metro Atlanta involved.
"There has been a lot of interest in infrastructure but we are trying to get communities to understand this is not just a free sidewalk program. This is about teaching kids about activity and giving them a safe area where they can walk from home to school," said spokeswoman Carrie Hamblin.
Lovell said riding to school with her son seemed scary the first time because of the traffic on the roads, but her son has learned to love biking to school. She's only had to drive him one day because of the weather.
"It's a way to have him start his day on a positive note," she said.