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Nobody would nominate Janet Allison for mother of the year. Her 15-year-old daughter ran wild and brought home a parade of older teenage boys, one of whom eventually got her pregnant. In a statement to social workers and police, the girl said her mother was aware of her sexual activity and did not intervene. Allison even allowed the 17-year-old boy who impregnated her daughter to move into their home.
But for those mistakes, Allison, 46, wasn't judged an unfit parent. Instead, White County Superior Court pronounced her a sex offender after she pled guilty in 2002 to being a party to the crimes of statutory rape and child molestation. She received 15 years probation and ordered to undergo sex-offender therapy.
Charges were dropped against the 17-year-old, who later married Allison's daughter. The couple has since separated and their son just turned 7; he has never met his grandmother.
"The only way I have seen any of my grandchildren are in pictures," she says. "I was afraid to have contact with them."
Allison is now one of the 14,572 people on the Georgia sex-offender registry, which prevents her from living or working near places where children are likely to congregate, including churches and schools.
"I could understand if they had charged me with having an unruly house," she says now. "But I didn't think I was a sex offender. I accept some of the responsibility for what happened. I should have paid more attention. But none of the boys who had sex with my daughter are on the registry. I am the only one."
As the state heaps more restrictions on the lives of sex offenders, the repercussions are being felt by even low-risk offenders such as Allison. The married mother of five has had to move twice to comply with registry restrictions and can't return to her restaurant job after the Legislature added limits on places of employment last year.
"I can't go back to work because there is a church across the street," Allison says. "The job is there waiting for me, but I just can't go to it."
Georgia's sex-offender registry has become a registry without reason, subjecting Allison and other low-level offenders to the same restrictions as dangerous pedophiles. Even for the truly dangerous, registry restrictions are ineffective in preventing the high-profile sex crimes against children that so alarm the public. Telling offenders that they can't work across the street from a school won't stop them from traveling outside their restricted areas to find victims.
The hard truth is that most child molesters don't have to leave home to victimize children; 80 to 90 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by a relative or family acquaintance.
"It makes no sense to make it so hard for offenders to find a place to live or work that they end up in a camper in the woods, unemployed and disconnected from treatment providers or anyone else who can keep an eye on them," says Lisa Kung, director of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. "People have lost their relationships and their children, and many of the people with more serious convictions have now moved to areas where treatment and support are not available."
The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class-action suit in U.S. District Court last year challenging the residency and employment restrictions of the state's sex-offender law. Among its complaints: The registry grants no exemption for age or infirmity.
Convicted of statutory rape in 1997, Daniel Anderson is now an 82-year-old advanced Alzheimer's patient who lives with his wife of 62 years in Perry. He no longer recognizes his family and requires 24-hour care.
Anderson is past being a threat. Yet he was ordered to leave his home because it is within 1,000 feet of a church.
While the state may feel Anderson deserves further deprivation for his crime, the order to leave his home punishes his 78-year-old wife, who must find another place for the aging couple to live. A temporary court order has delayed their eviction.
"There's no place for people like Daniel Anderson if he's thrown out of his home," says Southern Center attorney Sarah Geraghty. "The only solution is going to be the county jail, where taxpayers will have to pay thousands of dollars in health care costs for him."
Georgia lawmakers admitted that their ultimate goal in piling on restrictions was to run sex offenders out of Georgia. The problem is that some offenders can't run. Or walk. The Southern Center has identified at least 56 people on the Georgia sex-offender registry in nursing homes, hospice or personal-care facilities.
While previous Georgia law barred sex offenders from living or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, parks, rec centers or skating rinks, last year lawmakers added churches, swimming pools and school bus stops to the list. (A court order has temporarily suspended the provision regarding school bus stops.) The new law also outlawed sex offenders from holding jobs near schools, day care centers or churches.
Statewide, deputies fanned out with eviction notices based on the new law. A 100-year-old man was ordered from his home because of a nearby church. Some elderly offenders don't even grasp what is happening to them, putting the onus on nursing home administrators and families to find alternative housing for these sick and dying people.
"Their advanced age and their disabilities make it impossible for them to find other places to live," says Geraghty.
In expanding the restrictions on where sex offenders can live and work, the General Assembly inadvertently undermined the ability of law enforcement to keep tabs on offenders. Because the law declares so many places off limits, sheriffs fear that sex offenders will stop registering and go underground rather than comply with rigid rules that force them to give up their homes, their jobs and their communities.
"The law is now written so that no one can live in the metro Atlanta area, especially the school bus stop provision," says DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown. "You can't take a man who was born and raised in the Bankhead Court area of Atlanta, lived there all his life and never been anywhere outside the city and think he is going to move to Turner County, Georgia, to comply with the sex offender registry."
Brown says the law should grant law enforcement officers more discretion in deciding who poses a public safety threat. "If you have a guy in a nursing home, we should be in the position to make the call on whether he needs to move. We should be able to apply common sense."
Of course, common sense has never been the Legislature's strength, particularly on this issue. Common sense would lead you to wonder why, under Georgia law, neighbors are alerted when a Janet Allison or Daniel Anderson relocates to the neighborhood, but they're not informed when someone released from jail for murder or identify theft moves into the house next door.
Common sense would also lead you to ask why more than 14,000 people are listed on Georgia sex offender registry, while the state has identified just 38 of those people as predators at risk for committing future violent acts.
Clearly, the state should do all it can within legal bounds to either keep those predators behind bars or safeguard the community from them. But there is a world of difference between them and Janet Allison; common sense says that the Legislature and the law need to recognize that distinction.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
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Sexual assaults against children have made headlines in recent months, but the actual number of assaults against children is no higher than it has been in recent years.
According to statistics from the Crawford County District Attorney’s Office, the number has dropped in the past four years — from 26 in 2004 to 19 so far this year. The average of the victim has risen from 11 in 2003 to 13 in 2005 and 14 in 2006 and 2007.
However, several of the alleged assaults this year have involved babies or toddlers, said Crawford County DA Francis Schultz — something which hasn’t been the case in previous years.
One common thread in all of the cases has been that the perpetrator is “not a stranger.”
In fact, “in all the cases” listed above, the victim was acquainted with the perpetrator — either as a family member or a paramour or boyfriend of the mother of the victim, said Crawford County Assistant District Attorney Paula DiGiacomo.
The statistics include only those for whom criminal charges have been filed. “That doesn’t include all the investigations,” she said, noting some complaints may be dealt with through Children and Youth Services.
The reason is that sometimes there is not enough evidence to file criminal charges.
But the perpetrators are still out there.
In several cases, the teenage victims had met the men on the Internet and when they showed up in person went willingly with the person. “They had consensual sex,” said Schultz, adding that doesn’t lessen the crime for those under the age of consent.
His point was that the county has had no recent assaults by strangers — those who break into homes or lurk in dark corners waiting for a victim. The perpetrators are in the victim’s home or are known to the victim.
“The chances of a child being assaulted by strangers are very slight,” said Schultz. That’s why it is important to know as much about any person — man or woman — that becomes involved in the family’s lives.
There have been several cases of attempted luring of a child into a car or interference of custody of children, but no assaults happened, said Schultz, crediting the actions of the potential victims.
He referred to a recent case where a man attempted to lure several teenagers to get into his car and they refused, left and reported the attempts.
So what can parents or guardians do to make certain their children don’t become a victim?
“In so many cases the mother knows about the offender’s past, but still allows the offender to be near her children,” said DiGiacomo. “They will take the side of the family member, boyfriend or grandfather over their own child,” she said. “So many will refuse to accept the fact he is a sex offender and allow the children to be around him,” she said of the perpetrators. “They would rather believe it could not happen.” She added many women unfortunately will love the new man in their life more than their children.
The two had some clues about what to look for about possible abuse.
- The man (or woman) pays extra attention to one child over another.
- The person wants to spend time alone with the child.
- The person tries to isolate or exclude others from their activities.
- The person is obsessed with one child and takes the side of him or her over others.
DiGiacomo said many perpetrators will “take advantage of meek or mentally challenged children” and suggests parents be aware of the actions that may signal abuse is happening.
For example, some juveniles will start acting out by performing sexual acts that a child that young should not be familiar with. That may happen when the child has been sexually abused, she said.
So what do you do if you suspect somebody is abusing a child in your family or neighborhood?
“Have a heart-to-heart talk with the mother and say you are concerned abut the child,” said Schultz.
If you are not comfortable talking with a parent, or need tips on how to have such a conversation, you can contact Women’s Services, the Community Abuse Response Team, Center for Family Services or CYS for professional assistance, said Schultz.
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Is there a sex offender working where you work or shop? Soon you'll be able to find out just by logging onto your computer.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will soon put work addresses of registered sex offenders online. And some are worried that offenders will be harassed.
The new DPS sex offender registry will even include the shoe size of the offender you're looking for.
There are more than 100 registered sex offenders living in North Austin.
It's information you can find on the DPS web site, and soon they'll add addresses of where those offenders work.
"It's considered to be public information and part of the information about the registered sex offender that's available to the public," said DPS spokesperson Tela Mange.
Sex offenders sometimes have trouble finding places to live.
The American Civil Liberties Union worries the same thing may happen on the job if addresses are posted.
"Would you like to have a job where people are afraid of you and are invited to harass you? I don't think so," says Ruth Epstein with the ACLU. "They are normal people who have an unfortunate criminal history."
Information about sex offenders is part of the public record. And some in the public would like to have as much information as possible.
"If they're in a line of work where they could come in contact with kids, then, sure," says Austin Resident Howard McPherson. "Yeah. We need to keep track of them."
"Given all the information we can," said Austinite Mark Ricker. "The better I feel it will be for the general public."
But how can you be sure the workplace information will be accurate?
"If someone is a registered sex offender, and they move, and they also change jobs," says the DPS' Mange. "And they don't notify the local registering agency, obviously they won't know, so they won't be able to tell us."
The ACLU says this may push sex offenders underground, and they may stop registering.
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THOMSON - A 27-year-old former policeman from Crawfordville has been arrested on state and federal charges involving child pornography.
Jesse Scott Ward was denied bond by a magistrate judge in Thomson and a federal magistrate in Augusta, on recent criminal charges filed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The GBI has charged Mr. Ward with one count of violation of the Georgia Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Act, according to Gary Nicholson, special agent in-charge of the GBI office in Thomson.
Federal authorities also have charged Mr. Ward with possession and transportation of child pornography, said Anthony Russo, supervisory senior resident agent in the Augusta FBI office.
Mr. Ward was taken into custody Oct. 28 at a business on Washington Road in Thomson, Agent Russo said.
Mr. Ward, a former police dispatcher, police officer and a deputy sheriff in Crawfordville and Taliaferro County, is being held in the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center. Taliaferro County Sheriff Mark Richards confirmed that Mr. Ward had worked as a law enforcement officer just a few months before leaving in 2001.
"He supposedly wanted to pursue a teaching career," Sheriff Richards said.
Mr. Ward's latest employment status was working as a night stock clerk at Wal-Mart in Thomson, according to jail records on file with the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department.
Since the case remains under joint investigation by the GBI and FBI, few details have been made public.
Authorities say they received information from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Florida. That tip was forwarded to the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force - a multijurisdictional task force that investigates and prosecutes individuals who use the Internet to exploit children.
Also involved in the investigation is the Innocent Images International Task Force, which is located with the FBI's Innocent Images Unit.
The joint state and federal investigation is part of the U.S. Department of Justice's Project Safe Childhood.
Anyone with information about this particular case should contact the FBI's Augusta office at (706) 722-3702 or the GBI office in Thomson at (706) 595-2575.
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A defense attorney who works in Dallas has been indicted on child pornography charges in Marion County, according to court records.
South Salem resident Larry Reeves, 34, was arraigned Thursday on 15 counts of first-degree encouraging child sex abuse.
Marion County Circuit Judge Lynn Ashcroft set bail at $50,000 and ordered Reeves not to have contact with minors or computers.
Reeves was booked into Marion County Jail after the Thursday hearing, then posted bail and was released.
A grand jury delivered a secret indictment against Reeves on Oct. 5, based on testimony by Salem Detective Bill Wiltse, one of the department's Internet crime investigators.
The indictment alleges that between Jan. 1, 2002 and Oct. 4, 2004, Reeves "did unlawfully and knowingly duplicate a visual recording of sexually explicit conduct involving a child."
Marion County Deputy District Attorney Jodie Bureta would not comment. Calls to Reeves and his lawyer were not returned Friday. Salem police declined to comment because the case has been referred to prosecutors.
Reeves works as a defense attorney in Polk County. He appeared in court last week representing Larry Wayne Whitley, an 18-year-old sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to arson fires that destroyed a church and damaged a school in Grand Ronde.
Reeves was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in September 2002, after graduating from Willamette University School of Law in May 2002, according to the state bar's records.
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PIERCE COUNTY -- The FBI has arrested a Lake Tapps man, accused of sexually assaulting and torturing young boys while videotaping the abuse.
Agents arrested Weldon Marc Gilbert on Thursday at the Atlanta Hilton Hotel, where he was attending a conference.
Sheriff's detectives said Gilbert, a successful commercial pilot and millionaire, abused at least 20 children over the years.
Deputies said 47-year-old Gilbert, who works for the United Parcel Service, did all he could to lure new children to his house, including decorating rooms with children's themes. Detectives call Gilbert's home a house of horrors, stating the rooms were often the places where children were spanked and molested.
"We believe he met these kids by paying them money to do yard work and side jobs, and met them at the airport and through different people," said Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.
Once the he had gotten the children to his house, he would get them drunk, tie them down and beat them, all with the camera rolling, detectives said.
"There's people in pain in these things," said Troyer.
Investigators said the footage shows little boys crying out during the especially malicious attacks with his hands or an assortment of paddles. The beatings often left welts, bruises and cuts on the victims who were as young as 12 years old, detectives said.
"Sex abuse and some of the things that are in here are pretty heinous on their own, but (there is also) the torture and the fear that he's put into people," Troyer said.
Charging papers state detectives learned of the abuse when Gilbert's latest victims, two brothers who were living at Gilbert's home, came forward. The boys, who are not Gilbert's sons, said they had met Gilbert six years ago shortly after their father died.
The older of the two boys, then 12, said Gilbert sometimes took him on trips abroad and began frequently spanking and molesting him. He said the abuse has been ongoing since until as recent as earlier this week.
The boy said he and his younger brother have been living with Gilbert for the past few months, during which time Gilbert also began attacking the younger boy, who is now 12.
Allegations of abuse surfaced when two grown siblings of the boys recently grew suspicious of the boys' relationship with Gilbert and questioned the boys, the documents state. When they realized the boys were being abused, the siblings contacted police.
A search of Gilbert's home turned up dozens of child porn tapes, DVDs, CDs, floppy disks, sex toys, paddles, cameras, computers, bondage implements and two handguns.
The warrant for Gilbert included charges for rape of a child in custody, six counts of third-degree rape of a child, two counts of child molestation and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
Gilbert's neighbor across the street said from a distance, the man seemed friendly enough.
"He's quiet. I don't see him very often," said Denise Lo, a neighbor.
Lo said Gilbert did keep a lot of company.
"Mostly teenage boys, and they would come and go. I assumed that they were friends of the two boys that lived there," she said.
Gilbert is currently in Atlanta, waiting to be extradited back to Washington state.
Detectives expect more victims to come forward.
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HARTFORD - A city lawyer was sentenced Friday to six years in prison and 30 years probation for sexually assaulting two girls and videotaping their encounters.
Despite his guilty pleas in the case, the lawyer, Kweku Hanson, proclaimed his innocence before Hartford Superior Court Judge Joseph Q. Koletski as he was about to be sentenced.
Hanson, 46, claimed he agreed to a plea bargain in the case last August in a "moment of stupidity." He asked that his guilty pleas be withdrawn and his agreed upon sentence not be imposed.
The judge refused.
Hanson was first arrested in September 2005 after police seized a computer with images of him having sex with a girl who worked at his law firm in Hartford, police said. The girl was 15 at the time, but court records revealed she told police she was 16, which is the legal age of consent in Connecticut, police said.
She also told police she knew she was being videotaped and photographed during her encounters with Hanson, police said.
In March, Hanson was charged with having sex with another 15-year-old girl - the cousin of the first victim, police said.
Hanson was charged in April with threatening and attempting to bribe the two girls involved in the case, police said.
In declaring his innocence before the judge on Friday, Hanson said his punishment was "vindictive and proportionally excessive."
He also thanked his wife, mother, and children for standing by him despite the "emotional, financial, and physical" toll of his prosecution.
"I am sorry you will be brandished the offspring ... of a sex offender," Hanson said, as one of his young sons looked on in the courtroom.
Prosecutor Thomas O'Brien of the chief state's attorney's office spoke on behalf of the girls, referred to as "Jane Doe 2" and "Jane Doe 3."
O'Brien said the girls' innocence was "lost and gone forever" because of Hanson and called them courageous for standing up against his threats.
"He is a thief of the largest magnitude," O'Brien said of Hanson. "He stole the innocence of these children."
Just prior to his sentencing, Hanson claimed prosecutors had bullied him into accepting the plea bargain. Hanson argued the girls had been victimized by the state as well and that they still wanted him to have a positive presence in their lives.
The judge upheld the terms of the plea bargain and gave Hanson a 25-year sentence, suspended after six years in prison, and 30 years' probation.
He also ordered Hanson to wear a global positioning device during the first two years of his probation and to register as a sex offender.
After the hearing, O'Brien and Hartford Officer Norman Tacey, who had investigated the case and is now retired, they were satisfied with the judge's ruling.
O'Brien said Hanson had a "Svengali-like" hold on the girls and continued to harass them and contact them even after ordered by the court not to do so. O'Brien said the girls received letters from Hanson written while he was in jail as his case was pending.
O'Brien said that during the 25-month investigation, his office received anonymous phone calls from other underage girls alleging misconduct by Hanson. According to O'Brien, if Jane Doe 2 and 3 hadn't come forward, he would have "kept this up."
O'Brien said he was glad the sentence draws closure for the girls, who had previously been informed of Hanson's plea bargain.
"Any time you can take a sexual predator off the street is a good thing for the victims, for us, and for the citizens," he said.
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LITTLE ROCK - The state Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a former Pine Bluff police officer who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexual assault involving a teenage girl.
Robert Bergstrom received concurrent 10-year and 5-year sentences for first-degree sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault in June 2006. Prosecutors said Bergstrom has sex with and touched inappropriately a girl who was under 18.
The girl'' mother testified at Bergstrom's trial that she met Bergstrom one evening in 2002 when he brought her three children home from a skating rink where he worked as a security guard. She said Bergstrom became a family friend and often would stop by her home to check on the children while she was at work.
The girl's mother said she trusted Bergstrom with her children because she knew he was a police officer.
The girl testified that, starting in early 2002, Bergstrom often touched her inappropriately during his visits. She said that on one occasion, when she and her siblings were invited to Bergstrom's apartment complex to swim, Bergstrom called her into his apartment and forced her to have sex with him.
Police testified that Bergstrom initially denied touching the girl but later admitted to having sexual contact with her, though he claimed it was at her urging.
Appealing his conviction, Bergstrom, 40, claimed there was insufficient evidence to show that he used his position as a law enforcement officer to procure sexual contact with the girl, which the state had to show to support a conviction of first-degree sexual assault.
Bergstrom argued that because he was off-duty when the sexual contact occurred, he was not using his power as a police officer over the victim.
"This is a ridiculous assertion," Judge Larry Vaught wrote in the appeals court's opinion. "It was his position of power that allowed him to gain access to the child and to convince the child's mother that the children were safe in his care."
Bergstrom also argued that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Berlin Jones should not have granted a motion by the state to limit the testimony of the defense witnesses to matters of character only.
The appeals court rejected that argument as well, finding that the defense witnesses did not know or have any relationship with the girl or her family and that nothing the witnesses were prepared to say would have altered the impact of Bergstrom's own confession.
Finally, Bergstrom argued that the jury was given erroneous instructions. Jurors were told that the state had to show either that Bergstrom was a law enforcement officer at the time of the offense or that he was in a position of trust or authority over the girl to support a second-degree sexual assault conviction, but under state law both of those elements had to be present, Bergstrom claimed.
The appeals court found that the jury's instructions matched the law that was in effect at the time the sexual contact between Bergstrom and the girl began, although the law was changed in July 2003.
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A Portland Police officer is accused of using his uniform to intimidate an autistic woman into having sex.
Jason Faulk has been on the force ten years working out of Portland's Central Precinct in the downtown area.
According to the 28-year-old autistic woman's attorney, Faulk showed up at her home after she called police about her son last June. The woman said Faulk kept returning to the home at night and had sex with the woman once in July and again in August.
The lawyer says officer Faulk was always in uniform and the woman felt she had no choice.
"I think in any case where you have an officer making sexual advances towards a woman who has the challenges she has, there's going to be an element of her feeling coerced," Attorney Beth Creighton said.
Creighton said surveillance video at a local drug store caught the officer buying the morning after pill for the woman.
"There's no doubt in my mind that she is a very vulnerable individual. She's very fragile. And if that fragility and vulnerability was taken advantage of by this officer, its a huge issue," Creighton said.
She said she wants to make sure the officer never does it to another victim.
Faulk has been on leave since September.
On Wednesday, a grand jury will decide on possible charges in the case.