Monday, November 12, 2007

Parents keep watchful eye in dangerous world

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The chalk line is drawn in the driveway of the Hadcock home in Ontario, Wayne County. Going past that mark is a no-no for the family's two children.

In northeast Rochester, the Johnsons' watchful eyes set the boundaries where their children may play outside the family's home.

Parents set rules like these so their little ones can have fun outdoors while being protected from traffic, pedophiles and crime.

Nationally, about one-fifth of children are kept inside because of dangers in the neighborhood, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, titled "A Child's Day."

The analysis is from the 2004 Survey of Income and Program Participation, which looked at the well-being of children younger than 18. Twenty-one percent of the nation's 73 million children under 18 are often required to stay in the house, according to the report from the survey, which sampled 46,500 households.

The report is timely, given concerns about violence in the Rochester area, said clinical psychologist Jody Todd May.

"For a lot of families, they do try and be protective of their kids so the kids are not witnessing drug deals on the corner or they're not witnessing violent outburst that might occur in their community," said May, who is clinical director at the University of Rochester's Mt. Hope Family Center.

Danger on her street isn't what worries Tanishia Johnson; she frets about what her family could encounter at the playgrounds and parks where she enjoys taking her children.

"I've found that even though we don't keep them indoors, we keep them right here in our back yard, just because the violence in the inner city is bad," said the mother of five, ages 6 weeks to 17.

"I don't want to be driving somewhere or be at a park and there is fighting or gang affiliation stuff going on."

For Nicole Hadcock, however, the busy road trumps neighborhood violence on her list of parental worries.

The speed limit is 45 mph on her rural street.

"Anything can happen," said the married mother of two, ages 8 and 9. "If they are too close to the road, a car could accidentally hit them.

"From the time they were little, even when I was outside with them and they were toddlers, we drew a chalk line across the driveway and that's the do-not-cross line."

The Hadcocks have a front and back yard for their son and daughter to play in, but the children like to ride their bikes or play basketball in the driveway, said their mom.

That brings up fear No. 2: stranger — or familiar person — danger.

The Hadcocks have provided different scenarios to their children for guidance about what to do if an adult approaches them at the house or in the driveway.

In those situations, the rule is not to talk to anyone without an adult present (Mom, Dad or Grandma, for example), and if someone approaches, they must get Mom.

Even if "Uncle Steve" comes by and says, "Let's go and get ice cream," said Hadcock, the children must ask permission from Mom or Dad.

"I remind them of the rules, and I frequently remind them throughout the summer," added Hadcock, 36.

For Teresa Long of Henrietta, pedophiles are the prime concern. She keeps an eye on her younger sons, ages 7 and 5, when they play on the grass and sidewalk at their condominium complex. Her oldest, 12, is allowed to go throw a football around with friends on the complex grounds.

"I live near mostly retired people, but it doesn't matter how old they are. I'm cautious," said Long.

When out in public, Long's youngest sons are required to use the women's restroom with her or go into the men's room with their brother or a male she knows.

"I've just seen too many things happen, and people will always say that they didn't think it could happen to them or they didn't expect it to happen in that type of community," added Long, 36. "You put your defenses down and something happens."

Parental fears about sex offender abductions are understandable, given the times we live in.

"There can be a tendency for parents to feel a bit paranoid, because every day in our papers and in our media there is information about child pornography and online enticement on the Internet, attempted abductions," said Pam Weaver, director of education for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, New York branch.

While Weaver knows that some parents are very concerned about exploitation or abduction, she isn't aware of any local parents who keep their children indoors because of those concerns.

"If we instill some safety rules in our children, they should still be able to be kids and be outside and enjoy the weather," said Weaver.

"It's all a matter of parents starting those conversations at a young age."

Johnson grew up in the Bronx and remembers feeling safe because neighbors watched out for one another. Also, she knew that word of her activities would get back to her mother.

"I used to go to the corner store at my 9-year-old son's age and get stuff that we needed," said Johnson, 33.

"I lived in the projects in New York City. I cannot do that with my 9-year-old. If I am not home and I am not watching, they cannot go outside by themselves. Period."

WI - Woman prosecuted for giving her children too much information about sex

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I don't condone how she taught them, but this should be a wake up call. Don't teach your child about sex or you could be slammed with the "sex offender" label.


Amy Smalley thought she was being a good parent when she taught her children about sex.

Smalley told her children, ages 11 and 15, about her own sexual experiences, explained how to perform oral sex and even showed them a sex toy she owned.

Smalley called it education. Prosecutors called it a crime.

Prosecutors in Columbia County, Wis., charged Smalley Feb. 19 with exposing children to harmful descriptions, a felony crime that carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Smalley's lawyer attempted to get the case thrown out, saying that sex education was protected free speech, but a Columbia County judge disagreed and sent the case to trial.

On Thursday, Smalley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend counseling. She agreed to the plea to prevent her children from having to testify, Smalley told the Portage Daily Register.

In a motion to dismiss the case, Columbia County Public Defender Mark Gumz claimed that Smalley's discussion with her children fell under the umbrella of parental free speech.

"Ms. Smalley would be within her rights as a parent to educate her children in such a manner as she sees fit ... even if the state feels it improper," Gumz wrote.

The state, Gumz said, does not have the right to decide what parents can teach their children about sex.

"Health classes are a part of modern school curriculum, and President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky have forever changed the vernacular of the American public," he wrote.

Columbia County Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long could not be reached for comment.

Gumz argued that, because Smalley's children were 11 and 15, they were near or at the age of puberty, making it acceptable for their mother to explain sex to them. But, according to the criminal complaint, the younger son objected. The boy told a counselor about the discussion and, when asked by police, said he preferred that his mother "keep that kind of information personal," according to the criminal complaint.

"This whole thing's been like a nightmare for me and I can't understand it," Smalley told the Daily Register after the plea.

Rev. Debra Haffner, a sexuality educator and director of the The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, said she was surprised to learn that Smalley had spoken to her son about specific sexual history, calling it "highly unusual."

"It's not smart parenting, but certainly not actionable," she said.

Haffner, the former president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, reinforced the importance of parents speaking with their children about sex, saying children need to hear the information from their parents, but she said the level of detail makes a difference.

"Parents may say, 'Oral sex is when you put your mouth on another person's genitals,'" Haffner said. "But, if you go into technique with your kids, saying 'Sometimes it feels good if you do this' ... I think there is a level of description that could be too much."

A main point made by Smalley's attorneys in arguing for the case to be dropped was that the law used to prosecute her was intended to prevent children from being exposed to pornography, and not meant for parents talking about sex with their kids.

"This was not some stranger who was telling children sordid stories for sexual gratification and titillation," Gumz said in his motion.

As Frank Valado Lay Dying...

MI - 'Thrill kill' led teens to murder, decapitate man

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NORTHVILLE TOWNSHIP -- In announcing the arrests of two teenagers today, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said they stabbed Daniel G. Sorensen to death, sawed off his head and used a blow torch to burn his body simply for the thrill.

"All of us have seen every type of crime available and why someone would kill for the thrill of it amazes us," Worthy said at a press conference at the Northville Township Police Department.

Sorensen, 26, of River Rouge, was found dead Thursday at the end of a yet-to-be-developed subdivision cul-de-sac in Northville Township off Ridge Road just south of Maybury State Park. His severed head was found Saturday in a section of Hines Park located in Dearborn Heights.

Jean Pierre Orlewicz, 17, of Plymouth and Alexander James Letkemann, 18, of Westland, were to be arraigned today in Romulus District Court on charges of premeditated murder, felony murder and mutilation of a corpse. The homicide charges carry sentences of up to life.

Sorensen had owed Orlewicz "small amounts" that weren't a factor in the premeditated killing, Worthy said. The men were acquaintances, but she declined to further detail their relationship. She added that Soresen's name and address being listed on the sex offender registries of both Michigan and Illinois for an incident in Illinois in 1998, had nothing to with the homicide.

"They lured him into a garage where a space had been prepared to kill him," Worth said.

Worthy said the pair stabbed Sorensen in the back multiple times, then sawed off his head. The garage had been prepared with a tarp on the floor and cleaning supplies standing by to clean up the blood.

It is alleged the pair tried to conceal the identity of the victim by using a blow torch to burn his hands and feet. Gasoline was used to set the body on fire after it was dumped in the empty lot in Northville Township.

State Police forensic science technicians were able to identify Sorensen with one clear fingerprint. Tips from unnamed sources led police to find Sorensen's head and his pickup truck Friday night in the parking lot of a Meijer store at Haggerty and Warrant in Westland.

Policed announced Friday night three persons of interest had been identified and arrest warrants were being sought. Police declined to confirm whether anyone was under arrest. Worthy said only Letkemann and Orlewicz are under arrest, but the investigation of the potential involvement of others continues.

With help from Michigan State Police, Livonia, River Rouge, Wayne County Sheriff's deputies Canton Plymouth townships, it took detectives just 34 hours to solve the case, compared with just 17 hours to unravel the last homicidal mystery faced by Northville Township police three months ago.

The body of Cheryl Lynn Boeskool, 44, of Garden City, was found floating on Aug. 7 in a retention pond at Country Club Village on Haggerty near Six Mile. Police determined she had been had killed by multiple blows to her head and face and her body dumped in the pond. Her boyfriend, Thomas Joseph Roe, 62, awaits trail after allegedly confessing to the slaying.

Offenders deserve their rights

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There is no doubt that people who break the law deserve to be punished, but unfortunately for all of you concerned parents, arbitrary residency restrictions on sex offenders do not protect your children. In fact, if any of you are interested in doing any actual research, you will find that they are actually counterproductive and merely create a false sense of security, at best.

Most studies show that more than 90 percent of sex offenses against children are committed by friends or family members. More than 90 percent of new sex offenses are committed by people who are not registered sex offenders. Studies have found no correlation between sex offenses and the proximity of the offender's residence to a place where children congregate.

Residency restrictions force registered sex offenders to live in isolated rural areas, where it is difficult for them to receive treatment and where it is difficult for authorities to supervise them. As more and more states and municipalities impose residency restrictions that are impossible to comply with, more and more sex offenders are forced to go underground and stop registering altogether.

But even if we came to the realizations that sex offender residency restrictions do not protect our children, we would still support such arbitrary restrictions because their true intention is to make things so difficult for registered sex offenders that they move to another city or state.

Do we really believe that the number of sex offenses has increased in recent years, or have they simply gained more publicity and political attention for media entertainment and political campaign purposes? These days, politicians all over the country are exploiting this tragedy for their own political gains.

But again, who cares right? They're sex offenders!

At first glance, most of us would agree, until someone we know or care about is convicted of an offense that would qualify that person to be registered as a sex offender. So what offenses would qualify someone to be a registered sex offender? Rape and child molestation, right? Obviously, but a significant portion of people on the registry include teens who engage in consensual sex, parents who allowed their teens to engage in consensual sex, adults who engaged in consensual sex with a minor who may have misrepresented their age, and even people arrested for public urination.

Why are we wasting our tax dollars and law enforcement resources supervising people who pose little or no threat to our children, or to anyone for that matter?

The majority of these new sex offender laws are retroactive or are imposed onto all sex offenders, in most cases many years after they have already served their time. Residency restrictions also violate the fair housing act by depriving registered sex offenders of access to affordable housing. These are just a few of the injustices faced by registered sex offenders. But as I have said and as I'm sure that everyone who is reading this would probably agree, who cares?

The reason we all should care is because, if we are willing to sit back and watch while we allow our government to deny registered sex offenders their civil and human rights guaranteed by our constitution, who is going to be the next group of people?

The bottom line is that sex offenders, like all offenders who commit a crime, deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, they also deserve to enjoy the civil and human rights that this country claims to be founded on. Like all other types of offenders, sex offenders deserve a chance to serve their time, pay their debt to society and get on with their lives.

Elizabeth Girardi is a resident of Fort Lauderdale.

OK - New sex-offender law faces opposition

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A three-tiered ranking system takes effect Thursday.

New restrictions for sex offenders -- including a three-level ranking system that designates how long they must register -- take effect Thursday.

However, some of those who are on the front lines dealing with sex offenders believe that Oklahoma's law is having an adverse effect and needs further changes.

''Most people who know anything about this are frustrated. It is just not helpful -- the laws as they are now,'' said Randy Lopp, treatment subcommittee chairman of the Oklahoma Sex Offender Management Team.

Lopp is also a member of the review board established by the new law to categorize the sex offenders into three levels.

''I think if the general public understood the research, they would be willing to back the legislators to change the laws to make more sense and to protect children, because the laws as they are written are not protecting children," he said. "They are doing more harm than good.''

Categorizing offenders: Lawmakers changed the state law to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act, said Jim Rabon, who oversees sex offender registration for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

What the federal law calls a ''tier system,'' the new state law calls a ''numeric risk level.'' The risk level is determined by the type and severity of crime for which the offender was convicted and the number of convictions that person has, he said.

Level One offenders will register for 15 years; Level Two offenders will register for 25 years; and Level Three offenders will register for life.

As in the previous version of the law, those who are categorized as ''aggravated'' or ''habitual'' sex offenders will also be required to register for life.

Rabon said the committee that set up the levels reviewed cases of people beginning prison and probation between July 2006 and June 2007 and determined that most sex offenders fall into the highest risk category.

The review revealed that 78 percent of the sex offenders fall in Level Three, 3 percent in Level Two and 19 percent in Level One.

Based on those numbers, Tulsa Police Sgt. Gary Stansill, who has spent more than 20 years investigating sex crimes in Tulsa, said he believes that the Oklahoma law is too broad.

Under the law, he said, an 18-year-old who is convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old and someone who is convicted of groping an officer during an undercover sting would both be registered sex offenders for life.

''The least number of people should be in the worst tier, but the most number of people are going to be in the worst tier under the new law,'' Stansill said.

Federal law mandates that any state that does not adapt to the Adam Walsh Act will receive up to a 10 percent reduction in federal grant money. Based on past funding, that might amount to a loss of about $200,000 to $300,000 for Oklahoma, Rabon said.

The loss in funding is part of the reason the state has moved to comply with the federal law, he said. Another reason is consistency.

''We do recognize that if all of the states' registration systems are similar, that does make it easier to track offenders when they move from state to state,'' Rabon said.

He said it is important that people realize that Oklahoma has what he believes is one of the best sex offender registration systems in the country.

By that, he means a lot of information is available on the Department of Corrections Web site that is easy for the public to access and local law enforcement agencies to update. He said Oklahoma has a low percentage of delinquent offenders compared to other states.

The residency debate: Lopp said he doesn't believe that the offense-based assessment is the the best way to categorize offenders. He thinks a tiered system is a step in the right direction but that it should be based on the risk of the individual.

Some states have refused federal funds so they can continue to develop risk-based assessments, he said.

A risk-based assessment could then correspond with the residency restrictions, which have created headaches for law enforcement agencies across the country.

Stansill said residency restrictions have driven sex offenders underground in Tulsa.

The controversial state law that went into effect last year has put 90 percent of the city off limits for sex offenders by prohibiting them from living within 2,000 feet of playgrounds, parks or child-care facilities. They were already prohibited from living within that distance of a school.

The new law does loosen the residency restrictions slightly by specifying that offenders are precluded from living near only child-care centers -- and not including day-care homes, which are numerous.

Before the residency laws, Tulsa had about 540 registered sex offenders at the peak. As of Sept. 20, 329 were registered here, Stansill said.

''If I really thought it would really do some good, then I would be all for it (the residency restrictions). Then we could focus on the people who don't want to register -- who have no good excuse for not registering -- because they are the people who are likely to be re-offending.''

The new law that takes effect Thursday requires police to register sex offenders even if the offenders intend to move into restricted areas. Previously, Tulsa police would tell an offender to look for another place to live and then come back to register.

''If I register those people, does that give them the right to live there?" Stansill questioned. "Or are we supposed to register them and turn about and work a case against them for violating the residency law?''

Stansill said sex crimes detectives are already overloaded with sex offender law violation cases.

From 2006 to 2007 Tulsa police have investigated 228 sex offender registration violation cases. During the same time period, they investigated 275 rape cases.

Forcing offenders to move from place to place because of residency laws could do more harm than good, Lopp said.

''When you keep making these people move, you are disrupting their stability; you are disrupting their jobs; you are causing an immense amount of stress on that population,'' Lopp said.

''What do we know about re-offense? Stress, job instability, living instability increase the chance of re-offense.''

Authorities say research shows that where sex offenders live is not a factor -- that most of them know their victims and that attacks often occur in the victims' own homes. But Rabon said there is more than one side to the argument about residency restrictions.

''The other side of that is that between the DOC and all of the local law enforcement agencies, . . . everybody works hard trying to locate them and keep the addresses current,'' he said.

That results in Oklahoma having a high rate of compliance, Rabon said. Of 5,462 registered sex offenders statewide, 870 are classified as delinquent, meaning their locations are unknown.

''When the residency restriction went into effect, we saw the delinquent number bump up a little bit, not a huge number,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Lopp hopes the committee works to encourage state and federal legislators to change the laws to make them more effective.

''What ultimately is going to have to happen to change this law is the community is going to have to get in touch with legislators and tell them, "This is not helping; this is making things worse,' " Lopp said.

The Net is a circuit of safety concerns

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If you watch TV or read the news, you know sexual predators hang out on the Internet, looking for underage victims.

Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" features men being lured by the promise of meeting underage girls. Several state attorneys general recently have called on social-networking sites MySpace and Facebook to ban registered sex offenders and make their sites safer. Newspapers have been filled with stories about the dangers children face when they post too much personal information. And victims have testified recently at congressional hearings.

Some worry that parents are falling victim to "predator panic" and overreacting to unlikely dangers, unintentionally turning children off to safety messages altogether.

"One of the misunderstandings that we think is widespread is that what sex offenders are doing is picking out kids (online) and stalking them and deceiving them and abducting them and raping them," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"That's not what's going on."

Abductions by strangers are so rare that many experts can't name a single case in which a predator attacked after only seeing a child's profile online.

'Grooming' their victims

In most cases, predators seek out vulnerable teens — those who post sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, talk about sex online or frequent places where hook-ups are made, Finkelhor says. They spend weeks, even months, forging a relationship and gaining the teens' trust.

Usually, those who become victims eventually agree to meet the perpetrator face to face; often they know that the person they're meeting is older. But by the time they meet him (usually it's a man), they often think they are in love. It's a process called "grooming," Finkelhor says.

"It's the kids who respond to somebody and start talking about sex that puts them at risk — or kids who use sites to communicate with lots of people they don't know, or put very sexualized images online," he says.

The Internet allows predators "to form supportive relationships with emotionally vulnerable teens," says Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly.

Though there are no comprehensive national annual figures on Internet crimes against children, Finkelhor says, overall sex crimes against children are down, with the notable exception of child pornography. Sexual abuse cases were down 51% from 1990 to 2005 — from 22.8 per 10,000 to 11.3 per 10,000 children, he says.

Feeling safe doesn't make it so

Studies show that most teens feel relatively safe online. A Pew Internet & American Life Project report last month showed that though children, especially girls, who posted pictures of themselves on social networks were more likely to be contacted by strangers, only 7% of online teens said they had ever had an interaction with a stranger that made them feel scared or uncomfortable.

And a report out last year by Finkelhor's center found that from 2000 through 2005, the number of children ages 10 to 17 who received unwanted solicitations online declined from 19% to 13%.

But calls to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's hotline have been on the rise, says president Ernie Allen. In 2005, there were 2,660 reports of online enticement of children; in 2006, there were 6,374. In the first eight months of 2007, there were 9,533. Some of the increase can be attributed to greater Internet use and increased awareness of the hotline, Allen says.

He agrees that education is a key to Internet safety. But he says the Internet does make it easier to prey on children.

"Just like in the physical world, those people who seek to prey upon kids go to where the kids are," Allen says. "We don't think the sky is falling, but there (are) adults hiding behind the relative anonymity of the Internet to try to achieve what they either can't achieve or can only achieve with great risk in the physical world. America's moms and dads really need to catch up."

Though it's good to educate children and parents about dangers, some experts worry that the message may backfire.

"If you are petrified of predators but are not worrying about cyber-bullies, loss of reputation, spending too much time online and the other less frightening but more likely dangers of online use, then you are misplacing your energy," says Larry Magid, co-director of "You're petrified of something that's probably not going to happen and failing to pay attention to the dangers that are far more likely."

Allen says messages should be balanced, but parents do need to stay aware of the problems. "The good news is that the vast majority of America's kids are much smarter and much more aware. …

"But the bad news is, there are a lot of (predators) out there who are still seeking, overwhelmingly for grooming and seduction. This remains a significant problem."