By Shana Rowan
As executive director of USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry, a nonprofit organization formed by the family members of people required to register as sex offenders, the Observer-Dispatch’s Feb. 24 editorial, “Tighten regulations on sex offenders,” was deeply troubling.
The editorial opined that homeless sex offenders living in hotels is “a disturbing issue that could put an unsuspecting public at risk,” and are demanding an immediate legislative response. It’s this kind of angry, emotional response that sends politicians into a frenzy trying to placate the public, and usually results in hasty, poorly researched laws that sound good but do little if anything to protect communities.
An intelligent response to this issue would be to examine the reason for the problem: sex offenders become homeless because the label makes it difficult if not impossible to find steady employment and housing, not because they want to live in motels and prey on traveling children and their families.
As a broad group, sex offenders have among the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system. Ninety-six percent of sex crimes are committed by someone not on the registry, who is known to the victim – not a stranger in the next hotel room. The pervasive myth that all sex offenders pose a danger to children must be stopped now.
Additional dissemination of the whereabouts of homeless sex offenders will only draw attention away from the much bigger problem of sexual abuse perpetrated by those known to the victim. It will also likely drive more offenders underground and away from the eyes of police, probation or parole. Aside from being a feather in the cap of Sen. Joseph Griffo, there are no benefits to this idea.
If this is truly about potential risks to “an unsuspecting public,” then the O-D will in the future ensure that they provide up-to-date information regarding sex crimes. Where is the concern and outrage over the plentiful, much more likely sources of harm to children?