By Christiana Cobb
Last week as I was scrolling through my "newsfeed" on Facebook, I came across a friend’s post about a law in Bradford county, Florida requiring released sex offenders to place a red sign outside of their homes saying: “Public Notice: (the name of the person convicted of a sexual offense) is a convicted sexual predator and is living at this location.”
- It's not a law, it's a vigilante sheriff going beyond the law to name and shame so he can get his name in the paper and on TV. Is he going to be held accountable for when someone dies due to some other vigilante harassing or harming an ex-offender, their family or children?
I commented on my friend’s status as she praised the new law and I said I had to disagree.
I am not saying that sexual predators don't disgust me.
I often struggle with the thoughts questioning how those involved in sex crimes live with themselves, especially those who violate children.
With all the studying I’ve done about the sex trafficking of young girls, boys, women and men, and knowing women who have been sexually abused, I am one of the first to say that our prison systems have wronged the victims of those crimes, but but how will posting red signs outside of the homes of people who have been convicted as sex offenders solve anything?
One of my first thoughts was: If I were one of the people living in the neighborhood, seeing that sign would only make me, and whoever visits me, paranoid.
To be blunt, sometimes ignorance is bliss and if I lived there, I know for certain my fear would get the best of me and ordinary safety precautions would turn into paranoia, judgment and outlandish behavior toward that person, out of fear.
I could just see it now: Outrageous home security, no eye contact and, if I had children, I would never let my children step foot near their home, let alone actually being a good neighbor and inviting them into mine.
There are already laws set in place in terms of the protocol for those convicted as sex offenders once they are released from prison such as Megan’s law.
Every state has some version of Megan’s Law, which requires law enforcement to make information of released sex offenders available to the public, but each state decides exactly what information is made available.
In California, the public has access to an online search to locate those convicted as sex offenders in their neighborhood, however, there are some whose information is only known by law enforcement and not on the site.
In 2013, there are many people with access to a computer, either for personal use or in a library and if one wanted to know the information about their neighbors, they could retrieve that information, but one has to want it.
Florida uses the Klaaskids Foundation, which is very similar to the site in California which informs the public who seek information about convicted sex offenders in the area.
Privacy is no longer part of the vocabulary of one who has been convicted of a sex crime because all of their information, short of a social security number, can be obtained by those who wish to know.
Also, in prison, sex offenders, especially those who were convicted of child molestation, are most at risk for being killed by inmates and the trauma they probably suffer at the hands of other inmates, is arguably punishment enough.
However, in Bradford County, they are now subjected to a big, red eyesore of a sign visible to whoever passes their home.
My friend who posted the picture from the story said posting red signs outside of convicted sex offenders homes was a great idea and California should have the same law to protect its residents, especially the children.
Seeing that she is a mother, I completely understand where she is coming from for the need to protect her child, but how much can we continue to dehumanize people?
A big, red sign outside of your home is a constant reminder to the convicted offender of what they did. The judgment from the neighborhood is never going to encourage the offender to even attempted to get out of their past and start a new life.
Although many may feel people like that will never change, I don’t see how a statement like that can be made when we don't give offenders a chance to rehabilitate through programs or tactics.
Why would anyone want to change if they are constantly being reminded of mistakes or the horrible problems of their past?
For example, if someone who just got out of prison for selling drugs applied for a job, they would check that box for having been convicted of a crime, which would lessen their chances of getting the job — so why wouldn't they just go back to selling drugs for a living?
In all honesty, for parents concerned about the safety of their children, as they should be, then it is the responsibility of the parents to use the resources at hand to see if they live near sex offenders. If they don’t feel comfortable, then it’s up to them to move.
Because this information is broadcasted to the neighborhood and whoever comes by, that could threaten the safety of the resident of the home.
What is to stop people from attacking the person convicted of a sex offense in the name of justice for those violated?
The police officer quoted in the New York Daily News about the issue said vigilante attacks are unlikely, but I beg to differ.
People are passionate about this subject especially if those violated were children and what is it that would stop them from taking “revenge”?
Broadcasting the status of those in the neighborhood will not help those convicted as sex offenders and bring disruption.
The red signs that seek to help bring awareness only create a place of fear for neighbors who anxiously live their lives trying to secure themselves from their neighbor the released sex offender and a place of shame for the person convicted of a sex offense who should be focusing on rehabilitation instead of the judgment from residents in the neighborhood.