By Jemie Lee
MARYLAND - It gives a sense of security for many parents – having access to the state's sex offender registry.
"It's a way for us to be safe as parents for our children. I use an app to find out if there's any in the neighborhood. That's what my sister and I did before, and we actually found some. So we would know to keep an eye out, especially for my daughter that I'm worried about," Christie Sarminto said.
But a controversial ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals could immediately remove about a third of those currently on Maryland's sex offender database. It's cause for concern, but experts say the registry itself isn't a good tool to keep our children safe.
"There are cases where someone is pleading to a lesser offense, which doesn't require registration on the sex offender registry," executive director of the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury, Md. Michele Hughes said.
Hughes was also on the governor's sex offender advisory board. She says she's seen cases where the judge won't order the offender to register, and many cases, especially those involving children, either never go to trial or end in a not guilty verdict.
"The child can't articulate clearly what happened to them, even though the child may have been offended against. Those people show up nowhere and those are the people you have to worry about, because no one is looking at them," she said.
So, what's the best way to keep our kids safe?
Hughes points to good parole and probation departments that have programs in which sex offenders go to therapy, take lie detector tests periodically, and are heavily monitored.
"There are a lot of studies that say that this works much better than sort of public shaming on the sex offender registry. So perhaps we need to look more at things like that and be less dependent on public lists," she said.
The problem is, these programs are extremely expensive, and funds are already limited. So until we can find a way to change the system, Michele says, for now, the responsibility lies on the parents.
"Parents should not get a level of comfort knowing that no one in their neighborhood for instance is on the sex offender registry, because it is not a panacea. You still need to be vigilant with your children. You need to make certain that your children are not left alone with adults, one on one," she said.
Hughes also says that often times parents focus solely on stranger danger, when in fact most children are not abused by strangers. They're abused by people they know and trust. So it's important to understand that the sex offender registry, and teaching our kids to run away from strangers, isn't enough to keep them safe.