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The rapist across the street

08 Jul

Some heavy thinking for the day: What would you do if you moved into your new home, only to realize soon after that a sex offender was living across the street? A rapist, to be exact. A rapist who has “PREDATOR” in all cap, red letters under his picture on the National Sex Offender Registry.

Let me start at the beginning. We spent a lot of time, effort, sweat and money on completely renovating a house in a beautiful historic neighborhood, two blocks from a college, and one block from a brick elementary school on a lovely tree-lined street. Going into it, we didn’t know it was going to require so MUCH time, effort and money. Have you seen the movie The Money Pit? That’s sort of how it all went down. Although neither one of us fell through the floor and got trapped for hours until we began hallucinating about Care Bears…… BUT, one thing led to another, which led to another, which led to a landslide of fixes until we tore everything out down to the studs and started from scratch. The good side of all of that is that we ended up with a house we absolutely love in a beautiful neighborhood.

Until (dunh, dunh, dunh, DUNH) I had dinner with a friend who asked me if I had ever plugged our address into the National Sex Offender Registry. She had, and thought there was someone living close to us. Needless to say, I went home and immediately looked up our address. There it was. RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. What?! Aaagh! Wait. It gets worse. One half block away (between us and the elementary school), a child molester (also with the word “PREDATOR” in all red caps under his picture) had taken up residence. The mommy panic in me kicked in full-force. I had to resist the overwhelming urge to call my husband at work and insist that we begin packing our bags immediately. I don’t think that would have gone over well. Instead, I thought about it. I’m a ponderer by nature and do a pretty good job (if I do say so myself) of looking at things from multiple angles.

So, I considered the fact that perhaps these individuals were wrongly accused. I’ve heard stories of guys of legal age getting frisky with girls they assumed (or were told) were also of legal age, only to learn differently later and to be prosecuted by the bitter girl or her family. Are the stories true? Who knows. Should the guys know better? Probably, but it would still stink to have that stigma forever on your record as a result of some temporary, hormone-induced stupidity.

OR, maybe they were wrongly sentenced. I’m not naive enough to believe that our court system is perfect. Although, at the same time I had this thought, I must confess I immediately thought that there must have been some pretty compelling evidence for multiple people to agree on a sentence.

Finally, I considered that perhaps they had been guilty, but had served their time, were truly sorry and had turned their lives around, only to have to walk around for the rest of their living days with an unfortunate label that neighbors like me might instantly judge.

The psych major in me just kept coming back to the fact that, innocent or not, reformed or not, there are data to suggest high rates of recidivism among those who have committed sexual offenses.  I ultimately decided that, while I would reserve judgment since I didn’t know their whole stories, I would also practice cautious alertness and common-sense safety. I pay more attention when going on walks. I try not to follow a set schedule for walk times. I am more alert when getting in and out of my car, especially after dark. I check that all doors and windows are locked at night and when we leave. I alert caregivers who are here when we’re not.

I was also seriously concerned about the child molester living so close to the elementary school. I checked on the laws regarding distance, and he was in violation. The online registry instructed me to call my local sheriff’s office with any concerns or known violations. So I did. I presented the information in a factual and unemotional manner, but I wasn’t treated with much friendliness or respect (the attitude I sensed was “stop bothering me, kooky paranoid lady”) and I was interrupted by the curt statement: “We’re already looking into the matter.” Click. End of conversation. Great. At first I felt bad for bothering the busy deputy. Then I realized, “Hey! My tax dollars are paying this guy! Isn’t he supposed to be serving me? Wasn’t I doing the right thing as a concerned citizen?” Sigh. Would a little professional friendliness have been so difficult?

The good news (for us) is, after living here for a year and a half, both sex offenders have moved. The rapist now lives 8 blocks away (but still on our street). I don’t know where the child molester is. The flip side (I don’t know if “bad news” is fair to say, because the phrase seems judgmental) is that these guys are living across the street and next to NEW people, who may be unaware of the situation. I completely understand that these guys are PEOPLE and they need to live somewhere. I’m not advocating starting up colonies away from the rest of civilization. BUT, I do think that the National Sex Offender Registry is a resource that more people should know about so they can be aware and more alert if they need to be. Not paranoid. Not discriminating or hateful. Just aware. The offender across the street from us lived in a house with multiple apartments. All of the other units were rented by young, single women just out of college. If I were them, I would want to know. I even struggled a bit with whether or not I was morally obligated to let them know what I knew. I ultimately decided that things like that are what has, in the past, led to community panic, ugly petitions, picketing, harassment and hatred toward the individual cursed with a horrible label for the rest of their lives. I’m NOT for that. I supposed that the women in the rental house needed to be responsible for themselves, but I have to tell you that I would have felt horrible if something would have happened to one of them…..

For your information, the National Sex Offender Database is called Family Watchdog. You simply enter your address in the fields provided, and the database brings up a map of the area around your home and marks offenders with various colors according to their offense. You can click on the colored box to see a photo of the offender. It’s very easy to use with a complete key (to the left) and navigation tools (zoom, up, down, etc.) on the upper right. Your local sheriff’s office might also have an online database for your specific county. In our case, the national database had a better map and easier to use system than our local database.

For the record, I would like to strongly state that I am in NO WAY advocating harassment of registered sex offenders. It is important to know that (quoting from the Family Watchdog database):

Harassing anyone on the offender registry is a misdemeanor and can be punished by both a fine and jail time. The purpose of this service is to allow you to identify sexual predators that you may come in contact with, not as a tool to hunt them down and run them out.

So what do you think? Would you rather NOT know? Or do you think knowledge is a power of sorts? Do you think the national database is a good thing or that it breeds fear and potential discrimination? Talk to me in the comments.

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12 Comments

Posted by on July 8, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

12 responses to “The rapist across the street

  1. Awake

    July 8, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Intersting. And where to begin… 🙂

    – As far as the offender that lived near the school. You absolutely did the right thing and, had he not moved, I would have continued to call the authorities. It is the law. It is their job to enforce said law. It their problem to deal with the calls.

    – Would I move? Probably not. Within my relatively small city there are 68 registered sex offenders. And very few neighborhoods without an offender within blocks. So, I would think about it, stew and fret, but likely not move.

    – My perspective is a bit different. Until I became I SAHM, I practiced law, including criminal defense, and yes, I represented a handful of clients charged with various levels of sexual offenses against women and children. I also represented children (as Guardian Ad Litem) who were victims of such crimes. While I firmly believe that every individual is entitled to a strong defense, I also firmly believe that most sex offenders cannot be reformed, and I cannot emphasize that enough. In my opinion, sex offenders know what they are doing, know the consequences, and will do it again.

    So, before this gets too long. I’ll end with answers to your last questions: Yes, I would rather know, than not know. And, yes, national and state databases are a good thing. Look up your neighborhood but, more importantly, look up your new boyfriend, your babysitter’s partner, new people that enter your life. Know the people who have access to your children.

     
  2. psychmamma

    July 8, 2008 at 3:48 am

    Awake –

    Thanks for all your comments and your professional input. Thanks especially for your closing statement. What a great point (that I should have made) to look up the people who have access to your children.

     
  3. anymommy

    July 8, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Yes, I would definitely rather know. Knowledge empowers us to be viligant for ourselves and for our kids. I agree that convicted sex offenders who have served their time have the right to move on and live in neighborhoods, but with the recidivism rate so high (I’ve read 80% in the past), it is important for the community to know their location.

    I also live in a beautiful downtown neighborhood in a smaller city. (We restored an old house too – a frustrating and rewarding experience.) We have 10-12 registered offenders in our area at any given time. I wouldn’t move because of this, but I do want to be aware and alert.

     
  4. psychmamma

    July 8, 2008 at 3:59 am

    Thanks AnyMommy!

     
  5. Liza R

    July 8, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Awake’s comment was brilliant. When it comes to our kids, we have to be vigilant, unfortunately. We can’t afford to be blissfully ignorant, and having this knowledge, as disturbing as it is, provides us with the impetus to act, whether it’s doing what you did and contacting the sheriff’s office or simply ensuring that our children are aware of stranger danger and know how to act if they are approached. Knowing where these people live allows you to define the boundaries of your child’s play area, and also gives you the opportunity to make decisions about your family’s day-to-day activities.

     
  6. psychmamma

    July 8, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks Liza!

     
  7. Alice

    July 8, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Good post to alert folks. And so scary! If anything, I’ve been hyper vigilant about my surrounding my whole life and actually spotted would-be pick pockets before they got me.

     
  8. psychmamma

    July 8, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Alice –

    Good for you! I tend to walk around in daydream land unless I consciously focus on being aware. Your way is infinitely safer.

     
  9. alden

    July 9, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    “…sex offenders have some of the highest rates of criminal recidivism out there.”

    Perhaps you might take a moment and do a bit of research.

    You’ll find that you’ve been sadly misinformed by a manipulative media and irresponsible politicians pandering to heightened hysteria in the interests of appearing tough on crime.

    Having been convicted of sex crimes (yes, plural!) that were never committed, I have abandoned any thought of a life as I approach 60. Given what I have experienced at the hands of this government, I must confess that I am appeased that such has transpired in the latter part of my life rather than the former.

    Our society has become a nation of sheep. We believe without challenge what we are fed incessantly by Murdochesque media conglomerates as well as thugs such as Bush and this henchmen. Skepticism has become the lost watchdog of what once was a reasonably healthy society.

    If you care to understand further about recidivism for those who have been convicted of a ‘sex crime’ (“sex offender”: not past, not present, not future– always! The scarlet letter incarnate!)

    http://documents.sdp123a.com/Megans_Law_and_the_misconception_of_sex_offender_recidivism.pdf

    http://www.documents.sdp123a.com/No_Easy_Answers_-_Sex_Offender_Laws_in_the_US.pdf

    http://www.sdp123a.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=161&Itemid=55

    http://blogs.sdp123a.com/sdp123a/opinion/207/growing-media-and-legal-attention-to-sex-offenders-more-safety-or-more-injustice/

    Thank you for taking the time to read this response to your post. I would venture that it is one of the more thoughtful posts I have read in some time.

     
  10. Stephanie

    July 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I have checked that site on multiple occasions. I think it’s an important resource for parents and it’s one that parents should utilize.

    How scary that you found two offenders so close to you and I’m so relieved for you that they moved away…

     
  11. psychmamma

    July 10, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Stephanie –

    Thanks for your comments!

     
  12. psychmamma

    July 10, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Alden –

    Thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and to include links to various articles. I agree that we all need to embrace some healthy skepticism regarding what is presented to us via media and political outlets and that we all should take more time to research information from multiple sources and viewpoints before forming our opinions. I hope that I adequately expressed my personal understanding that it cannot be easy to live with the (as you put it) “scarlet letter incarnate” in today’s society. In my final question, “Do you think that the national database is a good thing, or that it breeds fear and discrimination?” I hoped to express my own mixed feelings on the subject. I truly do see both sides of the coin for this subject and I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

    In regards to your personal, plural convictions for sex crimes that you say were never committed, I’m not sure how to respond, because I don’t feel I have enough information.

    In regards to your comment that I should do “a bit of research,” I humbly acknowledge that I should have cited sources and that my statement “…sex offenders have some of the highest rates of criminal recidivism out there” was somewhat lame and should have been more correctly stated as: “there are data to suggest high rates of recidivism among those who have committed sexual offenses.” (I will correct the post when I finish this response) In light of citing sources, I’d like to point you to some data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics at:

    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#recidivism

    Notice that, after release from prison, 2.5% of those convicted of rape were rearrested for another rape, while 1.2% of those convicted of homicide were rearrested for homicide.

    Sex offenders were about 4 times as likely to be rearrested for another sex crime than non-sex offenders after release from prison (5.3% compared to 1.3%)

    Sex offenders were less likely to be rearrested for “any offense” than non-sex offenders (43% compared to 68%)

    The first statistic is the most “helpful” one in this case because it’s comparing apples to apples, so to speak. The other two stats are confusing and seem contradictory. In the second stat, those who were originally convicted of a “non-sex” crime were less likely to be REarrested for a sex crime – no big surprise there. In the third statistic, those convicted of a sex crime were less likely to be rearrested for “any offense” (a category lumping all offenses into one) than non-sex offenders ( a category lumping all non-sex crimes into one) – no big surprise there. Basically, they’re saying WHEN REARRESTED, it’s usually for the same crime the perpetrators were convicted for originally.

    I do have some understanding of research and think it’s important to point out that data is often selectively presented in papers and publications, depending on the agenda or topic of discussion.

    In the article you linked to by Dr. Hanson (1998), he states that: “only 13.4 percent (of sex offenders) were known to have committed another sexual offense after four to five years in the community. This is an underestimate. Many offenses are undetected and the rates can only increase with longer follow up periods…Those that did reoffend were found to have more prior sexual offenses, deviant sexual interests — being interested in boys and victimizing strangers – and had not completed their treatment.”

    Saying “only 13.4 percent” is not very helpful when I don’t have anything to compare it with. [and 13.4% seems plenty high to me] Saying this is an “underestimate,” that “many offenses are undetected,” and that “rates can only increase with longer follow-up periods,” seems to indicate a suspicion of even higher rates of recidivism than what he’s reporting. I think the most important aspect of his report was that treatment programs seem to make a difference. Those who complete treatment, are less likely to re-offend. That’s great news! Now lets figure out how to keep them from dropping out of treatment.

    So, regarding the recidivism factor, I think the bottom line for me personally is that there are data out there suggesting rates of recidivism that I’m concerned about, for all crime in general, and for sex offenses more specifically.

    Finally, thank you for your comment regarding the thoughtfulness of the post. It was much appreciated.

     

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