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.