Tuesday, March 06, 2012

How Many Sex Offenders Live in Your Neighborhood?


"Tell her I said this isn't a fun game." Bubba's face was dead serious as his fingers swiped across the screen of my iPad. It was 10:15 at night and we were supposed to be playing a rousing game of Scrabble (which he usually wins, by the way). Instead, we had our county's sex offender location website pulled up and there were thirteen little flags planted within a five mile radius of the house we had just put an offer in on.

Our real estate agent had sent me a text message fifteen minutes before to ask me to call her. She couldn't say exactly why, but something had made her pull up the list of sex offenders living in the neighborhood of the house we fell in love with. She wanted us to look up the site.

We did.

Bubba was not amused.

Thirteen flags. One with a notation that said "multiple offenders" instead of offering the name and photo of one man (they were all men, in this case) and the subsequent description of his offense(s) and likelihood to offend again.

I wasn't sure what to think and our agent wasn't, either. For comparison purposes, we pulled up the list of those who live near the house we've lived in for the last ten years. Seven.

I had to go through each and every one of the individual profiles, reading about their crimes:
sex with a minor
indecent liberties (what does that even mean? Could be sexual harassment, even)
statutory rape
rape of a child

Ugh.

Oddly, the ones that were noted as "noncompliant" didn't bother me in the least. That means they haven't checked in with their probation officer and there's no way to verify they actually still live there (or ever did). That gave me hope that they had moved on.

The one that bothered me the most was the house with two offenders in it that was less than a block from a daycare center held in someone's home. Home-based daycare less than a block away from two known sexual offenders. I wonder how often that happens. I suspect more than we think.

Within this five mile radius, there are four home-based daycare centers, four schools, three parks and hundreds of homes.

I went to bed not knowing what to think.

I woke up and searched the directory of families at Eve's school and learned that also within this five mile radius there are seven families whose children attend the same school as Eve.

I looked at Bubba and said, "I don't want to be ruled by fear."

We knew that moving from the 'burbs to the city was going to prompt different kinds of discussions with the girls. We knew that it would require some adjustment on our part - smaller lawns, closer neighbors, more noise - but were focused on the benefits to this point. Benefits like driving ten minutes to school instead of 45. Benefits like being able to walk the dog without having to put him in the car and driving to a park or trail. Benefits like being part of a more diverse community.

Methinks we got diverse.

Ultimately, we didn't change our minds about the house. We still love it and feel like it is a good neighborhood. We may have to have some challenging conversations with the girls about freedom and independence earlier than we anticipated, but it is situations like this that force us to find clarity around our family's values and principles.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this entire exercise was when I began asking myself deeper questions about where convicted sex offenders ought to be allowed to live. I am a bleeding heart liberal who knows that people are products of their environment. That said, while I can have compassion for someone who has lived a life that led them to sexual violence, I wonder whether it is possible to be rehabilitated from that and I am not willing to put myself or my children in harm's way to find out. I do believe that housing two convicted sex offenders four doors down from a daycare provider is a bad idea. I also can't imagine how difficult it must be to find a place to live if you carry that past on your back. But the consequences are so enormous that I find myself wondering if stopping the cycle of sexual violence might require some ideas that I find uncomfortable.

I suspect that my abuser was himself sexually abused and that led him to an understanding that, for him, power could be gained by abusing others. In my case, the abuser actually lived in the home where the daycare was being provided, harming untold numbers of vulnerable children whose parents trusted his mother to care for them. Because of the shame and stigma associated with being a survivor of sexual abuse, and the resulting low percentage of cases actually reported, I wonder whether, once someone has shown that they are capable of that sort of violence, it ought to be shouted from the rooftops for all to hear. I know that is cruel and perhaps overzealous, and I truly do not want to be ruled by fear, but as I imagine my girls asking to walk to the corner store on a sunny summer day, I want to be able to tell them which people to avoid at all costs. And the truth is, short of memorizing the faces of each of the offenders living in the neighborhood, I can't.


8 comments:

chris said...

This is all very alarming stuff. It is best to not be ruled by fear, but difficult not to be when faced with such information. A few years ago I visited my niece who was 17 at the time and she was looking at the sex offenders in her neighborhood. There were so many flags, I wanted to take her out of there and never allow her to go back. Instead I realized that her knowledge of this information allowed her to be more vigilant and not afraid. I was scared as hell.

Elizabeth said...

I don't know what to think about those sex offender websites. I live in LA and as you can imagine, the density of the population means no matter where you live, you're going to see a lot of flags. I get really uncomfortable, too, when certain more zealous neighbors really make a stink about certain people -- it reminds me, a bit, of the witch hunts of old. But then again, I have three children and I certainly don't want them subject to abuse. What to do? I'm not sure there's an answer other than vigilance -- teaching your children and being open in your talk with them.

Carrie Link said...

Scary.

brenda said...

You don't want to live in fear - never. As a parent we can teach and if necessary drill into our kids heads what to watch for and do. It is scary, hell, terrifying to be honest. I some times wonder if I knew all this when I had my kids.. would I have gone through with it. We can't protect them from everything.. that is what keeps me up at night.

Sandi said...

Oh Kario, while this is so disturbing, it also brings the thought to my mind, "what you don't know can hurt you". I guess knowing is better than not knowing, and knowledge is power.

We can't live in fear, but we can live with open eyes, and use situations like this to teach vigilance and being observant. I'm sure your girls are well taught about safety, reasonableness, and staying aware.

I believe what you don't know is much worse than, being prepared by what you do know!

Dee Ready said...

Dear Kari,
Like you, I am a "bleeding heart liberal." And like you, also, I ponder both parties involved--the innocent child and the sex offender. But I"m sure that never the twain should meet. And that our laws must impose stringent rules that keep that child out of snatching distance of that offender.

I do wonder if a child who's been horribly abused can ever become a person who does not seek power by abusing others.

I don't know what the answer is but agree with Carrie--this is scary stuff because always, always, always, you must protect your children from being hurt by those who might dishonor and damage their bodies, their hearts, and their minds.

Peace.

Brynne said...

Dear, dear Kario...I soOo understand your fears. What mother wouldn't feel protective of their babies:) I do want you to know though that I worked in the prison system for almost ten years and guess what? One of the prisons I worked at had a sex offender program that was highly successful. So much so, that if an offender had completed the program his chances of repeat offending was incredibly less (almost NIL!) compared to any other offender, including arson (which was highest/hardest to cure), robbery, assault, etc. We therapists always talked about how the safest inmate to live near was that man the rest of the population thought was the most dangerous. But...post therapy. If you find out who the offenders are in your area you can look them up online (I know you can in NC) and you may be able to see if they attended any programs to help them with their disease...:) Hope this helps, sweet soul.

Kathryn Grace said...

Like you, I try from time to time to wrap my brain around this problem, and I have not found a solution.

In The Bond Between Women: A Journey to Fierce Compassion, China Galland tells of visiting a guru and discussing similar issues with him.

She has just come from a few days with two women who rescue infants and young girls who have been sold into sexual slavery by their parents. She has questions for her teacher about compassion, and he responds by telling her she must have as much or more compassion for the slavers as she has for their victims.

Intellectually, I grasp this concept, but emotionally, I have a difficult time with it.

We know that sexual offenders almost always re-offend, yet their prison sentences are often much lower than the sentences for non-violent crimes.

Thank you for bringing this subject into the light and for the opportunity to discuss it. I hope others of your readers have suggestions for how to solve this difficult problem. This dialogue is too important to drop.

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