All parents are in their rights to be worried for the potential sex offenders living in the neighborhood. While there are voices that being able to search for the sex offenders in the area constitutes a clear privacy violation for these individuals, the safety for your kids should be of the highest priority.
Because of Megan's law, introduced in the 1990's after seven year old Megan Kanka was sexually molested and murdered by a convicted sex offender living across the street, convicted sex offenders are required to register with local police so police can track their activity. The offender in Megan's case invited the young girl into his home to play with a new puppy before attacking her. Megan's parents later said they never would have let their daughter outside alone had they known there was a twice convicted sex offender across the street.
It is important to know that all convicted offenders are required to register and make their whereabouts publicly known. However, not all sexual offenders will be included in the registry; only convicted offenders are required to register. If a person was a minor when he/she committed the crime, he/she will not have to register. Also, if an accused sex assault criminal has accepted a plea deal after being charged with a crime, the plea may include the defendant accepting a lesser charge that does not require him or her register with the local police. Just because someone is not on the registry does not mean that your children and family are safe; educate yourselves and your family for any potential signs of troubles.
While your concern as a parent is understandable, you should be reasonable in your protective actions as well. Sex offenders cannot legally be forced to leave a neighborhood because concerned parents and citizens do not feel comfortable with them living in the area. Antagonizing registered offenders will only create more problems. Feeling as though they are being attacked or harassed may make a former offender act out, or they may leave the neighborhood and not register in the next place they live. This leaves future neighborhoods vulnerable to unknown sex offenders.
As long as sex offenders are not breaking any laws and follow the rules set forth by their probation or parole officer, they have a right to reside without harassment in a neighborhood.
Note that percentage of sex offenders, who is listed in the system, also depends on the state you are living in: in Oregon, for example, it is just 5%, in Washington state it is 30%, in California – 70%, and in Idaho – 100% (even those with the lowest level of offenses).
While checking the neighborhood for potential troublemakers is always good idea, you should understand that the received information is never complete, therefore the preventive measures and your kids’ education should play most important role in averting the crime. Here what you can do:
- Teach children the importance of not talking to strangers. Think about what you will say before talking with your child.
- You don’t want to terrify your children.
- You want to give your kids factual information and skills to keep themselves safe.
- Educate children about the charming approaches where strangers or occasionally more or less familiar neighbors may try to tempt them with candy, pets, toys, or seeking their goodwill to help find a lost puppy or child. Children need to know it is not safe to go with a stranger and they should find their parent or other caregiver, such as a baby-sitter or sibling, and tell them what happened.
- Have children who walk to school or a friend’s house plan a route to take which allows them to walk only on sidewalks. Do not let them walk in the road and educate them never cut through someone's lawn or driveway to save time.
- Know where your kids are at all times. Don't let them play unsupervised in a public area — including around your neighborhood or even your front yard, for that matter — for even a second. A sex offender often needs just a small window of opportunity to lure children away from sight and kidnap them. Children should come home at a certain time that is well before the sun goes down. Children should also know where they can go if there is trouble such as a friend’s house or a police station.
- Don't drop your kids off without supervision in places where kids congregate, like the mall, outdoor parks, school playgrounds or video arcades. Child molesters know where kids like to hang out; molesters tend to flock to those places too.
- Make sure your children know that there are certain things adults should never be allowed to do. Explain to them that they have the right not to be touched inappropriately by anyone, and give them instructions on what to do in risky situations. Teach your kids that they have the right to say NO to any unwelcome, uncomfortable, or confusing touch or actions by others. Teach them to tell you immediately if this happens. Reassure them that you are there to help and it is okay to tell you anything.
- Children should learn to dial 911 in case they need help from police. It is important that children only dial 911 in a true emergency and not for fun. Knowing how to reach help can save their life if used properly.
- Have children memorize their home address and phone number in case they need to tell an adult such as a police officer where they live. Smaller children should have their home information written inside clothing and secured in backpacks and suitcases.
- Listen to your children. Pay attention if they tell you that they do not want to be with someone or go somewhere. This may be an indication of more than a personality conflict or lack of interest in the activity or event.
- If you are concerned about an adult who may act suspicious or be involved in illegal activities, call the appropriate authorities. If this person is employed by the school system, call the principal of the school. If this person is a neighbor, then call the police or department of corrections if you know they are under supervision by a parole or probation officer.
- Also remember that in the vast majority of cases (up to 90%), children are molested by someone they know. Your efforts at keeping your child safe must be informed by this fact and not focused exclusively on the danger that strangers may present.
Where to Check?
There are several websites, giving you opportunity to check your area for residing convicted sex offenders. Among them:
- The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), coordinated by the U.S. Department of Justice, is a cooperative effort between jurisdictions hosting public sex offender registries (“Jurisdictions”) and the federal government and is offered free of charge to the public. These Jurisdictions include the 50 states, U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, and participating tribes. The Website provides an advanced search tool that allows a user to submit a single national query to obtain information about sex offenders; a listing of public registry Web sites by state, territory, and tribe; and information on sexual abuse education and prevention. Website: http://www.nsopw.gov/
- CriminalCheck.com is a free National Sex Offender database site on the web that searches all states (and the District of Columbia) with one-click. Performing a name search a last name is all that is required to search the CriminalCheck.com National Sex Offender database. You can refine of narrow your search by adding a first or first & middle name. Zip Code search allows you to place your zip code in the box to the left and click search. CriminalCheck.com will search the National Sex Offender database for offenders registered in this zip code. Zip code search is a very powerful tool because many sex offenders now move away from the state where they were convicted. The offender will register their new address in the conviction state but many states don't require out-of-state offenders to register locally. Not all states provide offender addresses (for privacy reasons): Nebraska, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont. Website: http://www.criminalcheck.com/
- Family Watchdog is a free service to help locate registered sex offenders in your area. The numeric risk level indicates the level of risk a sex offender poses to the community. A numeric risk level is assigned to each sex offender when the offender is released from a penal institution or placed on community supervision or juvenile probation. It is determined by using the sex offender screening tool adopted by the Risk Assessment Review Committee. There are three different risk levels:
- Level one (low): indicates that the person poses a low danger to the community and will not likely engage in criminal sexual conduct.
- Level two (moderate): indicates that the person poses a moderate danger to the community and may continue to engage in criminal sexual conduct.
- Level three (high): indicates that the person poses a serious danger to the community and will continue to engage in criminal sexual conduct.
Sources and Additional Information: