Be Neighborly: Get to Know Your Local Sex Offenders

Filed under: Opinions

You get a flyer in your mailbox: There's a sex offender two blocks away. My God -- your kids pass his house every day! What should you do?

Well, he's your neighbor. Be neighborly. Pay a call.

"With another adult, go to this gentleman's home and visit with him. Tell him you saw the flyer and would like to allow him an opportunity to tell you his side."

That's the advice of Mary Duval, the Oklahoma mother of a sex offender. You might think she's wacky, defending creeps like her son, Ricky, but you should know just how creepy Ricky is: He isn't. He was 16 when he had sex with a girl who said she was just a little younger than he was. Granted, even consensual teen sex is not a great idea, but it's not what most of us would consider a major felony.

Except, to the law, it is.

It turned out the girl was actually 13. And a three-year age difference automatically meant that Ricky, who readily admitted having sex with her twice, had to register as an "aggravated lifetime sex offender." Yes, in many states it is automatically considered an "aggravated" or "violent" crime if there's a three-year difference, even when the "victim" and the "perp" are boyfriend and girlfriend. So if you looked at a map of local sex offenders in Ricky's town, there he'd be, marked with a big red X.

What's misleading about sex-offender maps is that there are many people on them who don't represent a real danger to our kids -- and it's not just teens who had sex with other teens. In 13 states you can end up on the registry for peeing in public. In five states, you can get on it for visiting a prostitute. Another 32 states register streakers. All in all, a study of 17,000 registered offenders by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board concluded that five percent of the people on the list were "clearly dangerous." It also determined that just over 100 of the 17,000 (1 in 170) were actual "predators" -- people who feel compelled to commit sex crimes. When not in jail, identified predators are required to wear ankle bracelets.

Those predators are the worst thing going. They make every parent's blood boil. They come to mind the second we think of Jaycee Dugard, Carlie Brucia, Somer Thompson, Megan Kanka and so many others. In fact, they are the very reason we have sex-offender registries at all. That's why it would be really nice if the registries were limited to them: Actual, heinous criminals. The police could concentrate on watching those miscreants and parents could concentrate on teaching their children to avoid them.

The other day I heard from a mom of three whose neighbors sent around a flyer warning about a registered sex offender nearby. This mom looked up his crime and found that when the guy was 21 he was convicted of having sex with a minor over the age of 12. So it's possible he raped at 13-year-old. But it's also possible he had a 17-year-old girlfriend – maybe a girl who had been a freshman when he was a senior and stayed his girlfriend after he graduated.

How can you find out the real story?

You and a buddy knock on the door and meet your neighbor. Chances are he'd like to tell his side of things. He may even have some articles or letters from the time. And if he's actually a pedophile, well, it would be good to know that, too. Forewarned is forearmed.

Don't bring the kids with you, of course. But do bring some skepticism about these bloated sex-offender registries.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.