Are sex offender lists making us safer?

A trusted public safety tool questioned. (Sept. 18, 2016)

Days after Brock Turner walked out of prison, after serving half of his sentence for good behavior, a new sentence began for him. A sentence for life. Brock is now a registered sex offender.

While covering a rally where sex offenders were protesting the International Megan’s Law, I got a chance to talk to some registered citizens, as they prefer to be addressed. They shared some details about what life looks like when your name comes up on Megan’s list.

Frank Lindsay, on the list for “Lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14,” back in 1979 wrote a book about his experiences as a registered sex offender. His home was once invaded by a man ready to attack him for being a “sick pervert” and as he told me, he has long encountered “residency restrictions.”

“They tell you where you can live. They tell you where you can be present, presence restrictions and in many cases there is no signage saying you can’t be here,” Lindsay said. “You don’t know when you might be in violation of being, under the threat of arrest always for stumbling over something that you didn’t even know existed.”

Derek Logue, who runs a community education site, says that he has “experienced so much discrimination over the years. I’ve lost jobs, I am on disability now living off $753 a month, getting food stamps. Hey, I would much rather be working.”

The men I spoke with were not on the list for violent crimes, but they were coy about the details of their offenses. Still, as much as I try to be empathetic, it is hard to connect with the struggles of registered sex offenders when I know many victims of sex offenses.

Take Treva Kelly, who I met her when I began my research about AB 2569 – a so far unsuccessful bill that seeks to eliminate the possibility for incest offenders to apply for an exclusion from the online Megan’s Law website, when the crime did not involve penetration or oral copulation.

In her case, her brother was the abuser and she says he lured and molested her friends as well. Back then, they didn’t have Megan’s Law or the site, but she says in modern times someone like him can apply for the exemption.

“You can send your child out to sleepover at a friend’s house and you’ve checked the website,” Kelly said. “You looked for them but (because of the loophole, they don’t appear on the site), and so you are sending your own child into the hornet’s nest and you are going to have a child come home completely different from what you sent them as.”

Kelly took me through some of the consequences of her trauma.

“I ended up getting into overeating to try and stuff everything down,” she said. “I ended up getting into alcohol, drugs, which put me into a lot of unsafe situations that I had no business being in but just going out trying to stop the pain and the feelings and the memories, drugs worked well.”

Kelly said that isn’t even the worst case scenario for a victim of sexual abuse.

“I think the worst thing that happens is that it’s too much pain and a lot of people choose suicide,” she said.

Kelly called this scenario “murder by sex offender, because had their inside soul not been so destroyed they wouldn’t be looking for anything to not hurt, even if that means not breathing again, and we lose so many.”

When you take those experiences into consideration, it becomes difficult to sympathize with the alleged injustices sex offenders address when they talk about life on the list. But the problem is, sex offender registries are not there for punishment. That’s what prison is for; lists are there to protect people from sexual predators.

When discussing AB 2269, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez told me, “Megan’s Law as you know is designed to allow the public to be aware of who is in their community, who is on their registered sex offender list.”

So, my question is, how much does it actually protect parents? I became overwhelmed when looking at the number of sex offenders listed around my own neighborhood. Granted, I don’t have kids, but I know that most rapes in America happen around the times when I’m out and about, walking alone. Still, I was overwhelmed and desisted when trying to assess the potential danger around me.

A mother I spoke with during the rally had something similar to say. She says she thought she had done everything right by checking the list and making sure her kids were nowhere near registered offenders.

“If you had asked me a few years ago if I believed in these laws, I would have absolutely, totally 100 percent. Whatever it takes to protect our children,” the mother said.

The mother said she felt “fooled into thinking that these laws protect our children from being harmed by sexual predators.” Instead, she said “I did not know that the abuse that my daughter suffered will be at the hands of somebody that we knew and trusted.”

For her, “what you are doing is you are giving a promise to society for protection when all you are doing is giving them a false sense of security.” Her husband abused her daughter for years. He is now serving his sentence, but she says she wishes she had known what to look for.

She advises parents that, “children are more likely to be abused by a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, a coach, a clergy member, somebody who you trust and have close proximity and not somebody on the internet. It’s not ‘stranger danger’ that you need to worry about.”

There are currently over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the US – more than 12 percent of them are in California.

I asked Janice Bellucci, an attorney who represents registered citizens, if it’s a matter of our state’s large population. She says, “It’s in part because of population but it’s mostly because we have a registry. So once you get on that registry you can’t get off.”

Bellucci and other critics of Megan’s Law argue that the list is so overpopulated that it makes it harder for law enforcement to focus on the really dangerous offenders. The registry, Bellucci said, “is fundamentally flawed because it treats everybody the same. This is the mistake of California. So in California, everybody who is convicted of a sex offense remains on the registry for a lifetime.”

Other states have tiered systems, giving offenders of less severe sexual crimes an opportunity to get off the list, if they don’t re-offend within a certain time. Without a tiered system all offenders are bunched together, and unlike popular belief, being a registered sex offender is not synonymous with being pedophile or violent rapist.

Belucci said she has seen “people on our registry who have urinated in public, and so what we mean by that is on the Interstate 5 on the way to Sacramento somebody can’t wait to get to the public restroom. If they relieve themselves on the side of the highway, they in fact have committed a crime of public indecency.”

The offense in those cases wouldn’t be public urination, but rather indecent exposure. However, I could see both sides of that coin. On the one hand, you could have an actual offender exposing himself trying to justify his actions as an emergency episode that led him to urinate in public. I can also see how a real emergency, or a drunken scene can turn into a harsher charge.

I asked Melendez about the possibility of that tiered system for California.

“Well, there has been discussion about a tiered system for sex offenders,” Melendez said. “But that – we have been talking about that since I have been in the assembly, so that’s 4 years now. No legislation has been passed.

In Ohio, where Brock Turner is registered, there is a 3-tier system, and due to the nature of his offense, as a tier-3 offender, he will remain on the list for life.

Copyright 2016 KXTV


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