Monday, June 25, 2012

Meet The People Who Speak Up For Sex Offenders

Shana Rowan
Original Article

06/25/2012

By Anna North

With Jerry Sandusky just convicted of 45 counts of molesting children, it's a pretty terrible time to be on the side of sex offenders. But a small group of offenders' friends and family are advocating for big changes to the sex offender registry — and experts say they might have a point.

For many, Jerry Sandusky's conviction was a call for stricter laws punishing sex offenders. But for Shana Rowan, it was a reminder of everything she thinks is unjust and ineffective about the current laws. Rowan's fiance is a registered sex offender, and she's part of a small but increasingly vocal group arguing that he and others like him should never have been on a public registry at all.

Rowan told BuzzFeed Shift that when her fiance [name withheld] was twelve and his half-sister was six, he touched her inappropriately (she described it as "kind of like a game of doctor," though she acknowledged that the age difference made it more serious). He was convicted of sodomy, and is now a registered sex offender. When they got together, she researched sex offenders and sex crimes. What she found convinced her that [name withheld]'s crime had been a reaction to abuse he had suffered, that he wouldn't reoffend, and that many registered sex offenders were people "who made a mistake and won't do it again." Now she argues publicly, on her blog and elsewhere, that the sex offender registry in America is "far too bloated to be effective," and that law enforcement should develop "smart assessments" to determine "who really needs to be watched."
- I personally think that we don't need a registry at all.  If someone is so dangerous that they need to be monitored, then maybe they should've been sentenced to a longer time in jail/prison after an expert evaluated them and determined they were dangerous.  Once someone comes out of jail/prison, they are suppose to be able to get on with their lives, not be labeled something for life and treated like an animal.  That, in of itself, creates more stress in a persons life, and with more stress, some are more likely to commit another related or unrelated crime in order to survive.  We do NOT need a registry at all, period.  And if people think we do, then we should have one for all felons, so it's fair for all.

She's not alone. While few people are comfortable advocating for the rights of sex offenders, some friends and family members of registered sex offenders have begun to do just that. On their own or in partnership with groups like Texas Voices and the Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network, they argue for a reduction in the size of the public registry, or for making it available only to law enforcement. And some experts say they're actually right that registries may do more harm than good.
- I think, due to the vigilantism that is rising, yes the registry should be taken offline and used by police only, or better yet, use the existing criminal records database already in existence, then we'd not need to waste millions of dollars on something we don't need in the first place.

The stories of sex offender advocates often aren't comfortable to hear, especially in the wake of the Sandusky trial. Lisa, who asked that only her first name be used, told BuzzFeed her 22-year-old son was currently under investigation by the FBI for downloading child pornography and having sex with an underage girl he met online (she said he believed the girl was over 18). She said her son deserves to be punished, but that he shouldn't have to register for life. Stories of vigilante justice had her concerned for his safety, and for her own. When he gets out of prison, he may live with her, and she lives in a small town with "a bunch of good ol' redneck boys" — if her son is on the registry, they'll have her home address and possibly a description of her car. She now regularly emails her senator and other legislators to try to bring her worries to their attention.

Cynthia Mercado, professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert in sex offender law and policy, says Lisa's concerns are a real issue: in one survey she conducted, nearly half of sex offenders reported being threatened or harassed. And a third of them said someone they lived with had suffered threats, assault, or property damage. In some cases, registration can also lead to the outing of the victim, especially if that victim is a family member.

Mercado also questions whether registration laws really prevent future crimes. She says there's little data showing they keep people safe, and increasing evidence that they might actually "increase, rather than decrease, the risk that sex offenders pose to our communities." That's because registration can keep sex offenders from finding jobs or housing after they've served their time, both of which are "important factors that promote desistance from crime." She adds that being on a sex offender registry can isolate a person from positive social bonds with family and friends that might keep them from offending again.

Laura (not her real name) has experienced some of these effects firsthand. She told BuzzFeed she was eight months pregnant with her daughter when her husband was arrested for attempting to purchase child pornography. She maintains that he is innocent, but he was convicted and placed on the registry. Now, she said, he can't get a job, and suffers from chronic depression.

Laura said "the worst offenders" do belong on a public registry, but that registration should be decided "on a case-by-case basis." As it is, she said, her husband's name and face are on a school district website, and her daughter has to be careful who she's friends with — of those who make registration policy, she said, "they don't care what the collateral damage is."
- Once again, I disagree.  The worst offenders should be in prison longer, and once they come out, after therapy and rehabilitation, then, like everyone else, they should be allowed to do whatever they wish, after probation and/or parole.  Nobody should be branded and punished for life!  People can and do change.  Putting someone on a public registry is basically putting a target for vigilantes on their heads, and that shouldn't be done to anybody, regardless of their crime.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone agrees with her ideas about the registry. Scott Berkowitz, founder of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) says the public registry is a "useful tool" for both law enforcement and parents. He adds that any loosening of registration requirements "would have its biggest impact on families of small children who look to these registries to help keep them safe."

That's not how Rowan sees it. She says the story of Jerry Sandusky is a perfect example of the failure of the registry. She's glad his victims got "some semblance of justice" with his conviction. But, she says, "the ironic thing is that he was never on the registry, and he will never be on the registry."

Mercado concurs that most sex crimes, rather than being committed by strangers who could be looked up on the registry, "are committed by someone known to the victim or their family" — as Sandusky was. She also notes that not all sex crimes — or sex offenders — are the same: "despite widespread belief to the contrary, most sex offenders do not go on to commit another sex crime." Registry laws, she says, "treat all offenders as highly predatory individuals who target stranger children." But registration requirements that might be appropriate for a predatory serial child molester may not be the right punishment for someone who once committed statutory rape, serious as that offense is.
- Again we see another person saying what the registry's true intent is, PUNISHMENT!

Politically, that may not matter. Richard G. Wright, professor of criminal justice at Bridgewater State College and author of Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions says "hundreds of studies" have shown that "sex offender registries do not reduce reoffending." But they're popular because they "give people the perception that they're safer," and that popularity is unlikely to wane. While perpetrators of some crimes, like sexting or statutory rape where the victim is close in age to the offender, may be removed from registries in some states, he believes the public registry as a whole is here to stay.

For now, sex offenders' rights advocates remain on the fringes of public discourse — Rowan says she faces harsh criticism whenever she speaks out about her views, and both Lisa and Laura have lost friends after their family members' crimes. Indeed, the families of sex offenders may not be the best public advocates for change — in the wake of Dorothy Sandusky's defense of her husband, the average person may not want to hear another wife or mother of a sex offender telling her side. But regardless of whether these spouses and parents have an accurate view of their loved ones' crimes, they may be right about one thing: it's by no means certain that sex offender registries actually keep families safe. And they may put some in more danger.


OH - Could Sex Offender Registration Requirements Be Changing In The M.O.V.?

Original Article

We are having issues embedding the video from the link above, so visit that link to watch the video.

06/24/2012

By Erin Pulsanti

A new law in Louisiana mandates sex offender and predators must post on their social networking profile that they have been convicted of a sexual crime. Could a similar law be headed for the Mid-Ohio Valley?

The concept of a sex offender registry is not new, in fact each state in the nation has a system where they track and keep a record of those convicted of a sexual crime. Those registering have to provide personal information, including (but not limited to) address, phone numbers, vehicle information, employment information and Internet information.

"In the state of Ohio- they (the offender) have to give their screen name," explains Sgt. Patrice Tornes of the Washington County Sheriff''s Office. "Any social media outlet they are with- they have to provide passwords for them as well."
- Passwords?  I don't think so, and if they do, this is definitely unconstitutional.

"In West Virginia they (the offender) have to register and tell us who their provider is and they also have to give their email address... or addresses." Cpl. Mark Mayhugh of the West Virginia State Police. "They also have to let us know if they are on Facebook or any social networking site. They have to give us their user name as well."

How frequently an offender or predator registers varies from once a year to every 90 days depending on their original conviction. A new law in the state of Louisiana builds on existing registration requirements and now mandates that the offender must include in their social networking profile that they are a sex offender or predator. The new law says the offender must list the jurisdiction of conviction, description of the offenders physical characteristics and their address.

Local law enforcement says although the new law seems great in theory, in practice it could make their jobs of tracking sex offenders more difficult.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing. I think it would be difficult to enforce because a lot of the offenders would just go on and register using aliases," Cpl. Mayhugh says. "I think it will also probably result in more violations."

"I don't see this making law enforcement's job any easier," Sgt. Tornes agrees. "In fact, I think it will make it harder when trying to track them on the social media. When they get busted under their original name- they're just going to go in and create another account and this can happen multiple times."

Officials say it depends on the results in Louisiana to see whether or not the new requirements will take hold in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

"I would think that the public is probably going to like the idea, it sounds good," Cpl Mayhugh concludes. "I think Louisiana is the only state that requires it thus far. So, they'll be a good tester state."

"If something works out well in one state than, naturally, other states are going to want to look at it. All that they're out to do is protect the public in any way that they can," Sgt. Tornes says.


IN - Judge Upholds Ind. Facebook Ban for Sex Offenders

Original Article

06/24/2012

By CHARLES WILSON

A national civil rights group said Sunday it would appeal a federal judge's decision to uphold an Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other social networking sites used by children.

On Friday, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said in an 18-page order (PDF) that the state has a strong interest in protecting children and that the rest of the Internet remains open to those who have been convicted.

"Social networking, chat rooms, and instant messaging programs have effectively created a 'virtual playground' for sexual predators to lurk," Pratt wrote in the ruling, citing a 2006 report by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that found that one in seven youths had received online sexual solicitations and one in three had been exposed to unwanted sexual material online.
- Yeah, mainly by other peers, not adults who are on Facebook, but that's why you need to look elsewhere, instead of the NCMEC, like here for example, which is a newer, larger study done in 2008 by many organizations, not just one with a vested interest.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the class-action suit on behalf of a man who served three years for child exploitation, along with other sex offenders who are restricted by the ban even though they are no longer on probation. Federal judges have barred similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana.

"We will be appealing," ACLU legal director Ken Falk said in an email Sunday to The Associated Press. Appeals from federal courts in Indiana go to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Courts have long allowed states to place restrictions on convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences, controlling where many live and work and requiring them to register with police. But the ACLU claimed that that Indiana's social networking ban was far broader, restricting a wide swath of constitutionally protected activities.

The ACLU contended that even though the 2008 law is only intended to protect children from online sexual predators, social media are virtually indispensable and the ban prevents sex offenders from using the websites for political, business and religious activities.

But Pratt found that the ban is limited only to social networking sites that allow access by children, and that such sites aren't the only forms of communication on the Internet.

"The Court readily concedes that social networking is a prominent feature of modern-day society; however, communication does not begin with a 'Facebook wall post' and end with a '140-character Tweet,' " she wrote.

Though the law doesn't list which websites are banned, court filings have indicated the law covers Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google Plus, chat rooms and instant messaging services. Earlier filings indicated LinkedIn was also covered by the ban, but Pratt's ruling said it wasn't because children under 18 can't sign up for it.

"It is a very well-reasoned opinion and the Indiana statute has certainly attempted to be specific," said Ruthann Robson, a professor of constitutional law at the City University of New York. But she faulted the judge and the law for treating all sex offenders as if they were likely to commit another offense.

"A better statute might provide for some sort of individualized determination rather than a blanket prohibition," she said.

Social networking bans have been struck down in two other states.

In February, U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson found that Louisiana's prohibition was too broad and "unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life."

Pratt said Indiana's ban wasn't as broad the overturned Louisiana ban.

Louisiana lawmakers passed a new law last month that more narrowly defines which sites are prohibited. News and government sites, email services and online shopping are excluded from the new rules, as are photo-sharing and instant messaging systems. The measure takes effect Aug. 1.

In Nebraska, a federal judge in 2009 blocked part of a law that included a social networking ban. A second legal challenge by an Omaha-area sex offender is set for trial in July.


OR - That's not why I'm here - Offenders who come to worship are treated as if they had come to prey, rather than pray!

Original Article

06/24/2012

By Sanne Specht

Officials of a local church are battling their insurance company over demands that sex offenders who come to worship be treated as if they had come to prey, rather than pray.

Chad McComas, pastor at Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, said his church disclosed to its insurance company that there were known sex offenders within its congregation. That honesty may spell the end of Set Free, a church he started in 1997.

On May 1, the insurance company, Church Mutual, sent a letter requiring McComas to disclose to his congregation the identity of any and all sex offenders, allow those offenders to attend only one predetermined service each week where they must report in and be assigned an escort who will accompany them at all times, and bar them from participating in any child or youth programs.

"Please respond by June 15, 2012. We will review your procedures. If you have not met all the requirements, we may no longer be able to continue your coverage," the letter states.

McComas is challenging the insurance company rules, which he said will have a chilling effect on disclosure, encourage abusers to go underground, and are the same for an 18-year-old boy who is convicted of sex abuse for having sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend.

"Where does that line go? They're throwing everyone in the same boat," McComas said.

[name withheld], a 66-year-old convicted sex offender who attends Set Free, said he is a devout Christian who attends services to worship God, not to prey on youths.

"Certainly there are people who have not accepted the Lord who come to church (with evil intent)," [name withheld] said. "That's not why I'm here."

Patrick Moreland, vice president of marketing for Church Mutual, declined to discuss the specifics of his company's interaction with Set Free. Church Mutual insures more than 100,000 religious organizations. It has covered close to 5,000 sex-related claims since 1984.

The rules, developed by outside legal counsel, are designed not only to protect the organization from the "legal hot water" of sexual misconduct and molestation claims but also to protect potential victims, Moreland said.

"Our No. 1 goal is to protect our churches and our children," Moreland said.

[name withheld] abused drugs and alcohol and had a long history of sexually abusing children prior to becoming a Christian, he said, adding he pleaded guilty to first-degree sex abuse and sodomy in 1993 after he succumbed "to temptation" one last time.

Two days after [name withheld] was arrested on those charges, he was released on his own recognizance and confessed his crimes to McComas, who was then an assistant pastor at another church.

[name withheld] said he tendered his guilty plea in Jackson County Circuit Court to spare the child victim from having to testify. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation and treatment, he said.

"I didn't put the blame on anyone but me," [name withheld] said. "I didn't want the minor to have to testify."

McComas is loathe to have his church, which has about 100 members, identified as "the sex-offender church." But this issue is a matter of principle and practicality, he said.

"We deal with a lot of members who have addiction backgrounds. That's part of who we serve. But that's not all of who we serve," McComas said. "We know who our members are. We are being careful and diligent. But how often are we going to have to tell the congregation that someone is a sex offender? The congregation changes all the time."

Sex-based claims and crimes occur in cities big and small, in rural areas and in any denomination, Moreland said. Set Free received the same letter that Church Mutual would send to any church, camp or school that disclosed it had a sex offender in attendance, he said.

"What if you have a known offender who offends again? What's a jury going to say?" Moreland said.

Ashland resident Randy Ellison, board president of Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service, is an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. Ellison was 15 when a charismatic youth minister at a popular Portland church began sexually abusing him.

For more than 40 years, Ellison remained silent about the devastation wrought by the trusted leader in his community. Now he is a vocal advocate in the fight to end child sex abuse.

The church and the community at large have a responsibility to protect children, Ellison said. Disclosure to the congregation and restricting offenders from being alone with a child are realistic and necessary provisions, he said.

"If there is a sex offender in my church with my children, I want to know about it," Ellison said.

But the insurance company overreached by requiring Set Free to assign an offender a constant escort and limiting his attendance at worship, Ellison added.

"As a man of faith, I have to say, wouldn't you rather have this person in church?" Ellison said.

Offenders must take responsibility and be accountable for their acts. Church services, addiction recovery meetings and other cognitive and behavioral programs are vital to "rewiring brains," he said.

"We're better off as a society having him go to church with an agreement about what can and cannot happen," Ellison said. "We want them there safely. But we want them there as often as we can get them to go."

As heinous as their crimes are, sex offenders are a part of the community's collective family. In fact, 40 percent of perpetrators are within the victim's immediate family, he said.

"Perpetrators aren't devils in trench coats," Ellison said. "Look at any family photo. Perpetrators look like your father, uncle or grandpa. And that, in fact, is who they are."

If society isolates and excludes perpetrators once they are out of prison, it becomes impossible for them to be a part of a community in a positive way. And the odds of recidivism increase dramatically, Ellison said.

"Humans need to be in relationships," Ellison said. "But we're going to watch and make sure it's a safe and positive relationship."

[name withheld] gave up the right to be alone with a child when he molested his first one, Ellison said.

"His past behavior has burned that bridge," Ellison said. "But that doesn't mean that we don't worship with him."

There is no safety in numbers when it comes to these kinds of dangers, McComas said. If offenders have ill intent, they are much more likely to go to a church with a large congregation.

"That's where they want to go, because they can hide and groom these kids," McComas said.

Ellison's minister is the Rev. Pam Shepherd of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Ashland. Shepherd agrees with Ellison that churches have a responsibility to keep children and youth safe. UCC is insured and performs background checks on all Bible school teachers, youth ministers and others who are in positions to deal with minors.

But Shepherd said she has never seen a letter like the one McComas received from Church Mutual. And no one in their membership has disclosed any sex crimes, she said.

"There are no known sex offenders coming to our church," Shepherd said. "But if all sex offenders glowed orange, people might be surprised to see who they are sitting next to."

[name withheld] said he has been labeled as a "predatory" child sex abuser. He served additional time in prison during his 10-year probationary period for failing two of six polygraph tests and refusing to participate in therapies he deemed counter to his religious beliefs, he said.

"I was convicted of one offense with one minor," [name withheld] said. "But I was open and I disclosed my history of molestation with minors."

[name withheld] doesn't believe in "self help," he said. Prayer helps him stay focused on God and not on sin. In addition to attending worship services, [name withheld] works in food pantries at Set Free and at his old church, he said.

"We're here to love one another. Not lust after one another, and I was guilty of that," [name withheld] said.

[name withheld] must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He is used to being watched. Just last week, Oregon State Police were at his door, where he lives with three other men who have been convicted of sex crimes, after a young developmentally challenged man went missing.

"They searched the house, didn't find anything and thanked me for cooperating," [name withheld] said.

[name withheld] said if he gets driven out of Set Free by Church Mutual's policies, he will simply go to another church, then another. One week at a time, if necessary, he said.

[name withheld] was one of seven known sex offenders at a larger church in Medford. [name withheld] said policies were put in place and an elder was assigned to watch him. The man sat a few rows behind [name withheld] at services. One day he didn't realize [name withheld] had gone to the restroom. When the man realized [name withheld] was not in his seat, "he got up and he had a look of panic on his face," [name withheld] said.

[name withheld] was later asked to sign a contract promising not to molest anyone. He opted to leave that church and began attending Set Free, he said.

"You know who I am. If you want to watch me, watch me. But don't ask me to participate in it," [name withheld] said. "There are murderers coming into churches. You don't ask them to sign a contract not to kill anyone."