No one can deny the unspeakable tragedy of being a parent navigating the mental, emotional, and legal seas in the aftermath of sexual abuse perpetrated on your child. As difficult as it is to paddle through a vast expanse of doctors, social workers, therapists, and the legal system in an attempt to re-create a shattered world of safety and comfort for your child, the most helpless moments can arise when you ask: How could my community have prevented this? How could I have prevented this?
It was such a situation that spearheaded one family’s battle to ensure that the law provided more means to identify sexual predators before they struck and prevent situations rife for sexual abuse. Though most states have had laws requiring sex offenders to register with their local law enforcement agencies for several decades, it wasn’t until the 1994 rape and murder of seven year old Megan Danka at the hands of a previously convicted predator did lobbying efforts begin calling for convicted sex offenders to register on free, publically-available databases. Every state has since enacted some form of Megan’s Law. Since 2004, California residents have been able to view information on sex offenders in their neighborhoods through several user-friendly internet and print sources established by Megan’s Law. Such information includes the name, photograph, address, and the nature of the sex offender’s specific crime, and can be found on databases such as:
Is there anything I can do about it?
Having access to information about convicted local sex offenders has done much to help parents and families face the dangers of sexual predation, be more vigilant about their children’s whereabouts and who they interact with, and has in some communities inspired seminars about how to educate children about the “stranger danger.” But aside from these steps, what can be done if you find out that you live near a convicted sex offender? The oft- frustrating truth is: not much.
The mandated exposure of sex offenders via Megan’s Law has placed these people under greater surveillance, and has in many communities exposed them to threats and violent backlashes . These grassroots responses have prompted states to update Megan’s Laws with provisions protecting sex offenders against such abuses and ensuring that their right to live and work as members of a community remains as intact as possible.
However, in some cases, there are additional steps that families can take against registered sex offenders in the community.
- Sex offenders on parole or probation are in most states subject to restrictions above and beyond those placed on others in the sexual predation registry. In most jurisdictions, they are prohibited from living within a certain distance of schools, parks, daycare centers, and other places where children normally gather. Any failure to abide by such restrictions can be reported to local law enforcement.
- Some states restrict the activities of registered sex offenders on children-centered holidays like Halloween, requiring them to remain indoors between certain hours that children would be out, and to post signs on their doors indicating that no trick –or- treaters are welcome. Again, local communities and neighborhoods can monitor these offenders and report any violations of such restrictions to law enforcement.
- Finally, strict monitoring of your child’s internet activities is yet one more way to curb the potential advances of child predators, especially if the identities of these predators are ascertained via a local sex offender registry. The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook has created an entirely new and expansive space wherein sexual predators can target and groom their young victims. As a result, Facebook prohibits registered sex offenders from maintaining a profile on the site.