Fourteen states have passed laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within a specified distance from schools. The distances vary from state to state, depending upon the severity of the perceived threat that sex offenders may pose to our children. Since we still do not feel safe, some have suggested that the distances should be increased.
Most people think of sex offenders as a threat to our children, because when most people think of sex offenders they think of pedophiles. Wanting to protect our children from this horrible aberrant behavior is only natural. Are all sex offenders pedophiles? Are they all a threat to children?
Can you imagine an eighteen-year-old male having sex with his seventeen-year-old girlfriend? You may not approve of such behavior, but if you live in the real world you should not be surprised to hear that it happens. The eighteen-year-old is legally an adult, while his girlfriend is legally a minor. Since he is an adult who had sex with a minor, whom the law says cannot legally consent, he can be prosecuted for statutory rape and labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. Because she is legally a child and he is legally an adult, he also fits the definition of a pedophile.
Now fast-forward ten years. He is twenty-eight, his wife is twenty-seven and they have two children. It is not likely that their children will be molested by their father, who showed a predilection to have sex with someone merely one year younger than he was.
And yet, these children will have to be bused to school each day, because they will be prohibited from living within walking distance of their school as long as they reside with their parents!
Will our children be made safer by penalizing the children of an alleged sex offender? How will those children be treated by their peers and their parents? Who will explain all this to them?
Of course, not all sex offenders are pedophiles. Some are convicted rapists, whose victims were other adults. They never posed a threat to children. In fact, if they were convicted of “date rape” in their youth, they may not pose a threat to anyone! And, although they may live the rest of their lives as morally upstanding pillars of the community, their children will still be prohibited from living in the same neighborhood with their classmates.
Every action has consequences. For that reason, it may be morally justifiable to punish those who commit crimes. The punishment should fit the crime, not last a lifetime – and, more importantly – it should not be passed on to future generations!
Driven by fear, we elect people who offer to protect us from every conceivable threat. Laws are passed to provide us with greater security. As a result, there seems to be an increase in convictions for sex related crimes, but are the crimes increasing, or is it our definitions of the crimes that have increased? Are we really safer, or just more paranoid?
Years ago, a major educational campaign was launched to protect our children by making them aware of “stranger-danger”. The frequency of child molestations did not diminish. The dirty little secret is that most child molestations are perpetrated by relatives and friends, not by strangers. We still cling to the belief that we must protect our children from strangers because we don’t want to acknowledge the fact that the danger is so close to home. It is more comforting to believe that the danger posed is from outside our inner circle. It is easier to blame them.
If someone has been shown to be a threat to children, keeping them a certain number of feet away from a school is not enough. If the threat is real, there is no safe distance, period! As long as they pose a threat, it is up to the courts to prevent them from re-entering society. If they have been released from prison, having served their time, it should be presumed that they are no longer dangerous and are able to live a normal life.
Not all sex offenders pose a threat to children. We must be willing to make that distinction, regardless of our distaste for their crimes. Paranoia does not make us safer.