Parental Control is Best Prevention

April 20, 2009 : Parental control is best prevention against sex predators.

Expect a tidal wave of anger from politicians over a federal judge’s ruling that one of those oh-so-popular sex-offender residency laws has been ruled unlawful. The judge ruled that a restriction set up in Allegheny County amounted to “after-the-fact punishment” and runs contrary to state laws designed to reintegrate and rehabilitate sex offenders. But not all anger is created equal, and beware of those who are using your fear and outrage as a tool for political gain.

The Allegheny County ordinance is not that different from many that have popped up in our region, with registered sex offenders not permitted to live within one-half mile of schools, community centers, public parks and licensed day-care facilities. Those local ordinances now face repeal or lose-in-court scenarios. Frankly, it was only a matter of time.

Such residency laws, while well-intended by some, were obvious constitutional losers.

Before you start to wonder if I am siding with sex offenders, think for a moment if you are not the one being exploited here. I am a father of three sons, and their safety is foremost in my life.

But bad law is bad law
– except that in this case, bad law makes for good political traction even though it does little in the way of public safety. Worse yet, it erodes your best weapons in this battle:

Vigilance and education.

Let’s say a sex offender can not live near a park. He can, however, live far away and show up there. He can live away from a elementary school, but buy a ticket to the school play or go to the public pool.

Do you really think these ordinances mean there are no registered sex offenders at the grocery stores, the shopping malls, the movies, hockey games, concerts, playgrounds or parks where our kids gather?

I realize this offers little solace for my fellow parents concerned for the safety of their children. My advice to you is to stay close to your kids in such places and talk to them about the dangers and what to do if approached.

That is a real line of defense – not some silly ordinance meant to grab a headline.

Good laws make sense, can be enforced and truly offer an improvement to the public welfare.

Residency restrictions on sexual predators just do not pass that test. They do, however, grab a headline or two and make the political predators among us salivate because of the public approval they will get for stopping these monsters, even though they know their weapon in this battle is an illusion.

Here is another fact you need to keep in mind when considering the real worth of these restrictions: Most children who are abused know their abuser. They trust their abuser.

More than one tortured parent has wrestled with the thought that maybe they should have known that the person who hurt their baby was not some stranger at the playground but a friend or relative who was willingly let in the front door.

Instead of knee-jerk residency ordinance restrictions, how about council funding information packets on signs of abuse in your kids and give them to parents? How about demanding that the state send in an expert or two, and have a seminar free of charge for families? Maybe ask the hospitals, or local abuse experts and the district attorney to hold public forums on what to look for and how to report your concerns?
Has your local police department worked with your school to talk to kids about what to do if approached or touched? Do you know how to use the existing Megan’s law Web site?
These are meaningful efforts.

Someone willing to take your child into the back of his or her van and do unspeakable things is not worried about a borough ordinance.

This is not like cracking down on shoplifting. A convicted sex offender has already hurt a child and gone to prison. You think he fears township supervisors?

But the political predators are about to come rushing forward with moral outrage, declaring that they will fight to keep “some” neighborhoods free of sexual predator residents (who are still free to visit anytime). That is what these ordinances amount to.

Beware those who fight for such rules while not simultaneously offering you real help.
They are running for re-election or planning a run for an even higher office.
Better to do something rather than nothing, you say?

Not so. Not when that something is bound to lose in court, open your municipality to a lawsuit with money going to a sex offender discriminated against while at the same time allowing your children to be tucked into bed under a false blanket of security.

No, I do not want a sex offender living next to me.
But one has a moral obligation to ask that even if such an ordinance could demand that such people live someplace else, where is someplace else and how does it come that there are no children there?

Indeed, our moral obligation is to all children, not just those within a half mile of a licensed day-care center.

Meeting that obligation is a matter of education and awareness, not silly rules that pander to our fears and, in some cases, are crafted to turn that fear into political gain.

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