SEX OFFENDER PROJECT - Day 2 what works: If sex offender laws don't work, what does?
Tough laws didn’t keep a dangerous child rapist from entering a Massachusetts Chuck E. Cheese, camera in hand, to snap photos of children playing.
Neither did his ranking as an offender most likely to commit another crime, or an admonishment to stay away from children.
Nor did an electronic ankle bracelet Raymond Guimond had to wear as part of his lifetime parole for raping a 15-year-old boy.
A vigilant parent spotted Guimond, 60, of Fitchburg, Mass., alone in the popular spot where 40 kids were celebrating birthday parties in May 2006, and alerted authorities he had been taking pictures of the children.
“Tougher is not always smarter, and it’s not always more effective,” said Corwin Ritchie, a former prosecutor who heads the Iowa County Attorneys Association, which is lobbying to have that state’s 2,000-foot residence ban repealed. “It just sells in a campaign.”
Children are the key to their own safety through education to prevent abuse and through therapy to prevent molested children from turning around and hurting others, experts say.
Only about 10 percent of children are assaulted by strangers, according to the Justice Department. Weapons are used against children only about 14 percent of the time. Dreadful “stranger-danger” cases that led to most major American sex offender legislation, such as Megan’s Law, just aren’t the norm. Most kids are abused by family members, neighbors and friends.
“If predators are using the lures, shouldn’t we be teaching the lures?” asked Ken Wooden, founder of the Child Lures (www.childluresprevention.com) program now used in Illinois elementary schools to teach children how to resist and report predators.
“If we’re going to rely on (laws) as a final solution, then I think we’re whistling in the dark,” Wooden said. “These guys are so adept at getting around the laws. For every tough law we pass, we should pass more prevention funding, pure and simple.”
The program teaches children to heed their inner “sirens,” telling them, Wooden said, to “trust that funny feeling in your belly.”
“We teach a child that their bathing suit is a safety zone,” he continued.
Introduced to Illinois schools in 2006, Child Lures was already (before Illinois) used in public schools in Logan County, Ohio, and in Catholic schools in Fall River and Springfield, Mass., and Albany, N.Y. Illinois spent $195 for each of its 3,200 schools.
Lessons have been credited with stopping predators in Chilton County, Ala., in May, where first-graders reported a guy at the playground they said was being a little “too nice.” The man had a child sex assault conviction and was wanted by police in another county.
One Massachusetts mom, who didn’t want to be named, believed she had screened the family friend who molested her kids while they played with his daughter. She now realizes he knew he was trusted.
“He was always checking in,” she said. “He gave me a full report. And I’d grill the kids in the car. ‘What did you do? What did Glenn do while you watched a movie?’ He was working on furniture; he was cleaning. I would always grill, and I felt comfortable with everything. I thought I checked everything out. I had known them years before we even let (the children) go there to play. I never suspected anything.”
So repeating the message is a must, she said. She believes the power to stop abuse must belong to the children. Kids must know how to report an initial incident so they won't be victimized again, she said. Parents need to talk to their children as often as they can stand. Showing them Safety Kids tapes a few times as she did isn’t enough.
“You can’t say it once and think you’re covered,” the mom said.
Critics such as professor Jill Levenson insist the sex offender registry needs paring down so law enforcement can focus on those who are truly dangerous.
“All sex offenders are not the same,“ she wrote in a study. And as long as state registries are full of low-level offenders and those who have led productive lives in the decades since their only arrest, the public can’t know whether the registered offender in the neighborhood is a real problem, she said. “Society should be protected from violent and repeat sexual predators, and stricter sentencing guidelines will help keep dangerous sex offenders away.”
But classification also is the most efficient way to spend limited money on treating or impounding offenders who post the greatest risk. And ranking offenders affords low risk offenders much-needed stability with jobs, housing and family support.
Levenson, a professor who’s written extensively about sex offenders, said all offenders also must be put through treatment.
“Although treatment does not guarantee success in every case, it should be considered a vital part of any public policy effort to control sex offenders,” according to Levenson. Cognitive-behavioral treatment can reduce recidivism by nearly 40 percent, she said. And recidivism for untreated offenders is about 17 percent, compared with 10 percent among offenders who completed treatment.
Debbie Savoia typically lobbies with Community Voices (www.communityvoices.net) in Massachusetts for longer prison sentences for offenders who touch kids. But she also believes the key to her group‘s success is to prevent new victims.
“You want to spend my taxpayer money? Let’s take my taxpayer money and take these kids who have been abused in this situation,” she said. “And let’s help them. Let’s give them therapy. Let’s take care of them. We do nothing for them. We wait until they’re adults; we wait ‘til they’re alcoholics, drug addicts or molesters, and then we say, what’s wrong with them.”
Among adult sex offenders, about 30 percent were sexually abused themselves, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management. Those who molest young boys have higher rates of abuse as children. Forty to 80 percent of juvenile sex offenders have histories of sexual abuse, the center reported.
“You get these victims, and they have to take money out of their own pocket and their insurance, and society doesn’t help them, doesn’t do anything for them,” Savoia said. “Let’s help these kids who have been abused, and then eventually we can maybe break a cycle.”
If any laws bar offenders from certain locations, states might consider barring predators from entering “safety zones,” such as schools, playgrounds and daycares, Ritchie said. He would allow entrance into protected areas for approved activities with the offender’s own child.
Laws also would separate out the Romeo-and-Juliets from the rapists, provided those who offended as teenagers remained arrest-free as adults.
Two little girls who saw Robert Gorczyca committing a lewd act with his pants down near their school bus stop in his neighboring town had him taken care of. Their screaming while running from him alerted an adult who called police and had the man with a history of exposing himself to children arrested.
“That’s where the community comes in,” said Carol Willoughby, a daycare owner who used to live two doors down from Gorczyca. “We are responsible for our children. We can’t just depend on the police or just the laws. The laws can’t be enforced unless someone is there to see that the law has been broken. So we as neighbors have to be aware.
"Everybody has to be involved. If you see something strange going on, make a call. That‘s the only way it’s going to be enforced.”