Last week, a reader wrote to us to notify us that a Class III sex offender had moved into Wallingford and asked that we alert the neighborhood.
The writer, who asked to remain anonymous, said she periodically checks the King County Sheriff Department’s sex offender registry web site to see if any sex offenders (who are required by law to register their residence) were nearby. She was shocked to discover that one had moved onto her block, which is a stone’s throw from the John Stanford School. For the purpose of this article, we’ll refer to the offender as D—.
While the exact address isn’t provided, she was familiar enough with her block to know that it was likely a boarding house-style building close by. She contacted the landlord, who said that D— had indicated he had a criminal conviction on his application, but they hadn’t done a further background check (they rarely do). While it is not illegal for him to live there, they asked him to move out. He complied and moved out the next day to another location in Wallingford, further from the school, where he remains.
While the idea of a sex offender living within an easy stroll of an elementary school is enormously disturbing, we’re deeply ambivalent how this played out. We’ll tell you why, but first some definitions:
- “Class III sex offender” means that, in the opinion of the court, there is a high risk the offender will re-offend.1
- D— was convicted in 1991 of “9A.44.083 – Child molestation in the first degree”: “A person is guilty of child molestation in the first degree when the person has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual contact with another who is less than twelve years old and not married to the perpetrator and the perpetrator is at least thirty-six months older than the victim.”2
- “Sexual Contact” is defined as “The intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person. “3
So why are we ambivalent?
- It was not illegal for D— to live where he was. The writer says she was told by Diane Horswill of the SPD “once an offender is no longer under the jurisdiction of the State Dept of Corrections there are no restrictions on where he can live. So, he can live across the street from a school next door to a day care or anywhere else he chooses.”
- Sex offenders who have a stable job and place to live are much less likely to re-offend than those who are constantly moved. The writer says she was told by Diane “The ones that have a job, residence and some stability are much less likely to reoffend.”
- The crime occurred almost twenty years ago and was not directed at a stranger. Studies have shown that recidivism among familial child molesters is much lower than recidivism among extrafamilial child molesters.4
Given those facts, we’re left wondering what we would ask D— to do if we were to speak to him. Leave Wallingford? Sure, but to move where? Some neighborhood where there are no children? Where they welcome sex offenders? Those places don’t exist.
So we’d be left telling him to keep moving and moving, harassed out of community after community until the end of his days.
Please, don’t misunderstand: we’re not expressing sympathy for D—: he’s been convicted of first degree child molestation. The impact of what he did will haunt his victim for the rest of his or her life, there is no excuse, no pity, no sympathy.
Rather, our point is a practical one: if the goal is to protect society, does forcing him to move and move again serve that goal? If we accept that sex offenders without a steady place to live are more likely to re-offend than those without, might this not be counterproductive? Is this another example of the harmful effects of NIMBY politics, where we create a greater danger for society at large in our efforts to protect the society of our neighborhood?
We imagine this is something that readers may want to weigh in on. As always, please be respectful of one another’s opinions.
We do encourage you to visit the Sex Offender Registry Web Site for King County, where you can run searches and even register for e-mail alerts. Please note this caution from the site, though: the site is intended to”educate you about offenders in our community. It has not been made available for you to take action against any individual. Please report all information on offenders directly to law enforcement. Those individuals seeking to harass, harm or confront an offender can be arrested and prosecuted.”
One thing about these registries that I’ve never understood:
Once we as a society have decided to publicly “register” people who have been convicted of a crime, served out their sentence, and then been released by the “powers that be” to resume their lives in the world; why stop at registering convicted sex offenders?
Don’t you also potentially want to know if your neighbor has been convicted of arson, homicide, drug dealing, domestic violence, armed robbery, burglary, assault, drunk driving, identity fraud, and/or disturbing the peace? And what about those not convicted, but with a history of treatment for violent mental illness?
All of these things, to one degree or another, might affect the safety of your family or the well-being of your neighborhood should the person re-offend.
Once we start registering, where should it stop?
Has anyone stopped to consider the factual basis for these laws or their effects?
(1) According to US Department of Justice statistics, only 5% of sex offenders released in 1994 were returned to prison for a new sex crime.
(2) Additional research has indicated that most sex crimes are committed by persons known to the victim, NOT BY STRANGERS.
(3) Research also indicates that most sex offenses are committed by FIRST TIME OFFENDERS and not by repeat offenders…a fact reinforced by the 5% recidivism rate.
(4) States already have registries, and now the federal government is imposing its legislation on a state matter, threatening to remove 10% of federal funds from non-compliant states. This is more about money than public safety.
(5) Do you consider your federal government MORE efficient and responsive to the public interest than the states?
(6) Do you support a national ID card system? There are more than 650,000 people registered as sex offenders today with an annual growth rate of 7%.
(7) Most are not aware of the increasing number of persons considered to be “sex offenders” or the crimes they have committed, including persons who have simply urinated on the side of the road without knowing a minor was present.
(8) The largest group of registered sex offenders are 14-year-olds who will more than likely never commit a new crime.
These laws are a bad idea.
Sam, do you have citations for the data? The one that I’m suspicious of is the last point. I’ll buy that there is a significant number of “sex offenders” who are 14 year olds who had “sexual contact” (e.g., inappropriate touching) with 11 year olds (i.e., 36 month difference), but aren’t who we think of when we think of “child molester”, but I’d be surprised if this were the “largest group of registered sex offenders”.
Could be, I’d just like to see where the number comes from.
This post gave the impression that there was one sex offender in Wallingford but I just did a quick search and there are 15 offenders within one mile of our home (which is very centrally located within Wallingford), including a child rapist.
Sam, your 2nd point only supports the tracking laws. Someone is less likely to be a stranger to your children if he or she is their neighbor.
I have never understood the NIMBY concept. If you are removing something from your backyard (neighborhood) you are just displacing the problem instead of trying to solve it. I agree with Wallyhood in this manner. I think many times our focus is in the wrong place.
Sam I’m taking you are trying to educate folks on the web (not just Wallyhood) with your 8 points – but on what evidence? If one is to cite stats please at least give us the benefit of reading the reports ourselves – please cite your stats Sam if you want to be taken serious on a very serious subject.
Sam states from research that “most sex crimes are committed by persons known to the victim, NOT BY STRANGERS” – but don’t sexual predators groom their victims slowly over time and acquire even parental trust so the once stranger is now a friend/acquaintance. Isn’t everyone a stranger to begin with? Who is to say an registered offender cannot acquaint a child, teen or parent?
Sam you mention “According to US Department of Justice statistics, only 5% of sex offenders released in 1994 were returned to prison for a new sex crime” but wait…
accordingly to Bureau of Justice Stats (http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rsorp94.htm) “Compared to non-sex offenders released from State prisons, released sex offenders were 4 times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime.”
and “Over a 15-year period, sex offense rearrest rates for all sex offenders averaged 24%. While this is not insignificant, it also indicates that 3 out of 4 sex offenders are not rearrested in 15 years (Harris & Hanson, 2004)”. Still a high % in my view.
But what you fail to mention is that these sex offenders were only tracked for 3 years!! An important fact omitted, no? Quote from Bureau of Justice (source http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/rsorp94.htm) “Within 3 years following their release, 5.3% of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime.” Let’s not water stats down Sam..time does matter…
I believe “Recidivism rates are most meaningful if they cover at least a five-year period, postincarceration. Twenty-seven percent of recidivists in one study did not begin to recidivate until four years or more after their release.” from Romero, J., and Williams, L. Recidivism among convicted sex offenders: A 10-year follow-up study. Federal Probation (1985) 49,1:58–64.
Sam out of interest from where do you get your info from your no.8 point? From what I have read I gather one of the largest group of registered sex offenders are Caucasian men in their early thirties and even then the info was spare.
A good website for fact verses myth is http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/nsor/som_mythsandfacts.htms
It is a very complex issue. We live in a society that says if someone spent the time for their crime, they’ve paid their debt for their crime. There has to be a point where a person is left alone once they’re paid their debt to society.
It is like Vi says, where do we stop tracking/harassing people that have done their time?? And who else should we track? Who is a greater threat to your/our safety?
Thanks for this thoughtful and nuanced reporting, Wallyhood! I saw a flier with this person’s face on it a few months ago, and have seen him in the neighborhood a number of times since then, and I have given a lot of thought to this issue. What does it mean to be this person’s neighbor? There is no easy answer, and you’ve given your readers a lot to consider!
Elizabeth, I’m curious, what do you think it would mean to be this person’s neighbor? What would you do if he was your neighbor?
It is somewhat disconcerting, but to me it helps to see that many of these offenders crimes happened between 10-20 years ago. I would think if they were going to re-offend, they would have done it by now.
I would probably feel differently about that if I had kids though.
Anyway, great post, as usual, Wallyhood. Thank you for all you do.
Brady, in response to your comment: “I have never understood the NIMBY concept. If you are removing something from your backyard (neighborhood) you are just displacing the problem instead of trying to solve it.”
As a father, I definitely understand NIMBYism, especially when in comes to creeps living in my neighborhood. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, “Think globally, act locally?” Well us “NIMBY’s” are doing just that, acting locally. And as for “displacing the problem,” YES! That’s the point! It’s not our job as the average citizen to solve the problem of sexual predators, nor is it possible anyway. At least by encouraging these scumbags to live elsewhere, we keep our neighborhood safer for our families. If another neighborhood doesn’t want to be as involved in their neighborhood issues, well, let’s just say I’d rather the offenders re-offend, which they will, somewhere other than Wallingford. Ideally, they’d never be set free to harm others.
As for paying their debt to society, as other commenters have said, that’s total B.S. What about their victims, who, if they haven’t killed themselves, have to live with it for the rest of their lives? What about their rights? And what about the rights of future victims?
Maybe by making life a miserable hell for these guys outside of prsion, like it was inside, they might reconsider re-offending. Now THATS treatment for ya.
Are landlords who choose to not do criminal background checks on prospective tenants being good neighbors? Do landlords owe anything to the community where they own property, or to other tenants on that same property?
If a person misrepresents or does not fully disclose their criminal history on their rental application is s/he a good neighbor?
For families with children who very near a sex offender convicted of child molestation in the first degree, what is the appropriate neighborly way to behave? Is the parent to take full comfort in the cited statistics (‘well, he *probably* won’t reoffend; my kids will be okay’), or the knowledge that the offender has paid his dues?
How many of you who have stated he has paid his dues have young children and would be comfortable having this person as your neighbor? This is not about someone who stole cars or dealt drugs, and this is not about one adult harming another.
The PI has a brief little article today about how many sex offenders there are in Seattle, how to use the registry, and what the classes mean: