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.”