Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Get Serious about Sex Offender Registration

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Get Serious about Sex Offender Registration

Article excerpt

A scan of national headlines on any given day lays bare the reality that the fight to prevent the sexual assault of women and children is a continuous battle.

We read about the Minnesota sex offender who failed to register in North Dakota, where he is now charged with the November kidnapping of Dru Sjodin, a 22-year-old college student who is still missing. In Massachusetts, one of the state's most notorious sexual predators, who was charged last month with the rape and murder of a woman and her 12-year-old daughter, was not registered in the community where he was living part time and playing sports with children, according to news reports. Even though the offender was arrested in June for forging a painkiller prescription and provided that part-time address, police did not update the registry with the information, saying that it was unclear whether they had the authority to list him under a secondary address.

With each new story, it can feel as if we're losing the fight.

But all 50 states have an important legal weapon in this fight. They all require convicted sex offenders to register with law enforcement agencies or face varying levels of penalties, including felony charges and prison time. The idea is that if the public knows who convicted offenders are and where they live, citizens have a better chance of protecting themselves and their children from rapists and pedophiles.

But sex-offender registration programs - in Illinois as well as most other states - fall short of their critical mission to arm citizens with information to help protect themselves and their children.

Too often, registration information is out of date, inaccurate, incomplete, or inaccessible. Many offenders supply phony addresses or photographs to avoid accurate registration.

For example, in Illinois, a 35-year-old sex offender registered for nine years using a high school picture, until our office required him to use a current photo. Many times, officials fail to verify information or to keep the registry up to date. Other offenders simply don't register but escape prosecution.

The harsh reality is that, too often, prosecuting this crime has not been a priority for law enforcement officials.

The results of these failures can be tragic, as evidenced in two Illinois cases. A single mother who regularly checked the Illinois registry became involved with an unregistered Illinois sex offender who repeatedly molested her 9-year-old son. An unregistered sex offender has been charged with the rape and murder of a 97-year-old grandmother in 2002. The offender lived next door to this woman, but her family didn't know it because he wasn't registered. He'd been arrested a few weeks earlier for failing to register as a sex offender, but the judge released him on his own recognizance after the offender promised to register. …

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