Thursday, October 22, 2009

Emotional Legislation

So I'm reading in the local papers about a proposed amendment to the Child Protection Act by the Town of Brookhaven and I find it amusing. As it stands, the CPA prohibits Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders from living within a quarter mile of schools, parks, and playgrounds. The proposed amendment would add day care centers (fine), school bus stops, video arcades, amusement parks, ice cream stores, youth sports facility, places of worship (irony?), gymnasiums, public swimming pools, public libraries, movie theaters, youth centers, shopping malls and shopping centers.

Also to be included will be high-ranch homes, homes facing west, facing east, facing north, facing south, contemporary homes, bungalows and capes. Homes where the landlord is Black, where the landlord is White, where the landlord is Hispanic, and Asian. Also hardware stores, pizza parlors, Chinese take-out joints, bakeries, and grocery stores.

OK, the above paragraph isn't true (for those that can't get sarcasm) but the proposed amendment is a perfect example of legislation that is more reaction than action. Reaction from politicians being pressured by parents and community leaders to do something, even if it's a poor something, about the over-saturation of sex offenders in Brookhaven. In return politicians get - hopefully - the support of the voters; and it satiates the community's outcry. Look, we all know that sex offenders are the pariah of the new millennium, but this is all misguided.

When you start adding more restrictions in an existing law you run the risk of violating certain rights. Unfortunately (?), sex offenders that are out on probation have some rights because, well, we live in a Republic. All it takes is for one sex offender to challenge the amendment, win, and possibly have the whole law declared unconstitutional. Oops, there goes your CPA!

Not to mention that when you make it difficult for someone to find a home, they become ... homeless! The last thing you want is to have homeless Level 2 and 3 sex offenders just walking around or possibly squatting in one of the many boarded up homes we have around here (and the rest of Brookhaven). You can't keep track of someone when you don't know where they live.

Another issue that worries many people is that these sex offenders, out on the street, may offend again. That's a legitimate concern of course but these laws do very little to stop someone from offending again. Or for the first time. One of the many overlooked facts is that in the majority of cases involving pedophilic sex offenders (not all are pedophiles, of course, just recently one who attacked a 27 year old woman moved into Shirley), the majority knew their victims intimately. Sure, there are those times when it's a stranger but those are few. Most times it's a neighbor who gained the trust of both the parent and child. It's a local teacher or a priest, or a family member. For many pedophiles it isn't "rape" for them if in their mind they feel like the minor consented. So they need to gain their trust, and that takes time. A much better way to minimize situations like this is for parents and the school district to educate minors about what is and isn't a proper adult-minor relationship. "Stranger Danger" and the dog in the flashers overcoat just isn't cutting it anymore. Parents need to get more involved.

The law is fine as it is, what isn't fine is the enforcement; or lack thereof. I know that the intent of the amendment is to not have clusters of offenders in certain areas and to spread them around but it invites litigation; and could possibly repeal the CPA. It's like trying to cure one of the symptoms and not the cause.

PS. As I'm typing this up I find out about 3 teens arrested in Mastic for raping a 14 year old girl. Ugh! This needs to stop.