Ask Amy: I discovered my neighbor is a sexual offender. Should I tell the neighborhood?

Source: 4/26/24

Dear Amy: I have a neighbor who was previously convicted of a sexual offense involving a “child.” He served time in jail.

 I don’t know the exact circumstances, but I do understand that the term “child” may include a person as young as an infant and as old as a teenager.

The sexual offender is married with two young children. I know that he and his wife want to keep his history private.

However, the other neighbors around where I live are not aware of the situation and their kids play and interact with the sexual offender’s family.

Do I need to inform the unknowing neighbors about his status as a sex offender, or should I remain silent?

I’d appreciate your advice.

– Uncertain

Dear Uncertain: You don’t say how you know about this offense, but you should take it as a given that these neighbors don’t want others to know that he is a convicted sexual offender. But this is not up to them.

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Here in Arizona use of information to intimidate or harass an offender is a crime. If she does tell others, she could possibly be charged

What about the neighbors who have done other crimes against a minor that didn’t involve sex should those neighbors be outed? How about the neighbors who could be committing sex crimes against a minor right now? How long has it been since his crime occurred? Has a minor accused him of doing something inappropriate? Just because you see something doesn’t mean you should say something or perhaps society should have all Americans listed on a registry.

ACSOL community, I have drafted the below response to “Ask Amy” — “Amy Dickinson“.
Please review and add edits as you see fit:

Dear Amy,
I was disappointed with your uniformed response to Uncertain. You did not provide a balanced viewpoint and continued to spread fear and misinformation regarding the sex offense registries, who is on them, and how someone becomes labeled as a “sex predator” for life.

I understand your concern for protecting children, but that’s all the more reason to understand that the registries protect no one, least of all children. And if we are so concerned with “saving just one child” then where are the registries for drunk drivers? Do you know the stats on how many children are hurt or killed every year by them? And what about gun violence, accidental and intentional, do you know how many children have been harmed or killed by guns? And what if the neighbor had beaten his children in the past or lit a house on fire with children inside? You would not know this information because, if convicted, these people serve their sentence and move on with their lives, and they are far more dangerous to society.   After decades of research studies since the failed registry experiment began, we now have the data that reveal the following facts:

·       There are roughly 800,000 people required to register on the sex offense registry in this country, some of which are minors as young as 10 years old.
·       1/3 of sexual assault against minors is committed by other minors and 97% of child sexual abuse is committed by family members, peers, teachers, clergy, coaches, etc.
·       The re-offense rate of people forced to register is 3%, the lowest re-offense rate of all categories of crime except murder.
·       The sex offense registries include people who were convicted of offenses including public urination, teens and tweens sexting each other, possession of child pornography (which is rampant on the internet and social media) and a whole host of other offenses, and yet these people are all lumped together on the sex offense registry. In many states, any conviction involving a minor arbitrarily labels a person a “sexual predator” for life even if the crime involved zero contact or attempt to contact a minor.
·       The sex offense registries include people who were convicted decades ago and have not committed another crime of any kind in all that time, yet still endure the punishment of the public shaming list and all its adverse consequences including consequences to innocent family members. Some people listed on the sex offense registries are in nursing homes, some are dead.
·       The registries in most states impose harsh restrictions such as where a person can live and work causing homelessness and joblessness. Studies show this creates instability and increases crime, not reduces it. You may think a residency restriction is not a big deal but refusing to let someone live or work within 1,000 feet (sometimes more) from a school, park, daycare, library, bus stop etc. creates banishment zones that create homelessness and instability within the community. Studies show proximity restrictions do not prevent crime.
·       The registries cost many millions of taxpayer dollars to maintain and studies have shown no shred of evidence they are effective. In fact, they make communities less safe creating a false sense of security; people who do not understand the facts believe they are safe if someone is not on the registry, and that is not true since over 95% of sex crimes are committed by first time offenders that have never been arrested or convicted of a prior offense.

You cited risk tiers in your response and that is again misinformation. Not all states use tiers and the ones that do have no way of properly assigning risk. Any risk assessment currently used is based on junk science, arbitrary at best, and corrupt at worst. And as I mentioned, many states simply assign a risk or label without any proper medical or psychological assessment of the person’s current risk, considering only the arbitrary risk at the time of conviction. If someone committed a sex offense crime ten years ago, the studies from credible sources indicate that person’s risk of committing another sex offense is essentially the same as the risk of you or I committing a sex offense – the risk goes down every year the person is offense free in the community.

Even the American Law Institute advises against the current registry scheme as ineffective and dangerous, but many politicians use the topic as political theater to gain votes by issuing more and more bills against persons convicted of sex offenses even decades ago, and yet, sex crimes have escalated over the period the registries have been put in place, not decreased.  The registries don’t work for any purpose.

Lastly, and most importantly, this is the United States of America. If a person makes a mistake at some point in their life, is convicted of a crime and serves his/her sentence, a permanent punishment such as the public registry scheme with its constantly changing restrictions is unconstitutional and cruel. People have a right to pay their dues to society and work hard at redemption and rehabilitation to be a better person and lead a good life. Did you even stop to think what impact your response will have on the children of the family living under the registry scheme? The neighbors should teach their own children, monitor their online activity, discuss these topics, and protect them of course, but your response did nothing but promote gossip and fear, and further ruin the lives of that family at that address with zero chance of protecting anyone. 

I have not been convicted of a sex offense and am not on any registry, but I firmly believe in the civil rights this country was founded on. 

“Wearing this virtual scarlet letter is the ongoing consequence of committing a sex crime against a child.”

Amy, the scarlet letter is not just “ongoing,” it’s forever evolving into something worst

“Your neighbors should reveal the offender’s conviction and if he is classified as low-risk, they should reveal that and explain the circumstances – for instance, if….”

Her neighbors don’t have to reveal squat! Let alone, give some dissertation on what happened.

“In short, I am suggesting that the convicted offender and his wife do the ethical thing by notifying others of his criminal status.”

Ethical? Woman have you last your mind? As if the politicians & LEOs who support the registry are ethical. Not only are they not ethical, they’re down right criminals.

“People notified should make every effort to independently verify the information through a neutral source, such as the sex offender registry.”

Yes you’re right, Amy. We can’t always believe the Karens, so we need to run to the source…, which is the registry.

That’s it….I can’t read anything else from this vindictive, sanctimonious creature

Aren’t tiers assigned base on the offense charged? We do not have them in FL but my understanding was they are categorized by the charges, there is no individual assessment.

AMY and the ORIGINAL person that sent the message to AMY both need to be RENAMED/… K A R E N… just Mind your own FING business… !!! Dont be a SNITCH and KEEP to yourself and dont cause DRAMA !!

I no longer am required to register/update since 2018. I bought my house in 2014. Only about 5 neighbors around me. Seems odd though, every time a new neighbor moves in they are friendly with me until about 4 to 6 weeks later when they ignore me. Seems a few neighbors make it a point to update them about me and they just go by what they are told and shun me. Well, I don’t care actually. I will give one neighbor credit though. He and his wife ( elder couple) have always been nice to me casually. Always wave as they drive by the house, stop and chat with me as they drive by etc. I live on a dead end street so not much activity here.

So even though I am no longer on the list – “I am on the list” forever and ever as long as a few neighbors continue to live near me.

One neighbor called the cops on me a few years back while I was till on the list. I had a friend shovel my driveway after a big snow storm because I have a bad back. This neighbor who knew my history called the cops and said I was not allowed to be near minors because of my status.

I had just returned from driving this person home after shoveled my driveway and as I drove up to my house 2 cop cars came flying up behind me with their lights on. One cop to each side of my car. Older cop on my driver’s side. He said it was reported by a neighbor that you had a minor at your house and that it is against the law. The “kid” cop on the passenger side asked me how old the kid was and I said 21 years old. The “kid” cop said “you do know that if you are lying we will be arresting you”. – I politely informed the “kid” cop that there was no law and that the person is 21 anyway. Another cop not present yet had stopped at this guy’s house where I dropped him off and questioned him and asked for his ID. The cop then returned to our scene, spoke privately with the two cops at my car windows and came back to me and told me I was free to go. The more seasoned cop at my window told me “you know, you got real a$$holes for neighbors to call us for this crap”. I thanked him and advised him that they should be educated by the dept as to the laws fo SOs as he even admitted to me that he did not know what the law was. So they could have arrested me and taken me in for no reason at all even if it was someone under 18 yo. He was very polite though and did apologize to me for detaining me.

Sent directly to Amy Dickinson:

Dear Amy:

Regarding your advice to the person in the above referenced article, I believe your advice was prompted more by mythology than fact. The fact is that over 95% of all sex crime is committed by individuals without prior offenses, and that sex criminals are among the least likely recidivists (second only to those convicted of murder). It follows (or should) that the registrant that the letter writer complains of should be among the least likely threats in her neighborhood. Absent a reason to believe he will commit one of the remaining (less than) 5% of new sex crime, based on personal observation and interaction as opposed to media sensationalism and old wives’ tales, there’s nothing to warn other neighbors about. It serves no purpose but to alienate the registrant’s wife and children, who in all likelihood had absolutely nothing to do with the registrant’s offense. Better advice would have been to observe from a distance if she felt the need, but otherwise leave the registrant and his family alone. Stirring up the neighborhood and possibly forcing the registrant and his family to move out of it may feel good, but won’t change anything regarding the risk of a sex crime being committed against any of the children who remain. Statistically speaking, if (God forbid) a sex crime is committed in her neighborhood, it will be committed by the local pastor, coach, babysitter, another neighbor, or virtually anyone else not listed on the registry. 

Your suggestion that the registrant reveal his circumstances to the neighborhood as the “ethical thing” is simply absurd. For one, he already did the “ethical” thing by registering, available for consumption to anyone who wants to search for it. For another, expecting him to go door to door and say “Hi, I’m a sex offender” makes as much sense as requiring a check bouncer to go door to door announcing they’re broke. Doing so does absolutely nothing to change previous circumstances or prevent future ones.

I will, however, credit you for advising the writer to attempt to distinguish a genuine threat from comparatively minor ones, though the registry is far from an effective tool to do so. Again, personal observation and interaction with the registrant will tell the writer far more than any government list could ever hope to do. Given that most complain of everything that government at all levels screws up, I’ll never understand how the public thinks that same government got it right with sex offender registration, despite the fact that it in the 30 years it has been public, it has yet to prevent one single sex crime or contribute anything meaningful to the investigation of one (registry violations excluded).

Registered Human Being in Georgia

So, this Washington Post link I submitted seems to have gotten a lot of traction, here. I’m glad someone else wrote the response to her because I no longer have the patience to write to people like that without getting angry.

Registry notwithstanding, I take great offense at any suggestion that I have some ethical obligation to talk to my neighbors, much less justify my existence to them.

The registry is available online for anyone who wants to look at it. Maybe the unspoken admission here is that most people do not check the registry regularly, if ever.