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The News-Journal’s Predatory Sensationalism On Sex Offenders Near Local Schools

| October 4, 2012

sex offenders and proximity to schools: myths and realities

That image is a myth, too. (Mitch Diatz)

By George Griffin

All too often, public policy and community actions are established based on gut reactions and knee-jerk responses rather than sound evidence and best practices. The alarmist Sept. 16 front page story in the News-Journal regarding sex offenders (“445 registered sex offenders live near local elementary schools”) is the type of journalism that sparks needless fear and wrong-headed actions.

George Griffin.

As a news organization, the News-Journal cannot claim ignorance of the June double murder of two registered sex offenders. One of these was guilty of the crime of sleeping with his underage girlfriend when he was just a kid, and was now married with children. But the irrational fear of the sex offender label led to the murderer being called a hero. In light of that event, did the News-Journal find it necessary to list the names and locations of sex offenders in Volusia and Flagler County? Most disturbingly, the News-Journal implied that something must be done about this situation, yet did not produce a single example of any of the 445 registered sex offenders in the two counties doing anything to endanger the community. They are only guilty of existing in the county.

The article played into the most pervasive myths about sex offenders, such as:

Once a sex offender, always a sex offender. Not true. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, recidivism rates are as follows: “Released prisoners with the highest re-arrest rates were robbers (70.2 percent), burglars (74.0 percent), larcenists (74.6 percent), motor vehicle thieves (78.8 percent), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4 percent), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2 percent). Within three years, 2.5 percent of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2 percent of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.” Other more generic sex offense research shows a recidivism rate between 5 percent and 15 percent.

Sex offenders in the neighborhood endanger children. Sex offenses against children are tragic. But the cold hard fact is that 80 to 90 percent these offenses are committed by a relative or an acquaintance who had a prior relationship and access to the child–not a stranger down the block.

Residency restrictions make our neighborhood safer. Empirical evidence indicates that where sex offenders live is not a significant contributing factor to reoffending. A 2008 peer-reviewed study looked at the Florida residences of sex offenders and their proximity to schools and daycare centers. The analysts studied sex offenders living 1000, 1500, and 2500 feet away, and found no correlation to sex crimes or re-offenses. The findings were similar to the results of a 2004 study by the Colorado Department of Public Safety, a study of the Jacksonville 2500 feet residency restriction, and the Iowa Department of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning. In fact, in Minnesota, an analysis of 224 repeat sex offenders led the researchers to conclude that residential restriction laws would not have prevented even one re-offense.

“Sex offenders rarely encountered their victims in public locations where children congregate, and therefore policies emphasizing residential proximity to schools, parks, and other ‘child-friendly’ locations ignore the empirical reality of sexual abuse patterns,” a 2011 study concluded.

Many registered sex offenders in our community are guilty of relatively minor crimes that do not endanger children – “Romeo and Juliet” relationships, opening an email or clicking on a website with forbidden pictures, or even being seen urinating at night in public. Our “hair on fire” approach to sex offenders in general lead to travesties like the encampments here in Central Florida woods or the 70+ sex offenders who were forced to live under a bridge in Miami.

If our true goal is to eliminate the repeat of sex offenses, we need to honestly look at the evidence. Sex offenders need stability in order to reenter society – a job, a place to live, perhaps counseling and monitoring. But residency restrictions and harassment by neighborhoods and newspapers undermines the goal. The Iowa prosecuting attorneys found that residency restriction not only did no good, they actually did harm. They resulted in a reduction in confessions and fewer plea agreements, which results in fewer convictions. Therefore, fewer sex offenders are held accountable and do not receive the treatment they need. As a result more victims are endangered. Even worse, the child victim must now endure the trauma of the trial system, reliving and retelling his experiences.

To those who disagree with the above arguments, a challenge: find one reputable study that indicates that residency restrictions on registered offenders have done any good. The News Journal owes it to their readers – all of their readers, to be more responsible in their reporting, not resorting to scare tactics that lead to irrational laws and actions.

George Griffin is president of the Volusia/Flagler Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Reach him by email here.

More Harm Than Good: Sex Offender Laws in the United States

24 Responses for “The News-Journal’s Predatory Sensationalism On Sex Offenders Near Local Schools”

  1. Billybob says:

    The most sex crazed country in the world can’t comprehend the difference between “sexual offender” and “sexual predator”. Some (a few) of those offenders shouldn’t even have been charged with a crime. Yet they are all viewed as predators, perpetrated by the media and fear.

    • Xenith says:

      This won’t change because a politician would be punished for being “Weak on sex crime.”

      i.e. We live in a country where it’s derogatory to thing rationally.

      Here’s another example:

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree. Offenders who used a computer and never touched a child are being treated as if they did. NOT FAIR!!! The law uses the term “indirect harm” to label you as violent. What did the offender do? Destroy his/her computer, or go out side and punch a wall in his/her underwear while a child was near by and got arrested? I understand we want to protect our children but what about the one who kills a child with no sex involved. Women who have sex with a children get treated better than a man who downloaded inappropriate pictures.

      • Paul says:

        In PA they no longer charge anyone with possession of child pornography Tier 1… Now anyone charged with child pornography is being charged with “Sexual Assault of a Child” minimum as Tier 2

        Before on the Offender Web Site would list as possession of obscene material and Tier 1
        When someone looks up on the web and sees this as the charges verses seeing sexual assault of a child; which looks worse if you live next door to the person listed on the site? YET they are both the same offense.

        They need to revamp SORNO, Megan Law, Adam Walsh Act, and every other sub chapter governing the civil collateral consequences associated with sexual offenses.

        THANK YOU Mr Griffin for speaking the truth!!! We need more and more people like you to speak the truth and stop the lies and scare tactics…. Keep up the fight

  2. Dorothea says:

    I agree with most of the ACLU report with the exception of pedophiles. Pedophiles are fixated on children as the object of their sexual needs. There is no cure for this fixation. A good read on the subject is the book, Lovemaps, by John Money.

    Pedophiles should not live near schools, playgrounds, and parks, not because they are going to run out and snatch a child, but because they will continue to dwell on their sexual fixation with children. The only hope for not re-offending is for a pedohile to learn to control their deviant sexual impulses. Living in areas where they can observe a continuous supply of children leaves them in a consistent state of arousal, possibly leading to attacking a child elsewhere.

    • Robert Curtis says:

      The problem with you statement on pedophiles Dorothea is your idea of a pedophile and the law’s definition are quite different. A guy get caught pissing outside when a child walks around the corner is a pedophile, a teen that is 18 having sex with his 16 or 17 year old GF is a pedophile, in some states two 16 year olds having sex makes them a pedophile. A person opens up an email that’s linked to a child porn site is a pedophile. Now in the rare case of an actual pedophile that has that addition they should not even be allowed out of incarceration. I’ve been through the grind of probation, therapy and time served and know these people afterwards are quite safe (at least more than the general public). My offense was a misdemeanor not involving a child over 12 years ago. I’ve recently received a US Congressional award for community service for helping cancer patients and the homeless. Am I dangerous? Well, I still can work alone with women in a salon environment. So… I guess that means for the last 12 years as a registrant I was safe to be around. 95% of sex crimes are from family members, friends of family members or someone the child knows not from stranger danger.

      • Dorothea says:

        @Robert Curtis

        You are quite right, Robert, and I apologize. I failed to note that I was referring to pedophile predators and not to the overly broad legal definition of pedophilia.

    • cheryl says:

      The problem with the sex offender registry Dorothea is that the people on the registry, a larger percentage of them, are not predators. People assume that sex offender means pedophile, not true.
      A large portion of those on the registry didn’t even have contact with a child.
      Therefore, the registry is nothing more than a feel good requirment for poloticians who want to make the public think that they are protecting them. When in reality all their doing is ruining other families lives.

      • Dorothea says:


        The Florida registry does label predators, type of offense, and also gives details such as the age of child victims.

  3. Brian B says:

    One of the best articles I have ever seen on the topic.

  4. Shana Rowan says:

    The best article I have read in a very, very long time. THANK YOU!

  5. Samuel Smith says:

    I know someone that is a registered sex offender. He had a day off of work, took an afternoon nap, and when he woke up he walked from his bedroom to the kitchen for a soda naked. He didn’t realize that his daughter had come home from school and had brought a friend home with her, who saw him naked, who told her mom, who was friends with his ex-wife, and you get the picture. Instead of lawyering up and fighting it out in court, he was honest with the judge about what happened and that earned him a place in the sex offender registry. His crime wasn’t indecent exposure, it was to believe that the judicial system would use reason.

    My wife grew up in Gainesville. One of her most favorite teachers in highschool was arrested after a student accused him of molesting her. It took some time for the police to realize that the girl in question had actually been mad at him for failing a test, so her solution was to accuse him of molesting her. It destroyed his life, even though he was proven to be innocent in the situation, and he lost his job over it.

    This may not be a popular opinion, however, it’s my understanding that once you’ve done your time and served your probation, you are done. Obviously, felonies carry additional penalties and you still have to deal with the social and emotional consequences of your crime. With a sex offence, you literally pay for the crime for the rest of your life, regardless of your innocence. There is little doubt that offenses like rape are horrendous, however, other offenses like physical child abuse carry an equivalent emotional toll for the victim and are treated less severely.

    To use a local example, you can literally ram your car into a publix and injure an handful of people and suffer fewer consequences than you would if you urinated in public.

  6. Arianna Wolfgang says:

    Thank you for bringing the truth out!

  7. FBGrl says:

    The bottom line is that we need to look at how we determine who is actually a sex offender or predator and who has been mistakenly labeled as one. I grew up with a guy who had a one night stand at a party. He was 19 and the girl was 15. The girl should never have been there and admitted lying about her age. She had a history of promiscuity as well. Her mother found out and pressed charges…the same mother that allowed her 15 year old daughter to go to random parties at night…

    He is still on the sex offender registry (different state) and is doing construction and odd jobs. His degree in accounting proved worthless as no one will hire him.

  8. Rudy101 says:

    A couple of things: The registry doesn’t need, as a legal requirement, to draw a line and establish a relationship between the registry, public notification, or any subgroup of registry laws, and public safety.

    The registry and any related registry law(s) have been applied ex-post facto. The registry forces a person to avoid all sorts of normal everyday conduct, under penalty of law. The registry forces a person to engage in conduct that is requiring him to relinquish all of his privacy in order to limit that person’s ability to communicate or engage in any way with the community.

    No relationship has been established between public safety and any registry law, AND those laws are criminalizing normal behavior, from having a Facebook account that is unregistered (registering leads to purging), to failure to give a telephone number (6 years), to walking in a park, going to a local football game, failure to pay fees related to registry, participating in halloween, taking your own child to a day-care center, or living to close to a basketball court among other laws and restrictions.

    The registry, by having UNLIMITED public notification leads to loss of home, inability to secure stable housing, inability to secure stable employment, and the inability to foster community relationships or the registry has the outcome to destroy stability.

    The registry is an ever evolving set of laws that constantly criminalizes new conduct on a regular basis.

    All registry laws are applied to either all the people on a registry, or sub-groups on a registry. NO registry law is allowed to be challenged, as applied to the individual.

    The registry creates a hostile environment of a person in the community. A small percentage of the people who receive registry information (1 or 2 per 1000), use that registry information illegally. In a town of 30,000 that is 30 people who cannot legally use the registry as intended (for informational purposes only). A person who does not isolate himself from the community AND is on a registry will find it LIKELY that the registry will be used against him in a criminal way.

    Without drawing a line between public safety and the targeted behavior, applying it outside of a courtroom and ex-post facto, criminalizing that otherwise legal behavior, and creating a hostile environment for a person in the community without the ability to ever challenge any restrictions or inclusions in a registry or registry law IS a violation of the 5th amendment requirement of due process and 14th amendment equal protection clause.

    It is axiomatic that no person has to follow a law that will put his own safety and/or security at risk. It is fundamental to a free society that that society must articulate, through a court of law WHY a person must be regulated to such a degree, when doing so is outside of a sentence.

    In other words, in order for society to be able to put a person into jail for long periods of time, for so-called crimes of “failure to register” there had better be SOMEWHERE, a valid court order that says so, and that order must articulate WHY that person must be regulated for the rest of his life, when all these things were already litigated AT THETIME OF SENTENCING.

    (Again), in other words, the State increased sentences, strips safety and/or security, allows no challenges and appeals and does it outside of a court room and you all really believe you have legal authority to enforce your registry law as it is now?

    EXILE is an illegal act of the State against an individual who is forced to protect himself from the illegal actions of the State. The registry can and will be ignored, UNTIL there is some due process to it.

    The State failed to have hearings, the State is acting irrationally and applying laws without regard to actual public safety. These are violations of all sorts of international laws. I am sorry about your registry…it’s over.


    Speaking of the double murders in Washington, I’m working on a documentary on this case. Hope to have it out soon. Sex Offenders have families too, and they register along side them.

  10. glad fly says:

    i have a first cousin that spent seven years in the fla prison system because his 12 years old step daughter said he touched her”private parts” to which she recanted just recently.she said she was mad at him at the time for something involving dicipline.. that started 20 years ago. there should be some repercussion for people that wrongly accuse people of crimes of that nature. the state attorney’s office had NO PROOF.

    • Nancy N. says:

      Actually there are laws in place to deal with those situations, laws that make it a crime to file a false police report and to commit perjury.

      • ken says:

        but if the person doing the false report or perjury is a child then the law will not punish them when admitted because they was to young to know right from wrong.

  11. Reinhold Schlieper says:

    Add to that the plethora of accusations of possession of images depicting child porn. In the first place, some such downloads may be a pure accident–as when one leaves a computer on too long to be used as a secondary server by another party illicitly or as when one downloads musical files from an “unclean” server. And in the second place, having such images is a thought crime at best, about which we generally believe that one is at liberty to have even stupid thoughts now and then. And finally, the collection of images may indeed be cathartic for the offender, thus avoiding actual commissions of real crimes. Most of such images are likely to be vector graphics anyway without a real person involved. In the seventies, Peter Moffay, a German crooner, published a song about a tender youth affair a sixteen-year-old had with a 32-year-old woman. In Germany, that was a love affair worth singing about. In this culture, it’s a crime. Puritanism seems so very perverted.

  12. Joe says:

    And now they are going to charge me to read their trash? HAHA, BYE BYE DBNJ! Hello Local papers.

  13. Kathleen says:

    Thank you, Mr. Griffin, for your intelligent, factual article. I hope that someone, somewhere who read this article actually learned something that countered the misconceptions purposely spread by ambitious politicians, the media, and other special interest groups!

  14. ANNONYMOUS says:

    This was a good report and I think that everyone in Flagler County should read this, I am currently married to a SO and we rented a house and was given 48 hours to move because of neighbor that send a letter to the homeowner who was very ignorant and didnt know the facts and told her she had a SO living in her home she understood times were tough but she shouldnt of rented the house to SO, being that she had children and she was afraid that my husband would do something to her kids, how ignorant are people. My husband’s case was back from 1998 and he had never committed another crime it was a mistake and he is ashamed of it and has done all his therapy and everything that had asked him to do. He registers with the sheriffs office 2x’s a year and does everything the proper way but even then he still has that label for the rest of his life. And it is not fair and i think that people need to stop being so ignorant and pay more attention to articles like this. But in all honesty I really dont blame the people I blame the state for making everything public record.

  15. Tom Brown says:

    Thanks for bringing some rationality to an emotional topic. If the N-j spent so much time researching addresses, you’d think their reporter might have knocked on a few doors to get the offenders’ point of view. And the School Dept. should have been asked how many complaints they have filed against “stranger” stalkers or intruders (as distinguished from divorced parents trying to contact their kids in custody disputes.)

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