The ACLU is ticked off about a Rhode Island law that bars sex offenders from living within 300 feet of schools. They believe the statute, meant to keep rapists away from the schoolyard, is unconstitutional. On Monday, the human rights organization filed a lawsuit on behalf of the three men this law immediately affects.
Two of the men, Dennis Gesmondi and Dallas Huard, have developmental disabilities and reside in a facility that offers mental health and substance abuse treatment. They've been there for three or more years, says the ACLU, and fear they will struggle to find another facility where they can live. The other plaintiff is George Madancy, a vet with medical problems, who was convicted of possessing child pornography.
The ACLU warns that each of these men risk homelessness if this law is enforced. The Providence Police Department notified the three men last month that if they didn't move within 30 days, they would risk arrest and being slammed with felony charges for violating the Rhode Island statute.
Katherine Godin, the volunteer attorney for the ACLU who filed the lawsuit, told TakePart the main issue is that potential evictions "constitute an ex post facto law because all three of the gentlemen were convicted of their sex crime before this law went into effect." The ACLU also states in their press release that the lawsuit was filed because the law is vague, overbroad, and confusing in its way of determining how to measure the distance between a school and a residence.
The ACLU believes the issue is much bigger than whether these three men will have to move or not. Godin explains that many studies have shown that laws meant to prevent sex offenders from living near schools "are completely ineffective and sometimes more harmful because the effect is to create more homelessness for these gentlemen. Also, it's harder to keep track of them and to protect the community if you don't know where they're living."
Godin references one study in particular done by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The research analyzed the sexual reoffense patterns of 224 recidivists released between 1990 and 2002 who were reincarcerated for a sex crime prior to 2006. Key findings include:
The vast majority, 79 percent of the 224 offenders victimized someone they knew and 50 percent of the sex offender recidivists gained access to their victims through form of collateral contact such as a girlfriend, wife, co-worker, friend, or acquaintance.
Twenty-eight of the offenders initiated victim contact within one mile of their own residence, 21 within 0.5 miles (2,500 feet), and 16 within 0.2 miles (1,000 feet). But none of the 16 cases involved offenders who established victim contact near a school, park, or other prohibited area. Instead, the 16 offenders typically used a ruse to gain access to their victims, who were most often their neighbors.
"If you're looking at it in terms of who's offending and how they meet their victims," Godin says, "it's really not done through a school. It's not the guy watching the playground or just swiping a kid when he or she leaves the school. It's about creating a relationship with another adult, and then abusing that relationship to get to their children. So, in terms of public policy, it's really not protecting anyone."
Statistics show that 90 percent of child sex abuse victims know their predators. Godin says that in terms of what parents and teachers should do, it comes down to educating their kids about "good touch, bad touch" and letting their children know "they should not be in any way fearful of reporting anything that they find suspicious or inappropriate with another adult."
How do you feel about laws meant to keep sex offenders from living near your kids' school? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com