Sex offenders are people, too

Shelley Blundell

New Jersey resident Megan Kanka was 7 years old when she was raped and killed by a neighbor in 1994. The neighbor had twice been convicted of sexual offenses, but Kanka’s family had no idea of the neighbor’s criminal history.

Kanka’s parents, highly distraught, pushed for state legislation ensuring that no other parent would remain ignorant of sex offenders living in their midst – enter Megan’s Law. Megan’s Law is the collective term used to explain a variety of state laws within the United States that require law enforcement agencies to make information available on convicted sex offenders. While the information could only be obtained through government agencies at first, the media soon became involved and lists of convicted sex offenders were made available through television broadcasts, radio programs and, most notably, online registrant lists and Web sites.

As some of you may be aware, last week a Cleveland news channel broadcast the identity of one such sex offender who is currently a doctoral student at Kent State and has taught a class in the past. As Kent State officials defended their position in hiring him, students and community residents were outraged that Kent State could hire such “an abomination.”

Guess what? I side with Kent State.

The offender (who I will not name again because it is my opinion he has been through enough already) was accused nine years ago and convicted two years after that. He has since paid his debt to society and is currently on the lowest ranking of sexual offenders, which has three categories ranging from major risk to minor risk. So what is everyone so afraid of?

Before the hate mail starts rolling in about “how I don’t understand how bad sexual offenses are,” believe me, I do. Today, the average woman born in South Africa has a bigger chance of getting raped than learning how to read. I have personally known women who have gone through this terrible ordeal, and I will be the first in line to watch the offender be put away for life.

But put yourself in a “sex offender’s shoes” for the moment. You’re 16, your girlfriend is 15. You’re convinced it’s true love. One day, things get a little heated and the two of you have sex. Her parents find out and press statutory rape charges against you, despite the fact that you both consented at the time. Now, you have to carry the moniker of “sexual offender” for the rest of your life. Seem fair to you?

In a February 2005 article, Jill Levenson stated that sexual offense recidivism is a lot lower than many people believe. Pedophiles and rapists pose the most danger for relapse; 52 percent of pedophiles and 39 percent of rapists repeat their original criminal behavior after being released back into society. However, this is far from the norm for other sexual offenders – the rate among other groups is as low as 19 percent.

What about in Kansas, where the act of sodomy was considered a sexual offense before 1998? Gay Kansans caught “in the act” before 1998 also have to live with a sexual offense charge. Starting to get the idea?

We all have the right to live in a safe environment and know the impending threats to our lives. However, targeting people who are at a low risk for sexual offense recidivism and are merely trying to carry on with their lives is just wrong.

If you are really concerned about safety in your community, how about pressing for a convicted drunk driver registry instead?

Shelley Blundell is a senior magazine journalism and history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].