Interviews with four convicted sexual predators -- Part One
- The rape of the innocents -- child sex abuse
For thirty years I worked in child protection. It became a driving force of my life. Today I share a small part of this experience.
In all my years in child protection work, I never once had the opportunity to question or even speak to a perpetrator. My job was to connect with the victim, to gain trust, to listen, to report, to protect, and by the time I’d succeeded at that, my feelings for the offender were such – well let’s just say I wouldn’t have been pleasant.
Some years have passed since that chapter of my life, and I
decided the time had come to look at the problem from the other side, from the
offenders’ side. I had a long list of questions overdue for answers.
To do that, I had to meet some and that is what led me to contact the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to request their assistance. (I certainly wasn't about to go out by myself and knock on the door of any one of these all too easy to find individuals.)
I had some explicit criteria:
- I wanted to speak with someone whose crime involved a child -- three categories in Florida: A) over the age of twelve and younger than sixteen, or B) under the age of twelve and C) 16 or 17 if the other party is more then four years older.
- I wanted to speak with someone categorized as a sexual predator, thus avoiding the excuses of 'I was only taking a leak,' or 'I was only eighteen and my girlfriend fifteen' or 'it was an accident and I only brushed up against her breast.'
I explained my purpose, and was transferred to a Community Relations officer -- who did his best to dissuade me, but eventually arranged a contact with the Florida Department of Corrections.
A week later, I was to meet with a probation officer at the Sheriff's office, and he would arrange for me to interview his hand-picked candidates.
In the meantime, I did some research so I'd be as informed as possible and prepared.
As the days went by, my sleep grew increasingly interrupted as long stifled memories haunted me. Once again my nights were populated with a parade of child victims from the past. I heard their whispered confidences, dried their tears and taught them how to speak of the unspeakable.
I wondered if I would be able to do this.
- Sarasota Sheriff
A link to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and their brand-new website.
Please keep in mind
Some of my readers may remember an article called: How I became a sex offender – by the anonymous Mr. Bebop and edited by me – later unpublished at Mr. Bebop’s request. Here we explored what appeared to be an abuse by law enforcement, and an unfair branding of an individual as a sex offender.
In another of my articles Incarceration, castration or execution -- attempts to control the dangerous, violent sex offender we learned law enforcement complains the sex offender’s registry is so cluttered by non-dangerous, non-offenders (those guilty of public exposure, for example or those entrapped in sting operations, or young men involved with a woman just under the age of consent) that it actually impedes efforts to supervise and control true dangerous offenders. Please keep these facts in mind while reading the background information.
Nationally, there are 716,750 registered sex offenders in the United States (including protectorates) or, 232 sex offenders per 100,000 people.
I live in Florida, as do 54,166 registered sex offenders or 295 per 100,000 people – not the highest ratio in the country. That dubious honor goes to Delaware at 477/100,000 followed closely by Michigan at 460/100,000. Oregon is the third runner-up at 443/100,000.
Though whether this suggests more offenders, or more vigorous law-enforcement -- who can say?
Look at the map below for the entire picture.
Surprisingly, the two states most often in the news regarding atrocious sexual crimes, California and Florida, don’t rank in the top six:
- California is seventh in the nation with a ratio of 329/100,000.
- Florida is tenth (295.)
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children -- Map
Here is a link to the full sized version of this map.
- Florida Bigger Cities (over 6000 residents) - Real Estate, Housing, Schools, Residents, Crime, Pollu
Cities in Florida, interesting statistics, including estimated numbers of sexual offenders.
Here in Sarasota County
This article will deal with the situation in Florida, but not the entire state, only the county I live in, Sarasota county. Why? For some reason, maps for the entire state giving the same kind of breakdown as the one above but by county, apparently do not exist, nor even city by city, but only by neighborhood.
So, I spent several hours on the various county sites,
comparing 500 neighborhoods and compiling stats for each major city in my
county. I make no claim these statistics are accurate, as such an exercise
calls for some creative extrapolation.However, I compared my numbers with those of a website called 'City Data' (link to the side) and found my numbers differed with theirs by less than ten in any given city.
- North Port (vilified as a dangerous town after the rape/murder of Denise Amber Lee): population 50,523; number of sex offenders 78 or 1/648 people.
- Venice: population 20,770; number of sex offenders 37 or 1/561
- Bradenton: population 53,662; number of sex offenders 174 or 1/308 people
- Sarasota: population 52,942; number of sex offenders 284 or 1/186 people.
As much out of curiosity as research, I used the Florida Department of Correction's Sex Offender search site and did an inquiry into the five mile radius around my North Port home.
Here is the surprising, nay -- shocking result:
What is the difference between a predator and an offender?
Per Florida Statute 775.21, there are several criteria that must be met in order for an individual to be designated for registration as a sexual predator. These include:
1) A conviction for a qualifying and Capital, Life, or First degree felony sex offense committed on or after 10/1/1993; or
2) A conviction for any felony violation or attempt thereof for a qualifying offense committed after 10/1/1993 in addition to a prior conviction for any felony violation or attempt thereof for a qualifying offense.
3) A written court finding designating the individual a sexual predator.
Now, keep in mind I live on the southernmost tip of Sarasota County, so this radius encompasses a good chunk of Port Charlotte (population 51,345, number of sex offenders 100 or 1/513) in Charlotte county, but even so, it appears that at least 30 of North Port's 78 sex offenders, and 30 of Port Charlotte's 100, including 5 designated sexual predators (the red flags) live within five miles of my home.
And they seemed to be all clumped together -- are these 'bad' neighborhoods? I thought mine a very safe, quiet and peaceful place. What gives? Is this common to all cities?
I did the same exercise in various other cities using addresses selected at random from MapQuest, and these flags always pop up in in groups. No, it's not the 'birds of a feather' maxim, but something a little more insidious.
"Clustering" -- so many offenders, so few neighborhoods
Clustering – what is this?
Find a map of your city. Now, put a red X over every school, daycare center, playground, park, school bus stop, or ‘any place where children are commonly found’ such as libraries and churches. Take out a compass – you know that thing in your old geometry set – and draw a circle around each one of these facilities, equivalent in scale to 1,000 feet. What happens to your city map?
Each small circle represents only a small area, but what of the cumulative and aggregate effect? Chances are your circles overlap until whole neighborhoods are covered, leaving only small sections of the map not within a circle.
This is the challenge facing a registered sex offender who is looking for housing.
Many states have initiated residency restrictions. In Florida, the relevant legislation (F.S. 794.065) makes it unlawful for a person convicted on or after October 1, 2004, (the effective date of the law) of a specified sexual battery or lewd or lascivious offense against a victim under the age of 16 from living with a 1,000 foot perimeter of any of the above mentioned facilities.
In a city such as North Port, with huge tracts of undeveloped land (North Port is Florida’s third largest city in land mass, with a population of only 50,000 and many residential areas resemble campgrounds surrounded by forest – like mine: wonderful!) it is not so difficult to find an area which meets all of these restrictions. We see the ‘clustering’ effect, a concentration of sex offenders living in these acceptable neighborhoods.
What happens to these areas once a dense population of sex offenders moves in? People seeking a new home often check the offender registry and spurn those neighborhoods, particularly if they have children. The area becomes ‘red-lined;’ real estate values go down increasing the pressure on already challenged home owners. The result is an emerging race-to-the bottom pattern where communities attempt to prevent offenders from flocking to their exclusion-zone free neighborhoods.
In other cities, the circles may so overlap there is literally nowhere for offenders to reside within the confines of the law.
Unstable housing arrangements increase the problems of law-enforcement supervision of the offenders, and according to some authorities, the added stress may increase the rate of recidivism.
Other legislation is intended to create 'child safety zones', with supporters noting that "it’s equally if not more important to address where sex offenders go during the day than to limit where they sleep."
Restrictions for a person convicted of an offense listed in the sexual offender statute where the victim was under the age of 18 by making it a first degree misdemeanor to:
- Commit loitering or prowling within 300 feet of a place where children are congregating
- Knowingly approach, contact or communicate with a child under 18 years of age in any public park or playground with intent to engage in conduct of a sexual nature, or to make a communication of any type containing any content of a sexual nature.
- Knowingly be present in any child care facility or pre-K-12 school when the child care facility or school is in operation unless the offender has provided written notification of his or her intent to be present to the school board, superintendent, principal or child care facility owner:
The bill also prohibits offenders on supervision for sexual offenses from:
- Visiting schools, child care facilities, parks and playgrounds without prior approval of the offender’s supervising officer.
- Distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween, wearing a Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or clown costume, or entertaining at children’s parties without prior approval.
Difficulties living under the Sex Offenders’ Registry
Here are some questions I posted under various names -- and sorry about the deceit guys -- to an on-line support group of RSOs (registered sex offenders) and the responses received:
What jobs can a sex offender have?
"Nearly none. Even McDonald's does criminal back ground checks. Sex offenders can work in construction or other seasonal jobs that pay little to nothing. Most states and communities theirin, restrict sex offenders from having normal stable lives."
What jobs are available to registered sex offenders?
"There are no jobs for sex offenders. Start your own Business and you do not have to divulge your client list to any agency. Your clients have a reasonable right to privacy and corporate America would not want to have to disclose to the government their client information. The client’s right to privacy has already been fought right up to the supreme court of your state. The lobbyists are on your side on this one."
I’m a sex offender and how can I get a job?
"If you're a sex offender looking for a job, ask yourself what the charge was and what your skills are, then look for a job that fits your skills and that won't conflict with your crime. (i.e. child molesters can't work in a place that gets children.) And good luck …. Maybe pigs can fly."
I’ve been ordered to register -- I am 21 and I met a girl who said she was 19 (she turned out to be 15); how will this affect my life?
"Registering is the kiss of death. No one will hire RSO. Almost all employers now do back ground checks for the most minor jobs -- even temp agencies screen all their applicants. With instant access to RSO web pages, NO employer is going to take a chance on any RS0 -- not with their picture and home address plastered for all to see.
Now with the limits on where you live it’s even harder still.
The laws regarding level offenses in many states lump them all together so the streaker is the same as the kiddie rapist.
Dates of crimes have no meaning when you have 25 years minimum registration.
There is absolutely NO trust -- and society wonders why so many RSO go underground -- the system has made RSO’s targets, no matter what the actual crime. You can look forward to people splashing paint on your house; handing out flyers about you in your neighborhood; threatening you; beating you up; even killing you – all for the sake of a label. And if you’re like most of us, you’ve never hurt anyone; guilty of nothing worse than poor judgment.
Those that truly are dangerous are treated just the same as you, no worse, no better and in the eyes of the ignorant public you are exactly the same as some bastard who rapes a baby – so learn to live with it."
Of the sixty eight sex offenders within a 5 mile radius of my house -- what did they do?
Yes, I spent an entire afternoon checking out all those blue flags on the map of the area around my house -- and here's what I found:
- Four were convicted rape or aggravated sexual assault with an adult victim.
- Three were convicted with sexual battery on persons with a mental defect.
- Three were convicted with possession of child-porn.
- Two were convicted of sexual assault with kidnapping and false imprisonment.
- 90% of the offenders found in my area are convicted with crimes relating to minors:
- sexual crimes involving children 12 to 15 (23 convicted under this)
- sexual crimes involving children under 12 (6 fell in this category)
- sexual crimes involving children 16 and 17 if the offender is over four years older. (nine offenders charged with this.)
- sexual crimes involving children under 18 if the offender is in a custodial or familial position relative to the child. (8 local offenders here)
Then there were assorted circumstances: using threats or coercion, a weapon, injury likely or not likely, using the internet as a means to entice a minor, traveling to meet a minor and enticing a minor to a sexual performance.
Out of the 68 blue flags, 6 were women all charged with having sex with a minor 16 or 17 (while they were older by more than four years.) 12 were from out of state, and I did not go those state registries to get the details. Eight had three or more charges and were still on the street and not classified as predators.
Interestingly, the largest population demographic represented by this small sample of offenders is male, white and age 50 plus.
Overall, out of my 68 local offenders, most had been convicted of the following:
Section 800.04 -- Just about anything
What do a 19-year-old boy having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, a streaker, and a drunk, naked frat boy rolling around on the front lawn of his fraternity house shouting "Go Panthers" have in common?
According to Florida law, potentially they are all "sex offenders." Once arrested and found guilty, they are branded for life. But,if anybody under the age of 16 is a party or a witness, this is the section of Florida law under which they will be convicted, and then you are not just a sex offender but an offender against minors -- okay, that's pushing the limits, but the possibility is there.
Possibilities -- (not probabilities)
If you stop out in the open to take a pee, and the police can ascertain a minor saw you, if you have too much to drink and slap your daughter's friend on the butt, if you tell off color stories in front of a child, if you watch an R rated movie in a child's company, if you touch the breasts (however inadvertently, or so some claim) of a minor, or if you engage in a little 'loving' with your wife in the backyard or skinny-dip in your own pool and the neighbor's children see you, you could conceivably be charged under this section.
It is very broad in scope. Designed to be so, my DA friend tells me, to be used as a 'plea down' position. But yes, he says with a grin on his face, if fully applied half of society would be vulnerable.
Now, I'm not saying I've bought into the excuses and rationalizations I've heard from RSOs while doing research for this article, but it is clear the possibility exists some may have been branded unfairly.
But not all -- definitely not all. Probably not most, no not likely.
And certainly not those labeled sexual predators. Their stories chilled the blood.
- Link to Florida statutes -- feel free to look for yourself.
Link to statute 943.0435 -- the section that states who is to be compelled to register with the Sex Offenders Registry.
In regards to comments made by hubpages user FLRSOinfo (which we an assume stands for Florida Registered Sex Offenders information) suggesting this section above is 'absolutely ridiculous,' I have reviewed both my notes with info given to me by law enforcement and the local District Attorney's office, and am posting the relevant legislation here.
Requested legal opinion
To ensure I was not inadvertently providing misinformation, I held a telephone conversation with a lawyer working with the local District Attorney's office to ascertain:
1. Romeo and Juliet exemptions ('love affairs' of minors) The following exemptions apply:
- if the minor is over twelve but under sixteen and the partner is no more than 24 months older
- if the minor is sixteen or seventeen and the partner is no more than 48 months older
However, in the first case which would make the partner under 18 years of age, even if the minor was more than 24 months younger, the older partner would not be required to register as a sex offender, because in Florida registered offenders must be eighteen.
There are exceptions, where coercion, force or other mitigating factors, or the child was under twelve, where the offender may be tried as an adult, that registration will be required under the subsection (II) listed here -- once the offender is released from the sentence and becomes 18.
Back to the 'just about anything'
You will note, listed among those offenses requiring registration is the broad-strokes, all purpose 800.04 described above in 'less than serious language.'
(I thank my legal contact -- Gordie -- for clarifying this information for me, and on a Saturday, too. I wish to present no mis-information, and want my readers to know, all information given here is the result of research and conference with those professionals in the field.)
Next up in Part 2
We will meet with the Sarasota Sheriff's Office and a probation officer from the Florida Department of Corrections, to discuss:
- Is the sex offenders registry helping to keep children safe?
- Is the sex offenders registry unfair to offenders who have served their time, and who are unlikely to re-offend?
- Is the sex offenders registry helpful in supervising truly dangerous offenders?
- Has the registration of so many borderline crimes made the registry unworkable?
- What can we do to protect our children?
Then we will go out and interview four (changed to two) of Sarasota's more dangerous sexual offenders, those classified as predators, and hear their stories.
Thank you for joining me in this background research. I hope you, like I have, learned a lot about this ever growing problem -- both the true scope of sexual offenses, societies efforts at control and containment, punishments deserved as well as undeserved and the plight of those living with the stigma. This is one of our most difficult, complex and emotionally charged issues.
Allow me to repeat, I believe most strongly in the necessity of control of those dangerous predatory offenders. However, I'm not sure that application of a 'wide net' approach works to anyone's advantage.
Sincerely, Lynda Martin
One last piece of background information
I wouldn’t feel I’d done my job if I didn’t share with you
the knowledge I’ve gained over the years about the actual source of child sex
abuse, and my growing unease with the Sex Offenders’ Registry , along with the
stigma, shame and ostracism surrounding its use, the possibilities of abuse and the political
motivations that keep it not only alive, but growing. This counter-acts its original intent, to control dangerous predators and keep the public informed. This is a laudable intent; actual implementation has had its problems, its successes and its tragedies.
The old adage of “don’t talk to strangers” as a method of keeping your children safe is perhaps one of the biggest urban myths of our society.
Here is the bitter truth:
90% (at least) of sexual abuse of our children is perpetrated by relatives – family members, extended family members and to a lesser degree, close family friends.
Strangers are responsible for 10% at most.
According to many studies, 2% of child molesters molest children they don’t know. 68% abuse children in the own immediate families, and 30% abuse children in their extended family or social circle.
We are the
victims of sensationalized press coverage of those terrible instances of ‘grab,
rape and kill’ crimes, which would have us believe this is a wide spread and
fearful phenomenon. Also, television dramas – in particular Law and Order,
Special Victims -- give us a highly distorted view of sex crimes, their
prevalence and those involved. There are times when watching that show I want
to scream, “Oh come on. How about a little reality.” I finally stopped watching.
would have you believe there is a monster lurking on every street corner – the child
molester waiting to pounce on any available child the minute you take your eyes off him. Such crimes, terrible tragedies, are but a tiny sliver of society's sex crimes, but are rendered highly visible -- part of our "instant information" age. Truthfully, it is not the stranger we need to be so worried about.
The monsters do exist, but most of them can be found in our homes – sad but true, very true.
I see the registry, which was designed to track truly dangerous predatory violent
sex offenders, now swollen with the ranks of so many as a useless tool to
protect our children. Instead it has been used to make political hay and leaves
us with a misplaced belief ‘something is being done.” Something does need to be done, but I'm not sure indiscriminate application of the term sex offenders on such a wide population is the answer. We need to rethink our approach.
Doctor Phil lately said:
"Teaching your children to fear strangers is the wrong thing to do. It doesn't make your child safer, deprives them of many good learning experiences, hinders their social development, and hampers their ability to deal with real-life situations. Your children need to develop the skill to judge other people. If they don't, they will not be successful as adults. Far better to teach your children the real-life skill of being able to assess the people around them."
- There are two side to every question
Have we forgotten this time-worn phrase? It seems more and more of us have lost the ability to see both sides of an issue. We have fallen victim to the vice of blinkered vision. Inspired by the reaction to this article...
A link to the second part of this article
- Interviews with four convicted sexual predators --Part II
Part 2 of the interview with sexual predators article continues, with one or two unexpected detours.