Patty Wetterling Questions Residency Limits on Sex Offenders

Peg Langhammer, left, executive director of Day One, Patty Wetterling, keynote speaker, and A.T. Wall, director of the Department of Corrections, at the conference.

PROVIDENCE — Patty Wetterling has spent 19 years trying to find out what happened to her son, Jacob, abducted at age 11 while riding his bike near the family’s Minnesota home.

But although she is well aware that statistics show sexual assault is the prime motivation in child kidnappings, Wetterling doesn’t back tough residency restrictions for convicted sex offenders.

“It’s such a complicated issue,” she said yesterday, after her keynote address to a statewide conference on managing convicted sex offenders left her listeners in tears. “People want simple answers, and there aren’t any.”

Instead, Wetterling said, people have to be willing to realize that the ways to make sure convicted sex offenders who are released from prison will not repeat their crimes have to be as varied as the offenders and their methodology. And, she said, communities will have to deal with the ugly truth that most child molesters know their victims very well.

“Everybody wanted to help us find Jacob,” Wetterling said in addressing more than 225 law enforcement officials, victims’ advocates, counselors and probation officers gathered at the Marriott for the day-long conference. “But nobody really wants to have to look too closely at people in their church community or members of their family.”

Yesterday’s conference was organized by the Rhode Island Sex Offender Management Task Force and financed by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, with much of the planning done by Day One, a statewide support and advocacy agency for victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes.

The conference, and Wetterling’s visit, come just a few months after Rhode Island passed its first residency restriction for sex offenders, making it a felony for them to live within 300 feet of a school. The law has drawn sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, and some Rhode Island police chiefs have also raised questions about it.

Peg Langhammer, Day One’s executive director, said yesterday that she does not support such laws, because not only do they fail to address the complexity of dealing with sex offenders, they could also have unintended effects, such as causing some to try to dodge the registration process and hide from authorities.

Langhammer said that it’s difficult to find a balance between making the public feel safe and helping convicted sex offenders get their lives back on track. She said it’s particularly complicated since the phrase “sex offender” covers criminals from rapists to child molesters.

One thing that is clear, A.T. Wall, director of the state Department of Corrections, said yesterday, is that with a state as small as Rhode Island, there is “no such thing as not in my backyard” when it comes with having to deal with sex offenders. Noting that a registered sex offender lives nine houses from his Providence home, he said there are about 400 sex offenders in prison in Rhode Island and more than 1,500 who are free on probation or parole.

For Wetterling, her husband and their three other children, life changed irrevocably on Oct. 22, 1989. Jacob was riding his bike home from a nearby convenience store in St. Joseph, Minn., when he and his friends were accosted by a masked man with a gun. The others were let go, but the man took Jacob, a kind-hearted youngster who his mother says loved peanut butter, playing sports with his brother and fishing with his dad.

As one of the conference’s keynote speakers, Wetterling, a former math teacher who now serves as director of sexual violence prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, said she came to Rhode Island to “talk about hope.”

“The topic of sex offenders is one that promotes fear, and I know that fear because I lived it,” she said. “I lived it and I didn’t like it so I have moved [toward] hope. I have hope that I will find out what happened to my son.

“And we must have hope that sex offenders will succeed in their rehabilitation, because that is the ultimate safety for our children.”


Letsgetreal said...

A Very excellent read. Another new article that I came across is:

"Sex Offender Expert Offers Coping Advice"

Letsgetreal said...

another educational tool

Incest - A Family Tragedy"

Understand that the very taboo nature of this crime helps the offense because when we do not openly discuss it, do not propose any educational models to better inform ourselves and keep ourselves afflicted with guilt and shame which washes over all concerned, perpetrators, victims, and other family members alike, we all help shield and perpetuate the crime.