By KSPR News
Story Updated: Feb 26, 2008
We have an update to one of our past Daily Download topics. Earlier this month we told you how St. Louis suburb Florissant banned convicted sex offenders from parks and recreation centers. Florissant isn't the only area with this ban now.
The St. Charles County council approved a similar ban Monday night. The new measure bans convicted child sex offender from entering the county's parks. Violators could face a fine of $1,000, one year in jail, or both.
St. Charles County will make exceptions for sex offenders who received advance permission from the county parks director to attend special events.
Registered sex offenders will receive notices of the new ban by mail.
You can read more about Florissant's ban by clicking on the link under "Related Content." There you can also find a link to the Talk Backs we received from the related Daily Download topic.
By KSPR News
By Wendy McElroy
On Nov. 28, 2002, 2-year-old Abigail Rae died by drowning in a village pond in England. Her death is currently stirring debate because the ongoing inquest revealed an explosive fact. A man passing by was afraid to guide the lost child to safety because he feared being labeled "a pervert."
In the article "Day of the dad: paedophilia hysteria leaves men afraid to help," The Telegraph raises a question that applies equally to North America. Have high profile cases of pedophilia created such public hysteria that the average decent human being, especially a man, is now reluctant to approach a child in need?
Consider what happened to Abby. The toddler wandered from her nursery school, Ready Teddy Go, through a door left open. A bricklayer named Clive Peachey drove past her in his truck. At the inquest, he stated, "I kept thinking I should go back. The reason I didn't was because I thought people might think I was trying to abduct her."
Instead, he assured himself that the parents must be "driving around" and would find her.
A few minutes thereafter, Abby fatally fell into an algae-covered pond. Meanwhile, the nursery staff searched. When the mother noticed the staff near her home, she was told they were looking for a "lost dog" but the truth soon emerged. The frantic mother's search ended when she leaped into the pond to fish out what she thought was Abby's shoe.
She stated, "As I grabbed for the shoe, I missed and was shocked to touch what felt like a leg. I pulled the leg upwards." The dead child emerged.
Abby's case may be extreme but it hinges on a question that commonly confronts everyone who interacts with other people's children. Is it possible to touch a child in a non-abusive manner without risking terrible repercussions?
Before moving to this question, however, it is necessary to consider a related issue that arises in almost every discussions of Abby. Is Clive Peachey legally or morally responsible for her death?
For several reasons, I argue that he is not. First and foremost, the responsibility lies with the nursery staff who became her guardians. Abby was in no immediate danger when Peachey saw her and he contacted the police upon later hearing a 'missing child' report.
Arguably, if he had phoned the police immediately, Abby would have been dead long before they arrived. Moreover, by coming forth, Peachey has accepted the damage to his life that comes with the public disgrace of saying "I drove past her."
Important information in judging Peachey is missing. For example, if Peachey has a family, he may have been reluctant to place his reputation or livelihood at risk. He may have balanced possible harm to his own children against helping a stranger's child.
Peachey's fears have precedence on this side of the Atlantic.
Last summer, an Illinois man lost an appeal on his conviction as a sex offender for grabbing the arm of a 14-year-old girl. She had stepped directly in front of his car, causing him to swerve in order to avoid hitting her.
The 28-year-old Fitzroy Barnaby jumped out his car, grabbed her arm and lectured her on how not to get killed. Nothing more occurred. Nevertheless, that one action made him guilty of "the unlawful restraint of a minor," which is a sexual offense in Illinois. Both the jury and judge believed him. Nevertheless, Barnaby went through years of legal proceedings that ended with his name on a sex offender registry, where his photograph and address are publicly available. He must report to authorities. His employment options are severely limited; he cannot live near schools or parks.
Arguably, the law would have punished Barnaby less had he hit the girl or not cared enough to lecture her. Perhaps that's the equation that ran through Peachey's mind.
Again, Barnaby is an extreme case. But ordinary people make decisions on how to interact with children based on such high profile stories.
The effect on average people in non-extreme situations can be partially gauged through a study conducted by Dr. Heather Piper at Manchester Metropolitan University: "The Problematics of 'Touching' Between Children and Professionals." Piper examined six case-study schools through interviews with teachers, parents and children regarding the propriety of touch.
Commentator Josie Appleton reviewed the study, "Reported cases include the teacher who avoided putting a plaster [bandaid] on a child's scraped leg; nursery staff calling a child's mother every time he needed to go to the toilet; a male gym teacher leaving a girl injured in the hall while he waited for a female colleague."
One school reportedly kept an account of every 'touching incident.' They stated, "We write down a short account and date it and put which staff were present and at what time, we then explain it to the parent and ask them to read and sign it."
Appleton observed that this is more in keeping with "police logs than teaching children."
The last words encapsulate the problem.
Touching a child, even to render medical assistance, has become a potential police matter.
Child abuse must be addressed but it is worse than folly to punish those who help children. Our society is creating Clive Peachey -- decent men who will walk away from a child in need.
Abby Rae died not only from drowning but also from bad politics.
DOVER, DELAWARE — A 22-year-old Huntington's disease victim who was denied a bed in a state health care facility because he was a registered sex offender choked to death Monday at a Dover mental health clinic.
Family members said they were told that Joseph Heverin, 22, whose muscle control had deteriorated to the point where he often fell and had to be put in a wheelchair, choked to death on a sandwich at Dover Behavioral Health Systems.
"He was dead when he got to the hospital," said Heverin's brother, Paul Vrem.
Vrem said he learned of his brother's death after driving to Dover Behavioral to pick him up for a dental appointment.
"They told me that he had choked on a grilled cheese sandwich and that they were administering CPR," Vrem said.
DBHS chief operating officer William Weaver and other clinic officials did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.
Colin Faulkner, director of public safety for Kent County, said paramedics were dispatched to Dover Behavioral Health shortly before 12:30 p.m. in response to a report of a person choking.
"It would appear that he went into cardiac arrest, full arrest, as the result of an unresolved choking incident," Faulkner said.
Jay Lynch, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Social Services, confirmed Heverin's death.
Heverin's mother, Dianne Vrem, said Dover Behavioral officials kept family members in a waiting room until Heverin had been taken away by ambulance, and that Kent General officials also refused her request to be with her son.
"I just wanted to hold him and let him know that his mom was there," she said.
A spokeswoman for Kent General did not immediately return a telephone message Monday afternoon.
Last week, Heverin was the subject of an Associated Press article describing the bureaucratic limbo in which his criminal past and his disease — an incurable, degenerative neurological disorder that also killed his father and other family members — had left him.
Officials at Dover Behavioral, a short-stay psychiatric facility where Heverin had been admitted last summer for treatment of depression, had sought and received court permission to discharge him, arguing that he is not mentally ill. He remained at the facility as his guardianship case worked its way through the court system.
Even though a court declared Heverin "a disabled person" who was "unable to act in his own best interest," health and social service officials refused to place him in state-run long-term care facility. They argued that he was neither developmentally disabled nor mentally ill.
The primary reason for their opposition, however, was that Heverin was a registered sex offender. He had twice been convicted of unlawful sexual contact, incidents that his supporters believe stemmed from the effects of Huntington's disease, a hereditary disorder that has been linked with inappropriate sexual behavior.
Dover Behavioral officials said they had tried repeatedly for more than a year to find placement options for Heverin, but no facility was willing to take him.
Kristopher Starr, an attorney appointed as a fact-finder in Heverin's guardianship case, submitted a report earlier this month excoriating state officials for refusing to place Heverin in a skilled nursing facility, at least not until he is "bedridden."
"They finally got what they wanted; they won't have to deal with the problem anymore," Paul Vrem said Monday.
Sarah Tofte is a U.S. researcher for Human Rights Watch
State lawmakers will need to decide whether to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act on sex offenders or lose federal money for law enforcement. The choice for states is to dramatically increase their registration and community-notification requirements for convicted sex offenders by 2009 or lose significant federal law enforcement grant money.
It doesn't seem like a difficult choice. Who wouldn't want to support laws targeting convicted sex offenders and be paid for it? Yet legislatures from Arizona to Illinois to Rhode Island are leaning against implementing the law. Because once you get past the painful emotions and look hard at the problem of child sexual abuse, it turns out that sex-offender registration and community-notification laws might not actually prevent sexual violence.
Sex-offender laws are based on two popular myths about child abuse: that children have most to fear from strangers, and that sex offenders will repeat their crimes. In fact, more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows. And authoritative studies show that three out of four sex offenders do not re-offend within 15 years of release from prison. In fact, 87 percent of sex crimes are committed by people with no previous sex-offense convictions.
The Adam Walsh Act doesn't tackle the real dangers to children, and contains disturbing provisions. It requires states to register and identify online children 14 and older who commit sex offenses. Many states treat juvenile sex offenders differently from adults, exempting them from community notification. They understand that young sex offenders respond well to treatment and have an excellent chance of rehabilitation - and that crimes they committed as children should not haunt the rest of their lives. Thus the Illinois legislature, knowing it was acting in conflict with the Adam Walsh Act, recently overrode the governor's veto of a law exempting child offenders from online registration.
In the past, federal law required only that states register sexually violent offenders for 15 years. The new act requires states to register virtually anyone convicted of a sex offense. This would force some states to significantly expand their registries. While it may seem a good idea to place all convicted sex offenders on a registry, law enforcement officials and child-safety advocates say that expanding the registry to include all offenders reduces its usefulness in helping law enforcement to identify and monitor individuals considered a real risk to the community.
The Adam Walsh Act also extends from 15 years to 25 years or life the time someone is on a registry and subject to community notification, without the possibility of petitioning to be removed. If Congress had consulted experts on sexual violence, it would have found that the longer a convicted sex offender lives offense-free in the community, the less likely he is to re-offend, which is why experts often advocate giving convicted sex offenders an opportunity to be released from registry requirements upon a showing of rehabilitation.
Implementing the changes required by the act will cost states a lot of money. At a legislative hearing in Arizona, witnesses testified that the state would lose between $700,000 and $800,000 in federal law enforcement grants if it didn't comply with the law - but that it would cost millions of dollars to expand the state's sex-offender laws to comply with the Adam Walsh Act.
Unnecessarily expansive community-notification laws may drive more offenders underground, away from supportive services like treatment, and away from the supervision and monitoring of law enforcement. Harsh enduring consequences also provide little incentive for former offenders to live without re-offending: as one registrant told Human Rights Watch, "No one believes I can change, so why even try?"
Sarah Tofte is a U.S. researcher for Human Rights Watch and the author of "No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the U.S." E-mail her through HRW at email@example.com.