Sex Offender -Had Sex With 15 Y.O. When 17-Forced to Move

HARLEM, Ga.---A Harlem sex offender has to move after a daycare moves too close to her home. Wendy Whitaker took her case -- to fight the state residency restrictions on sex offenders -- all the way to the U.S. federal court. On Thursday, she lost, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Support is mixed for registered sex offender Wendy Whitaker. Some disagree with the decision and some are happy she must go. Wendy was caught having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old classmate when she was 17. Twelve years later, she's still paying for the crime.

A.L. Wells lives next to registered sex offender, Wendy Whitaker. He agrees with the federal court decision that she must move from her Harlem home. "Whether it happened six months ago, or six years ago or sixty years ago, it's immaterial. It is not something that should have ever happened to start with," says neighbor A.L. Wells.

"People don't understand, you know. They say, well you're a sex offender, you need to be kept track of. You know, look at what I did as compared to what I'm having to go through," Wendy told News 12 in an August interview.

Wendy pleaded guilty to sodomy in 1997 and served five years probation after having consensual oral sex with a classmate. The problem, Wendy was 17 -- the boy only 15.

It's a crime she's still forced to pay for, as a federal court recently upheld a decision to make her move. The AJC reporting that decision came because the judge says there are plenty of legal places Wendy can live. "It's embarrassing. I mean, I know what I did was wrong, I made a mistake but I was seventeen," says Wendy.

Georgia law restricts registered sex offenders from living, working, or loitering within 1,000 feet of where children gather -- like the day care center a few blocks from Wendy's home.

"You almost can't find anywhere to live, here in Georgia. The only reason I'm in Georgia is because I have this house that I own," says Wendy.

Wendy does have plenty of local support. Several of you have posted here on our website. Here's one of them:

"There needs to be a distinction between those who committed sexual assaults that were consensual and the violent non-consensual acts. This women and the boy were both teenagers. The laws should be designed to prosecute predators and pedophiles and not consenting adolescences." - Anonymous.

But Wendy's neighbor disagrees. "You can not condone it because if you do, it send the wrong message, it's okay. It's not okay," says Wells.

News 12 did try to speak with Wendy Whitaker to get her reaction to the recent decision. But she declined. On Monday, November 17th, the countdown to moving day begins. She'll have just 72 hours until she must be out.

Court upholds law barring single parents living with sex offenders

The Iowa Supreme Court has upheld a law that bars single parents from living with sex offenders.

The case involves a Coralville woman who was found guilty of child
endangerment and sentenced to one year probation. The woman, Holly
Mitchell, lived with a convicted sex offender and let her children stay with the
man while she was at work.

Mitchell appealed her conviction, claiming the state's law is
unconstitutional because it treats people who are not married and living
with a sex offender differently than people who are married and living
with a sex offender.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected that argument, saying it's
reasonable to believe that an unmarried parent living with a sex offender poses a
greater risk to a child than a parent who is married to a sex offender. [Ed: Huh?]

Sex offenders sue for right to volunteer at churches

ATLANTA — Georgia’s registered sex offenders should not be prevented from volunteering in church, a legal advocacy group argued in federal court Thursday, saying a state law that went into effect in July is overbroad and violates their rights of freedom of association.

Lawyers for the Georgia Attorney General’s office, meanwhile, countered that the law preventing registered sex offenders from volunteering in church did not keep them from attending services or practicing their religion of choice.

And an attorney for the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association said the state’s 159 sheriffs just want some direction.

U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Cooper heard arguments in a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which represents several plaintiffs who say their lives are suffering "irreparable harm" from Georgia’s sex offender restrictions, considered the toughest in the nation. 

Among the plaintiffs in the class action suit filed against Gov. Sonny Perdue is Janet Jenkins Allison, a former Huddle House manager from Dahlonega who was convicted of statutory rape when her 15-year-old daughter became pregnant. Allison was accused of not doing enough to stop her daughter from becoming sexually active and is now one of more than 16,000 people on Georgia’s sex offender registry, including 224 in Hall County.

Thursday’s court hearing was the first in more than a year for federal litigation that was first filed in 2006, when the Southern Center challenged a residency provision that prevented sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop.

The bus stop provision is on hold under a consent order reached by the parties until a final determination can be made by the court.

This year the state legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which, among its provisions, prevents sex offenders from volunteering in church. 

Registered sex offenders already were prevented from working in churches because they are places where children congregate.

Joe Drolet, an assistant attorney general representing the state, told Cooper in Thursday’s hearing that sex offenders who have the appearance of working for a church, even if only volunteering, could use that perception of authority to take advantage of children.
Churches, Drolet said, "are places where that advantage for a sex offender is extremely great."

Lawyers for the Southern Center called several sex offenders to testify that they had been prevented from participating in church activities for fear of facing a prison sentence of 10 to 30 years.

"I have had to turn down requests to speak to church audiences," said Lori Sue Collins, a Henry County woman who was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old when she was 39. Collins said she was involved in prison ministries and felt "compelled" to tell her story of redemption to church groups, but now was prevented from doing so under the new law.

"It’s very depressing," Collins said through tears.

Omar Howard, a College Park sex offender who served 14 years in prison for false imprisonment and manslaughter, testified that he, too, was no longer able to tell church gatherings about being saved.

Howard acknowledged under cross-examination that the new law did not prevent him from worshipping in church.

Southern Center legal counsel Gerry Weber claimed that probation officers, sheriffs deputies and other authorities have been confused by what the new law means because the law provides no definition of "volunteer."

"Law enforcement is making up the rules as it goes," Weber said.

David Hudson, an attorney representing the Georgia Sheriffs Association, was present for Thursday’s arguments as an observer.

"The position of the sheriffs is this: They want to know what the law is, what they can enforce and what they cannot enforce," Hudson told the judge.

Among the arguments presented by the Southern Center in the past is that by having so many restrictions on sex offenders on where they can live, offenders may fail to register altogether and "go underground," or abscond, preventing sheriffs from knowing their whereabouts.

But Assistant Attorney General Devon Orland told the court that the rate of sex offenders who have absconded in Georgia has remained steady over the last few years, "which certainly seems to indicate that it’s not that difficult for these people to find a place to live."

Cooper took the matter of church volunteering under advisement and will rule at a later date. The judge also must decide whether the litigation can go forward as a class-action suit or whether the complaints from the plaintiffs are too varied and individualized to be brought as a group.

A Child's Word

Sex offender statute becomes tormentor

Family’s ordeal shows how Ga. law goes way too far

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, October 31, 2008

Andrew Norton grew up in a brutish household. His stepfather beat him and his brothers and made them watch pornography with him. Norton was forced to sleep at the foot of the bed while his mother and stepfather had sexual relations. After the state eventually intervened and terminated parental rights, Norton was placed in a foster family when he was 13.

Norton, now a married man with two children of his own, has since found solace in his family and his church, where he has been an active volunteer. But the state of Georgia that was once his protector has become his persecutor. After driving him out of four homes in the past four years, state officials now want to drive him out of his church as well.

Back when he was 12 or 13, police allege, Norton committed a sex offense against his half brother (the case is still in dispute in court, roughly a dozen years later). Unless that case is resolved in his favor, Norton will be on the state’s sex offender registry for life. And that means that Norton has no life.

The General Assembly has decreed that anyone who commits a sex offense —- even a minor one —- can’t live near schools, churches, swimming pools, school bus stops, day-care centers, parks, rec centers or skating rinks, or work around schools, churches or day-care centers.

In 2005, Norton and his family were ordered to leave his in-laws’ house because a school was nearby. They moved to a trailer park where they spent $1,500 to render the mobile home safe for their young children, only to be required to move again because there was a swing set within 1,000 feet.

The Nortons then found a home in Austell, where they lived for 10 months before being told to leave because it was too close to a school bus stop. When they couldn’t find another home, the family was forced to split. Norton went to a motel, while his wife and children returned to her parents’ house. Then Norton had to uproot himself again when a church was built near the motel. The reunited family has since found a rental home that complies with all the prohibitions. But officials now want to boot Norton from his church, citing a ban in state law on sex offenders serving as church volunteers.

“During these difficult times, my church community created one of the few steady environments in my life,” Norton stated in his court declaration. “Does it mean that I cannot volunteer to participate in Bible study? Does it mean that I cannot read scripture aloud at church services?”

Norton shared his saga to bolster a legal challenge to the state’s sex-offender law filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights, which contends the law criminalizes religious practice. The case will be heard Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court. The state has already lost several other legal challenges to the overarching law. Just this week, the state Supreme Court threw out a provision of the law that made it a felony for a sex offender to be homeless. Under the law, if a sex offender could not list a specific home address at a local sheriff’s office, he or she could be imprisoned for life.

Under that same law, homeowners on the sex offender list could be forced to sell their homes and move if a day-care center or church moved in near them. The state Supreme Court struck down that provision last year as a violation of property rights protected by the Fifth Amendment. In its legal challenge of the law, the Southern Center intends to argue that renters deserve the same protection.

In another inequity, the law makes no distinction between serious sexual predators and far less egregious sex-related crimes. For example, a 17-year-old who engages in consensual sex with a 15-year-old is subjected to the same severe and lifelong restrictions as a repeat child molester.

The most notable victim of that inequity was Douglas County teen Genarlow Wilson, who was sentenced to 10 years for having oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17.

A year ago this week, the state Supreme Court overturned Wilson’s conviction, freeing him after three years in jail. Today, he attends Morehouse College, where he hopes to play football next year. In its zeal to appear punitive, the Legislature has continued to enact hollow laws that do nothing to protect children from sex offenders. In 90 percent of such cases, the perpetrator is not a stranger who lives nearby, but a family member or family friend of the victim.

Federal law does require states to maintain registries of offenders convicted of sex crimes or offenses against children. That law also requires notification of schools, day-care centers and parents when sex offenders move into a community. However, Georgia lawmakers have carried their crusade far beyond what federal law and common sense dictate, passing the most drastic limits in the country on where offenders can live or work.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in Georgia’s approach is its stubborn refusal to acknowledge gradations in the dangers posed by sex offenders. State lawmakers did establish a board of experts to evaluate sex offenders and rank them on the risks they pose to others, but in practice the state ignores those rankings altogether.

Of offenders evaluated thus far by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board, 65 percent qualify as Level One, which means they pose little threat, says therapist Susan Strickland, who chairs the board. The board opposes any residency or work restrictions for Level One offenders.

The board has categorized 30 percent of the offenders as Level Two, a category in which residency and work requirements are justified, according to Strickland. The remaining 5 percent of offenders are truly dangerous and should be subject to all restrictions as well as lifetime monitoring, she says.

A change in the law would allow police officers to concentrate their time and resources on tracking truly dangerous predators, some of whom have gone underground rather than comply with onerous registration rules. Instead, police find themselves hounding people such as Andrew Norton, who is trying to overcome his own heinous childhood and provide his children a better one.

Sex offender calls her match with teen boy 'perfect'

Indianola Record-Herald

Indianola, Ia. - Shannon Michelle Rew faces up to 10 years behind bars and a lifetime as a registered sex offender, but the 37-year-old Indianola mother of three is unapologetic about her sexual relationship with a teenage boy.

"We both cared about each other. That's what the basis of our relationship was," she said. "Our sense of humor and our personalities were a perfect match."

Rew, who pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of third-degree sex abuse, said she and the boy "cared a lot about each other" and "kind of let emotions just take over," which prosecutors say led to an ongoing relationship that included pornography, explicit text messages and a sexual encounter in her van while she was free on bond.

"The fact that you went ahead and committed a subsequent offense of the same nature does not give the court a lot of confidence that you've learned anything in this matter," said Warren County District Judge Darrell Goodhue, who recommended that Rew be put on probation for life as part of her sentence.

Her name will be added to the Iowa Sex Offender Registry, and she will have to pay an as-yet-undetermined amount of money to the boy and his family.

"Everyone's making it out to be some big sexual relationship that we had," the self-described "soccer mom" said. "And that's not how it was at all."

Rew's story is similar to a number of high-profile U.S. criminal cases in recent years that have involved adult women and young boys. The most sensational centered on teachers and their male students, but a majority dealt with women who abused the children of friends or acquaintances. Last month, a 26-year-old New Oxford, Pa., woman who had sex with a 15-year-old boy she met at a fair was sentenced to six months of house arrest and four years of probation.

Experts say prosecutions of women in sex abuse cases have risen slightly in the past decade. Many believe sex scandals that involved Catholic priests put more focus on authority figures. Others say the trend reflects the erosion of a double standard applied to men and women, brought on by the growth of female prosecutors and police officers.

Rew said she and the boy met after her 16-year-old daughter dated him for about six months.

"He was a really nice kid, a really nice person," Rew said. "He would do anything for you. He was having a lot of personal problems and family problems to where he came to me a lot, you know?"

Warren County Attorney Bryan Tingle said Rew's alleged concern for the boy's welfare was questionable.

People who are charged with crimes try "to make excuses to justify their crimes and take the focus away from what they did wrong under our laws by focusing attention on the victims," he said. "She took advantage of an emotionally unstable individual. That's what a criminal does. He or she takes advantage of someone who is vulnerable or in a fragile state."

Rew was arrested Sept. 17 after her mother found explicit photographs of her daughter and the boy, court documents show.

The boy, who told police that he and Rew had sex "at least a dozen times," said Rew gave him a cell phone so the two could communicate. Rew said she gave him the phone after he threatened suicide.

"He was mostly upset about what happened with me. He didn't want me to think he was the one who turned me in ... so I told him that if he promised not to harm himself, I would find a way for us to talk," she said.

Rew was arrested again Oct. 16, after the boy's mother found explicit text messages that detailed sex the two had while she was free on bond.

Rew, a Des Moines native, graduated from Hoover High School in 1989. She spent nearly two years in business school and moved to Indianola in 2000 with her three children, ages 19, 16 and 9, after a divorce. Rew worked for seven years at a child care center, where co-workers described her as an upstanding employee.

"I was what you'd call a soccer mom," she said. "I pretty much worked full time and drove my kids everywhere."

Rew said she pleaded guilty to avoid a "touchy" trial and because she would rather start her prison term immediately and get back to her children as soon as possible.

"I've messed up my whole life, and I've messed up my kids' lives," Rew said. "I'm sorry for it. I just love them so much. I thought it was the best idea to go ahead and take the plea."

Tingle said that "anytime both sides can come to a resolution that seems fair, a resolution that is acceptable to the victims ... it is best in the case of a sexual assault or sexual abuse to avoid going to trial, because of the nature of allegations and the nature of testimony that would come out.

"I do know this plea agreement was all right with the mother and son," he said.

It is The Des Moines Register's policy not to identify victims of sex abuse.

Rew said she disagreed with the media's portrayal of her as a pedophile. She said she had never had a general attraction to young boys or sought out young boys for sex.

Rew said she never meant to hurt the boy or his family.

She said that if she had caused them pain, she regretted doing so, but that she wasn't sorry about the relationship.

"We had a really good time together, and I don't regret that. I just regret that because of what happened, everything that came out of it - I would never have done it if I knew that would be the case," she said.

"It's crazy. They can be 16, and you don't get charged with anything. They can be 15, and you get charged with life parole. Who's to say this 15-year-old isn't as mature as an 18-year-old?

"I don't think, when you care about somebody, that age really matters."

[Ed: It is true that women defendants in these cases receive vastly greater sympathy (see reader comments following the article) and usually far less severe sentences than when men are involved (especially when the minor is a boy). Rather than join the growing chorus of those who believe that this means that women need to be punished just as severely as men, however, I would propose that any punishment be commensurate to the degree of force or coercion employed in the offense.

Police check nude images on Tunkhannock students' phones

TUNKHANNOCK, Pa. (AP) _ Prosecutors say state police are investigating nude and seminude pictures on five cell phones seized from students in a northeastern Pennsylvania school district.

Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. says one of the phones confiscated from students in the Tunkhannock Area School District contained about 100 pictures.

Skumanick says male students were allegedly trading pictures of female classmates. He says the students with the cell phones ranged in age from 11 to 17.

Skumanick says state police are analyzing the phones to determine whether the pictures are of minors. If they are, he says the youths could face criminal charges including possession of child pornography.

A. Children and adolescents are sexual. Get over it!
B. Children and adolescents, being sexual, gravitate to sexually stimulating images for gratification just as adults do. And what do they find stimulating? In many cases, other children and adolescents!

So does it follow then that we reach the simultaneously absurd and logical conclusion that they should be prosecuted as "child pornographers"? If your own impulse is to charge children and adolescents as "child pornographers" then I would argue that it is YOU who are seriously deranged and possibly in need of institutionization.]