The Ordinance that bans level 2 and 3 sex offenders from certain public places is passed City Council last night by a vote of 11 to 0.
The City proposed and passed what are called "child safety zones" which, in my opinion, is more of a slogan or a feel good measure than an evidence-based approach to deal with the issue of sex abuse in children. Despite their truly good intentions, the City Council did not consult sex offender prevention experts, the Massachusetts Sex Offender Reigstry Board, the state prison the Massachusetts Treatment Center [for Sex Offenders] or research this matter; they relied on intuition and anecdote.
The City Council is right in recognizing that sex offenses on children are a very serious concern, but it is a concern that deserves equally serious and professional consultation.
At a , and in an opinion column on September 19, I explained some of the many reasons of why this ordinance won’t be as effective as hoped, so I need not reiterate that here.
City Council and proponents of the Ordinance rightly recognize that this Ordinance is only one small factor to provide safety, so what else should we do?
Parents can do more to protect their children from sex offenders than can any city ordinance. Effective strategies are not based on anecdote, emotion, or case examples of just one, they are based on facts and what we know about the issue.
- Since experts estimate that only 1 in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported, the implication is that there are a sizable amount of sex offenses and therefore sex offenders out there who are going unpunished. With this in mind it is very important:that a child knows what constitutes inappropriate contact (something called “good touch, bad touch” training); to say no when boundaries are crossed; and to report inappropriate contact to a parent and other trusted persons. Also, sex offenders try to find children in the Internet; kids need to be made aware of risks and parents need to monitor activity.
- Most sex offenders target teens, not children. With this in mind, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has several resources to reduce this risk, as does the Crimes Against Children Research Center. But most is not all so we cannot stop there.
- A total of 60 to 70 percent of sex offenses on children are done by acquaintances of the child. With this in mind, an effective strategy would begin by addressing this huge proportion of victims. It should also be made clear to the child that inappropriate contact can come from strangers and someone known and trusted by the child. It is extremely important to let the child know that anything that happens to them is not their fault; that they have done nothing wrong; and they are not going to get in trouble for reporting any and all inappropriate contact.
- Since 30 to 40 percent of victims are not an acquaintance of the offender, another extremely important thing that can be done is for parents to educate their children about the risks associated with strangers and how to be smart while alone. But more importantly, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploietd Chlidren, there are several things that parents can and should do to keep their children safe.
- Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. Parents and caregivers need to be taught what symptoms to look for that indicate abuse. Education on points parents need to address with their children about sex offending is something that some third party (or the City) should offer. I am sure we can find qualified professionals who can offer workshops or draft brochures pro bono.
By educating parents and children about this issue, we will stand to ferret out some of the unknown sex offenders and bring them to justice. And finally, using evidence-based crime prevention strategies, we are likely offer the highest level of safety to our City’s citizens both big and small.
This is not a comprehensive list of what to do. My point here is to raise awareness of other more effective options we should use to increase public safety.