By Mackenzie Clark
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice house in an ideal, all-American neighborhood of Lenexa; a little subdivision where the streets fill with children in the summertime and Boy Scouts parade up and down the block to sell trash bags.
The houses on this street don’t seem to change owners often – perhaps every 20 or 25 years or so, once the kids have started their own families and it’s fairly apparent they won’t need to come back. (Of course in the past few years many more of us are staying home, but that’s another story.)
But, sadly, parents of younger children on my street have a particularly good reason to keep a closer eye on playtime and to lock their doors at night: our neighbor is a registered sex offender.
Nothing sets his house apart from the rest of them. To unknowing passers-by, he probably appears to be a perfectly friendly person; not the type to be charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a 12-year-old child at 44 years old himself.
Those of us who have lived here long enough know better. This man’s punishment: three years and five months in jail; not nearly enough. He has been home for several years now, igniting reasonable fear in the parents who live near me.
I called the Lenexa Police Department to verify that sex offenders are not required to post any sort of notice on their property. This is correct. On Halloween they are “encouraged to make their homes unavailable” to trick-or-treaters by leaving the porch lights off, et cetera, but aren’t legally obliged to note their status.
“I think they should be,” the officer told me, “but they aren’t.”
Thanks to modern convenience we have free services at our fingertips, like Family Watchdog (http://www.familywatchdog.us). But how many parents check their addresses on websites like this and actually make note of their surroundings? My guess is less than half.
Public information is readily available, but I’ve learned that most people don’t like to put the time or effort into seeking out this kind of knowledge. I’m not being critical – it’s not something we like to think about. However, parents need to be fully aware of what potential dangers are out there in order to properly educate their kids.
This isn’t just going to happen. I could rant all day about the stress my neighbors’ families face knowing this man is so close to home and preach that parents should put forth the effort to identify the dangers in their neighborhoods, but it would make no difference.
Prevention needs to be taken to the next level. We need to take a step back from “political correctness” and require registered sex offenders to post a sign in their yards, or even just identifiable signs in their front windows or on their apartment doors.
Children in public schools are taught from an early age to identify Safe Place or block mother signs in homes near their schools. They would be safer if they could identify threats just as easily. Lessons in “stranger danger” teach them that there are bad people in the world; they’re not new to the concept, as much as we may wish they could be.
Sex offenders know the moment they committed their crimes they forfeited the right to privacy. The fact that we have this information and aren’t using it to its full potential is practically criminal.
It is time to get serious about preventing crimes against those who can’t protect themselves if we ever want to see a change for the better.
Contact Mackenzie Clark, editor-in-chief, at firstname.lastname@example.org.