In 1994, an unsuspecting 7-year-old girl was raped and brutally murdered by the man who lived across the street. He was a man she knew and probably trusted, a man her parents also knew and perhaps shared a conversation or two with. Little did her parents know that this man had a long list of molestation convictions.
That young girl was Megan Kanka, and since her death, the federal government has enforced Megan’s Law. The main elements of the law requires that the public be notified when a sex offender moves into their neighborhood.
This law covers a variety of sexual offenses, from rape and molestation to indecent exposure and the distribution of child pornography.
A CD-ROM database will be publicly available to the general public with the names and addresses of California’s sex offenders. The law also gives local authorities the right to notify their community of sex offenders moving into the neighborhood in any way they think best fits.
California has also enacted laws that provide telephone services which allows parents to learn of a potential babysitter’s possible criminal record over the telephone for a fee, and police photo albums of sexual criminals are now also available to the public.
Relaxing just a little bit, you may think that the justice system is finally doing something right. However, Megan’s Law is so widely based and quickly constructed that there are too many loopholes and no one really knows exactly who the law applies to as a serious sex offender.
In Monday’s Los Angeles Times, writers Nicholas Riccardi and Jeff Leeds brought to light just how unfair and misleading Megan’s Law can be.
They found that crimes that had nothing to do with rape or child molestation and may have been one police officer’s moral judgement which will now leaves the “criminals” the burden of also registering and living in shame.
According to the Times, a Massachusetts homeless man who changed clothes in his car was charged with public exposure and a Wisconsin 15-year-old girl who had consensual sex with a 13-year-old boy are now registered sex offenders.
Where do we draw the line? How harmful to society are these two? Do we really think they have the potential to rape and molest children? A man with no other place to go changes clothes in his own car, but he is defined as a sexual offender. If you change in front of an open window in your house, will you too be defined as a sexual offender?
Bureaucrats are so concerned with being labeled as the one who let a sex offender go unknown, that they are scared of leaving anyone out so they tear open age-old files and search for the littlest indication that this person may be a threat to society again. Will the 15-year-old girl at 25 attempt to have sex with another 13 year old boy? It is highly unlikely.
Yes, the public needs to be aware of those who can and will threaten their community. But a rushed effort by law officials to implement Megan’s Law is causing anyone who may have committed a minor crime to be subjected to this humiliation.
Megan’s Law is a step in the right direction. But, as with many of our laws, it is flawed. Leaking into gray areas, it allows for many mistakes.
Instead of waiting for the federal government to solve all the problems of the world, parents should already talk to their children about people who do these things. Making them aware and building a bridge of communication so that if there is a sex offender in the community they will already be one step ahead.
LaShanda D. Maze, a sophomore broadcast journalism major, is features editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.