You know, it takes a lot to generate sympathy for a sex offender. But Georgia’s draconian laws about where sex offenders can live are doing the trick. It’s downright ridiculous.
“A group of homeless sex offenders who had been living in tents in the woods behind an office park near Marietta were told they had to leave the land by Tuesday.
“We don’t want to allow anyone to live on our property for liability issues,” said Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, which owns the wooded land where the sex offenders had taken residence.
Several men said their probation officers had told them about the encampment as a kind of last resort for homeless sex offenders trying to meet the strict residency requirements of their probation.
Georgia’s law prohibits the state’s 16,000 sex offenders from living, working or loitering within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, child care facilities and other areas where children gather. It limits the locations where they can live….
William Hawkins, 34, a registered sex offender living in the camp, gathered his belongings Tuesday.
He’s not sure where he’s going to go.
When Hawkins was 15 years old, he had sex with a 12-year-old in Florida and received two years of house arrest and 10 years’ probation. “I have a 19-year-old case. Technically, I don’t think I have to be on it,” Hawkins said of the sex offender registry.”
The law hounding those people has no real purpose but to, well, hound them. As experts have testified to the Georgia Legislature, it serves little or no protective function. A sexual predator intent on finding victims will do so, regardless of where he (or occasionally she) is forced to live. Furthermore, unlike many states, Georgia law makes no distinction between somebody like Hawkins and somebody who has a history of true predation.
An even better example is Wendy Whitaker, who as a 17-year-old was caught performing oral sex on a 15-year-old classmate. That incident back in 1996 put her on the same sex offender list as a multiple rapist, As The Economist recently pointed out in an article featuring Whitaker as an example:
“The Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board, an official body, assessed a sample of offenders on the registry last year and concluded that 65% of them posed little threat. Another 30% were potentially threatening, and 5% were clearly dangerous.”
Given that reality, throwing them all into the same bag and forcing them to live together in surreptitious little communities helps no one. If serious threats must be freed, restrict their movements and track them closely. But don’t pretend that they’re all the same. Law enforcement officials have already told legislators that the law is overly strict, forcing officers to spend precious time tracking low-risk offenders that could better be spent elsewhere. But politicians passed the law as an act of grandstanding, and so far they haven’t summoned the courage to correct it.
Of course, much of the rest of the world is more intrigued by the case of Roman Polanksi, who hasn’t exactly been living in a tent city in the 32 years since he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. Ann Woolner, a columnist for Bloomberg, explores that case and reaches what I think is the right conclusion:
“The shame is that it has taken this long to sort everything out. The blame for that lies with Polanski for refusing to answer for evading the law.
Celebrate the man’s talent, honor his contributions to filmmaking. However gifted he is, Polanski’s art can’t serve as a reason to ignore his terrible crime or his refusal to answer for it.”
The injustice done to the Wendy Whitakers of the world, and maybe to the William Hawkins, far outweigh any alleged unfairness to Polanski.
UPDATE: I should note that my colleague Cynthia Tucker has also weighed in on the Polanski case, reaching a verdict similar to Woolner’s.
“It’s important for Polanski to face the bar of justice, even thirty years late. His appearance would serve as an example to others among the wealthy and glamorous that they are not above the law. Neither money, fame, connections nor artistic achievement should excuse you from facing up to your crimes. Forcing Polanski into court, in a case which will receive lots of media attention, might also stiffen the resolve of other victims of sexual violence who are trying to find the courage to face their abusers.”