An Ethical Dilemma: Someone in your school is a registered sex offender?

I was talking with a friend from Florida about schools and he shared a dilemma he’s facing, one that he really doesn’t know what to do about. I suggested that we could cast it out to the net and see what others thought.
Here’s the situation: while poking around one evening he went on to the National Sex Offender Public Registry and found someone who is a fellow parent at his school.
He was so shocked that he shut off his computer before he even read the entire data record, so he doesn’t know what this guy did, but to be in the Registry, you have to have committed either a criminal offense against a minor or a “sexually violent act.”
His question to me: what on earth should he do now?

I’ve spent the better part of a week asking myself the same question, and here’s what I’ve come up with…
First off, I think it’s very important to go back to the Registry and find out what kind of crime the man was convicted for: it seems to me that the situation would be quite different if he beat up his girlfriend twenty-five years ago after drinking too much, then tried to have his way with her, versus if he’s a repeat child molester or worse.
Then if it’s a crime that suggests the children, parents, or faculty of the school might be in any danger, I believe that my friend has a responsibility to talk with someone, probably the administrator or head of school, about the situation.
To be totally honest, my gut reaction is to share the news with all the parents in the school except the parent involved and their spouse/significant other, but that seems too much like a lynch mob and frankly flies in the face of two core ideas of our justice system: innocent until proven guilty, and that the punishment for a crime helps reform the criminal. On the other hand, I don’t believe either of these are entirely true, hence my own lack of clarity regarding how best for my friend to proceed.
But then again, I keep asking myself whether I would want to know if a fellow parent found out that another parent in our school was in the sex offender registry, and I most assuredly would want to know, and to ensure my children were then never in a potentially risky situation with that parent.
And yet, I also hate to think that one stupid decision years and years ago would forevermore hang like a black cloud over someone, even if they’ve long since reformed, learned better coping strategies, or even been cured through anger management or other work on themselves. People change.
Quite a dilemma.
Given the situation I’ve outlined here, help my friend out: what would you counsel, and why?

12 comments on “An Ethical Dilemma: Someone in your school is a registered sex offender?

  1. I work as a rape crisis counselor, so I have mixed feelings about this. My advice, though, is as follows:
    If at all possible, I suggest the following:
    1. Find out what the offense was. Sometimes people will pop up on the registry for having sex with a minor when they themselves were 19 or 20. It could be something as simple as he was charged with statuatory rape, which is a much different crime than sexual assault. (There are still issues of power and such, but I think it’s different than forced rape.)
    2. Arrange to talk to the person. Make completely sure to be non-confrontational about the situation, explaining that the information came up in an innocuous search online and there is some concern what the situation might be. This gives the person in question the chance to explain himself without necessarily being exposed in an embarrassing manner. Now, if it’s discovered that this was an incident in which a child was involved or there was extreme violence, I would be very concerned and possibly hesitant to confront the individual… but perhaps it would be a good idea before spilling the beans to everyone and potentially ruining this man’s life — AND embarrassing his CHILDREN.

  2. I have to agree with one thing. We as parents have a responsibility to our children and any other children who might be in danger. Having said that I would agree the offense could be something simple and stupid which happened years ago. If the offense did indeed involve voilence of any kind toward kids there is no doubt, in my mind, it should be made public to all parents. As you said and I agree, I would most definetly would want to know if a parent in my community was involved in any kind of violent act against anyone.
    Quite the dilemna
    Good luck

  3. If this were my situation, having a stepdaughter who was repeatedly molested and sexualized by her mother and stepfather, after I was done getting sick and flipping out – I would find out exactly what this person did. Then I would talk to local law enforcement to find out what the restrictions are on his contact with minors and make sure that the school administration is aware of the situation regardless of what the limitaions are. If this person is barred from any contact with minors outside his immediate family and the school knows, I would probably let it go and let them deal with it. I know in my area we have to have a criminal background check before we can volunteer at a school. I’d find out what the policy is for parents in the classroom for that school.
    I would also volunteer to write a flyer to go home with all the kids – or better yet, get handed out with registration packets or report cards – that discusses recomended safety proceedures before you allow your child to go to a home where the adults are strangers. Depending on what the guy’s offence was, I might end up being a bit of a bully about the whole thing with the school and let them know that if they are providing transportation to children to this man’s house, they may be held liable for anything that happens to them there since they are now aware that this person hurts children.
    It is good to remember too, that sex offenders rarely get cured and that their rate of reoffending is higher than any other violent crime. Keep your family safe!

  4. I’ve recently experienced a similar situation. One day I received a post card from the department of public safety telling me that a registered sex offender had moved in to my nabor hood. The card gave the mans name address and what his crime was. (the crime was against a four year old boy.) Well needless to say I was quite alarmed!
    The card also gave the address to there website. So I decide to take a look. If you thought I was upset before it was nothing to how I felt when I looked at the website. We were literally surrounded by sex offenders, most of which committed aggravated sexual assault on small children. One of which lived two houses down from a home we were considering. (We were on the market for a home at the time.)
    When I was a little girl (age 7) a stranger tried to kidnap me, he tried to grab me but I had not let him get close enough to be successful, he then chased me across our yard. I managed to get in the house and slam the door and lock it literally seconds before he got to it. He tried to force the door open, but luckily it was one of those old houses with strong sturdy doors. The door unfortunately had a window in it, so my face was only inches from his while he was trying to get in after me. I ran to get my aunt and grandmother who were in the kitchen. (no one believed my story so the police were not called. This was on a Saturday the very next Saturday a little girl in the next town over was kidnapped out of her yard and was never found)
    Latter that same year I was molested by my aunts husband. (not the same aunt as mentioned above) I never told any one at the time. I felt that if they could not believe me that a stranger had tried to kidnap me then they would not believe that someone that they knew liked and trusted had molested me.
    I’m only telling you this so you will understand where I am coming from. I’m now a 32 year old mother of three children age 10, 8, and 3. Because of what happened to me as a child I have always been a lot more protective than the average parent. (I’m still plagued with nightmares, only now they are about something terrible happening to my children instead of me.) So when I discovered the large number of sex offenders in our area (The website did list what there crimes were and how old the victim was.) I immediately notified the public school and urged them to check the website on a regular basis in an attempt to protect the students. I then made it my mission try to give that website to every parent in the school, (I feel that they should judge for them self’s as to how they feel about each individual as I said before the website dose list what each individuals crime was and how old there victim was. I also reminded them that there sexual predators out there that no one knows about, and are not registered.
    Please don’t be lax when it comes to a child’s safety. Weather it is your child or someone else’s.
    Thank you for taking the time to hear my story.

  5. First, I would go back to the registry to see what the offense was. If the offense involved a child, then I believe that everyone has a right to be informed. As a parent, I would want to know so I could insure my child was never put in a potentially bad situation. I understand the offender could be reformed and I hate to stereotype; however, statistics have shown (at least from what I have read) that given the opportunity, an offender could commit the same act again. Why take the chance??

  6. My wife is a realtor in Florida and ran into the same problem with a client trying to sell as house. She discovered a sexual offender living two houses down. She called a friend in the State’s Attorney office and got this info:
    The sexual registry records all offenses, even he said-she said type complaints that were made as long as twenty years ago before a national sexual offender registry was even conceived. (This turned out to be the case with the neighbor.) In the past a person would settle this with a simple plea like “no contest.” Obviously something happened there, but it is not in the same category as rape, child molestation, etc.
    The second category is the hard stuff.
    The registry doesn’t distinguish between the two.
    You need to find out the exact nature of the crime and then decide what to do. All this is public record. The parent may have done something stupid when he was younger, but then many people do stupid things they later regret. OTOH, if he is guilty of something more serious, well, then there is a problem.
    While I have the microphone…
    Do you think that porn is all over the place has anything to do with the rise of sexual crime? I do.

  7. I know someone who is a sex therapist and have learned quite a bit from discussions with him (he doesn’t divulge peoples names though–he would never break the law).
    First the G.K. is correct. In the FL registry it is impossible to know exactly what was done because different types of acts are lumped into a few categories.
    Secondly, many of the pychosexual disorders are treatable. There is no cure but these people are taught to learn to find healthy substitutes for sexual urges and to keep from acting upon socially undesirable ones. There are also aversion therapies.
    More recently, a class of drugs called antiandrogens that drastically lower testosterone levels temporarily have been used in conjunction with these forms of treatment. The drug lowers the sex drive in males and reduces the frequency of mental imagery of sexually arousing scenes. This allows concentration on counseling without as strong a distraction from the paraphiliac urges. Increasingly, the evidence suggests that combining drug therapy with cognitive behavior therapy can be effective.
    Situations like this can lead to lynch mob mentality. We must remember that every case is different and we should not judge until we find out the facts. Especially if our actions/reactions could potentially ruin peoples lives (there are many times spouses and children who are affected by having their spouse’s or parent’s name plastered all over the place).
    I have a child and will teach her to be safe (with the help of programs by the local police). I will also be vigilint without being a vigilante.
    There are many sexual problems that most people don’t know about. For instance, how many people know that there is actually a term for those people who are sexually aroused by hair (tricophilia)?
    I didn’t know until recently that Sadism/Masochism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, and even necrophilia are just some of the pychosexual disorders collectively known as paraphilias. Interestingly, some paraphilias are somewhat accepted and joked about now in our culture (e.g. S&M, shoe fetishes). And what is considered perversion varies from society to society.
    Anyway, enough of the psych lesson…

  8. Because of this article my husband looked up our neighborhood and our kids grandparent’s neighborhood online and discovered that one of our own cousins is a registered sex offender. I called the local police station and they said they cannot disclose WHEN the crime happened or if he served time. We know it was with a child 14 or 15- which means he was at least ten years older at the time.
    Does anyone have any advice on how to handle the situation on holidays and birthdays when we usually see him? Do we ask him about it directly first? Do we advise our other cousins to look up the sex offender site? He seemed like a very harmless guy and it realy weirds me out.

  9. My in-laws have a few apartments that they rent out, and some of their tenants in the complex recently found out one of the other ones is on the sex offender list. Drama ensued, how do we feel about this guy living next door, etc. Come to find out he’d had sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend when he was 19, and the only reason it landed him on the RSO list was the girl’s dad was outraged and decided it must have been rape. So yes, it’s good to look up what exactly they’re there for.
    As for the cousin- good catch, most molestations are family members so that’s definitely a good thing to know. Here’s one possible way to deal with it, based on how our church does things (you don’t want to kick somebody out for sinning, but you don’t want to put anyone in danger either!): teach the kids about personal space and telling you if someone violates it, and keep a discreet eye and definitely make sure he’s not alone with them. It doesn’t have to be a big huge deal, just keeping an eye out.

  10. One thing I would not distroy a person’s life because of here and there say. I know a person, personally. His life was ruined when he was younger. He was nineteen and had consensual sex with suppose to be his girl friend. Her father found and so that she would not get into trouble she accused the boy of rape. Now the young man has a record that will follow her for the rest of his life because a girl could not keep her legs close. But I know that that girl and her father and family will have their pay someday, because when we do wrong to others,wrong will come back to us double the reward.Today the boy is married has two children that he has never molested or raped and a wonderful wife that supports him. He is a wonderful father and person because I know him personally. I am not ashame to say he is in my family. A person might do a mistake in his ore her life and will pay for it by going to jail, when that person comes out, he is unable to get a job and most of these people become homeless in the streets not able to support their family and some might commit wrong because of all the wrong done to them for no reason at all. This is why find out what a person did and then you may have a right to judge. But remember the shoe could be on your feet someday and you are going to know what these people are going through and you will not like it.

  11. My father is a convicted sex offender. When he was 18 he was accused of rape. I’m not sure if I believe this really happened because he and the woman were having consensual sex for months before and she was married to another man at the time. My father had no money for a good attorney and cut a deal. Now, 30 years later, my friends and their parents have found out about his record. The site only says he committed a rape. It doesn’t say how long ago it happened and if he’s still a threat. Instead of talking to my parents about it, the word spread and the story was grossly over-exaggerated. It was only after half my school knew that I (and my parents) found out about what had been happening. I was bullied about this so much that I had to leave my school and go into independent study. My friends no longer speak to me because of this and every time my mother asks why no one visits me anymore my father cries. I’m sure if the parents of the other students had talked to my parents this all could of been avoided and I wouldn’t be a social outcast because of it. I battle with depression everyday mostly because I’m 16 years old and my social life is nonexistent. My family tried talking to other parents but the damage has been done. In situations like this its really the child that pays the price

  12. Kelly, I am so sorry for what you are going through sweetie. As the soon to be ex-wife of an offender, who actually re-offended, and the mother of an incredible 10 year old son, I have seen first hand what you are going through and my heart breaks for you. It would take to long to list the troubles we have had as a result of people over reacting to my husband’s original offense. I realize I have no credit to speak, but the registry only punished him and us…it didn’t protect anyone. You would think it would be clear to them that if a child lives in the home, he is obviously not considered likely to re-offend. However, and these comments prove that, most people are uninformed about the real risk those on the registry pose to children unknown to them. The real risk is those who live and are coming into the home of children who are not on the registry. You can not make them understand what it is like for you and your family but you don’t have to let them defeat you because of their fear. They have a reason to be afraid. As a mother, I understand those fears even if I think they respond horrifically. The re-offense rate for those on the registry is around 5% which puts men like my husband in the minority not the majority of offenders.
    I want to encourage you to find a place where you can just be yourself. Be willing to talk about it…no matter how hard it is. Ask your dad to talk to the parents of your friends because people are willing to listen and understand that it is in our very nature to make mistakes and bad decisions at times. Sometimes, you will have to accept that you just will not be accepted but there are those who will stand by you and even protect you from the comments and stares. I am forever grateful to my friends and family who have shielded me from the the hurt inflicted by others. If you are not involved in church, I encourage you to do that as well. Some churches are better than others so don’t judge all churches by one. A good church will love you and give you the support and friendship you need. They will listen to your sorrowful cries and encourage you.
    I wish you all the best sweetie and if you are willing, consider joining in with a reform group in your state. These people are not about protecting those who do harm…they are about getting the truth out and your story and others like it need to be heard. Everyone assumes that the registry protects children but what they fail to see is how it is hurting children too. You are worth protecting just as much as a non-offender’s child. Take care and God bless.

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