Friday, October 26, 2012

"Safety Tools" are only "Safe" if they Work

As one of the last remaining people on the planet who doesn’t have a smartphone, I’m not familiar with any of the millions of apps out there that serve all kinds of purposes. However, the “Friend Verifier” App recently caught my attention because it claimed to be able to rid your friends list of registered sex offenders. A few friends tried it and chided the developer for sending up red flags on people who were undoubtedly not on the registry (among the accused were a retired pastor, elderly father-in-law and a few adult children.)

On the Friend Verifier Facebook page a few days ago was a notice from the developer to the app’s “fans,” apologizing on behalf of some users who had evidently posted comments asserting concern for the safety of registrants and their families. Friend Verifier’s post referred to those users as “pro-sex offender groups” who “believe people who rape and molest” have the same rights as the rest of us.

Before I was blocked and my comments deleted, I was able to capture this screenshot of the comment thread:

I also sent an email to the app’s head developer, explaining as I did above about the post and subsequent deletion of all comments, asking why bringing up a viable issue (the safety of children and family members of registrants, as well as including some important statistics) would be ignored and deleted.

Here’s a portion of the response I received:

“Unfortunately due to a small handful of people’s inappropriate actions, we had to reinforce our terms of service for the use of our Fan Page.  Our Fan Page is used by teenagers and young adults, so when individuals go on profanity driven tirades, threaten my company and me with physical harm and lawsuits, we can’t allow such behavior to go on.  So we have a zero tolerance rule, when it comes to harassment, vulgarities, threats, political grandstanding, etc.
There have been a few individuals who were, and still are trying to use, our app’s page to voice their opinion on sex offender registry laws.  Our page is not the forum for that.  We are a private tech company that offers a free application to help further a safer internet experience for children and young adults.  Those who feel the sex offender registry is unconstitutional, should notify their elected officials, and try to get the media to represent them.”
Once again, the concern I raised for the families and children who would be negatively impacted by this app is ignored. They claim that they want to “help further a safer internet experience,” but apparently, only some are deserving of that “safer experience.”
Curious, I decided to try the app for myself. After a couple of “scans”, it became very obvious that all it does is cross-reference names against the national registry, which any paranoid person can do themselves.. It doesn’t take into account any other information such as location or age. If you have even a relatively common name, you’re likely being flagged as a potential sex offender. If you live in Maine and you happen to share your name with a registered sex offender in Idaho, you’re also going to pop up in red. This is a “safe experience?” Now you’re just as much in danger of a vigilante attack as someone already on the registry – and so is your family.
The lack of accuracy in their software, coupled with the blatant disregard of and unwillingness to learn the facts, puts this app right alongside the other existing baseless and unsuccessful policies regarding sex offenders and supposed “safety.” What will it take for our society to realize that “more” does not always equal “better” when it comes to effective safety tools?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Adam Walsh Act: The Real Failure

Over the past couple of weeks, the news media has been capitalizing on something that already happened months ago: the rejection of or failure to comply with the Adam Walsh Act by thirty four states. The Adam Walsh Act, or AWA, was the federal government’s attempt at standardizing the sex offender registry in all 50 states. The penalty for a state choosing not to comply with the act was a 10% loss in Byrne Grant funding.

In many recent news articles, the language is indisputably slanted to make it seem as though state governments are “failing to comply,” “rejecting the Act outright” and “not even trying,” – as if there have been no issues with the Act for the states that did decide to adopt it; as if the states that opted out have no sex offender registry or legislation; as if rejection of the Act means those states don’t care about child safety.

The state of Texas would have had to spend $38 million to fully comply with AWA – the $1.4 dollars it will lose in Byrne Grant funding is 3.6% of what the total implementation costs would have been. Arizona would have had to spend $2,000,000 to become compliant with AWA – the $146,700 it will now lose is a mere 7.3% of compliance costs. This chart by the Justice Policy Institute makes it painfully clear: in all 50 states, compliance costs trump the 10% loss in Byrne Grant funding.

Funding isn’t AWA’s only issue. It requires lifetime registration for juveniles – children -  which many states believe unconstitutional. Ohio, one of the few states compliant with AWA, was challenged on the issue earlier this year, and federal courts ruled it was “cruel and unusual punishment.” Several states have also faced challenges to its retroactivity. AWA’s “tier system”, used to replace the “level” system many states currently use, supposedly to classify risk level posed by the offender, has come under fire for inaccurately classifying the majority of registrants as “Tier 3” – even registrants who were teenagers in consensual relationships with younger teens.

The problems with the Adam Walsh Act actually reflect some of the more major problems with non-AWA sex offender legislation quite well: treating and prosecuting all offenders with the same broad brush, including children; unreliable and sometimes inaccurate risk assessment; and overall ignorance of the fact that sex offenders have very low recidivism leaving our country’s most vulnerable citizens dangerously unprotected.

What AWA does give us is an opportunity to understand what the limits are for lawmakers considering sex offender legislation. We need as many people as possible to stand up and tell their legislators that the problems AWA poses are still alive and well in the current systems we have in place – and that we all deserve something better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

He is not a monster

Vlog available below!

I live with a good and decent man.  He is a loving and caring person and he is my fiancĂ©.  He is also a registered sex offender.

I was therefore horrified and heartbroken on Tuesday to have watched “The View” when in a “Hot Topics” discussion about sex offender Halloween laws, which ban people required to register from participating in the holiday, Whoopi Goldberg said, “How about putting a sign on their door that says a real monster lives here?”

I like Whoopi and have no doubt that what she said came from a place in her heart that cares deeply for the safety of our children. It is not surprising that her comment came following an earlier segment on the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky.  All registered sex offenders are frequently painted with the same broad brush of the worst serial pedophiles and child abductors.  These emotional and tragic stories obscure the fact that most registrants have nothing in common with these most heinous offenders.

I’m virtually certain that Whoopi’s comment was rooted in the mistaken belief that registrants will commit a new sex crime.  She most likely doesn’t know that sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates of all offender groups in the criminal justice system – typically ranging from 3% to 10% depending on the study.

My fiancĂ©e is on the registry for an offense involving incest, the sub-set of offenders with the lowest recidivism rate of all.  As a minor himself, he engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with his half-sister.  Years from now, when we have the children we hope for, should they be denied celebrating Halloween at home for a mistake their father made at twelve?

Yet, it is not some future Halloween party cancelled that left me so frightened by Whoopi’s remarks.  The media’s mischaracterizations of all people on the registry as “monsters” is becoming dangerous hate speech with a growing number of tragic consequences. 

Most recently, in June, a vigilante in Washington State killed two registered sex offenders and told police he was going to keep on doing it until he was caught. Having slain people who have been cast as monsters, he thought of himself as a hero.  He murdered Jerry Ray, 56, the primary care giver to his elderly father and Gary Blanton, 28, who left behind his wife Leslie and two young children.

There are challenges to loving a registered sex offender, but on most nights Geoff and I can leave those challenges outside and feel safe and secure in the comfort of the home we just bought together.  At times though I am jolted in the back of my mind when I wonder if a remark like Whoopi’s will be the tipping point for a sick mind in our town… and bring a true monster to our door.

If this blog post finds its way to Whoopi, I hope she will retract her statement on The View.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Please support the documentary: Gary Blanton, Beyond the Label

Friends, I am pleased to announce that a fellow advocate, Derek Logue of Once Fallen, is working on a groundbreaking project: a professional, in-depth documentary about the life and death of Gary Blanton, with the help of Gary's widow, Leslie.

You likely remember Gary's brutal murder (along with another registrant, Jerry Ray) back in June - leaving behind his widow, Leslie, and two little boys. Patrick Drum, the murderer, has since plead guilty and was recently sentenced to life without parole. But Leslie and her children are still here, picking up the pieces and trying to move forward.

Derek is a full-time advocate and has put everything he has into producing this documentary. To help with the remaining costs, he's organized a raffle on his website:

Please help Derek tell a story that our country desperately needs to hear! For a brief preview of what you can expect, watch the following clip of "Gary Blanton Jr.: Beyond the Label."