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Megan's Law

[also known as the Sexual Predator Notification Law]

Megan's Law is named after Megan Kanka, a little 7-year-old girl from Hamilton Township, New Jersey. Megan was raped and murdered on the 29th of July, 1994. The community was enraged, not just because of the viciousness of the crime but also because the man charged with the crime was a twice-convicted sex offender who had moved in across the street from the Kanka family.

The killer was living in the Kankas' community without anyone in the neighborhood having knowledge of his past convictions or his predatory behavior toward children. In the Kankas' case no knowledge meant no protection. Megan was a beautiful little girl whose life was cut far too short. It was a senseless murder in a perceived "safe" community.

Within weeks of Megan's death, over 200,000 signatures were gathered demanding New Jersey pass "Megan's Law; and in 1994, a federal crime measure provided similar provisions for the protection of communities. In essence, "Megan's Law" requires states to notify law enforcement officials and the community when a convicted sex offended moves into the area. While the new federal legislation requires states to inform the public, individual states would determine how much public warning is necessary. States were required to establish a warning system by September 1997 or risk the loss of some federal anti crime funds.

"Megan's Law" passed in the House early in May by an impressive 418 to zero. President Clinton signed the legislation on May 17, 1996. Megan's parents, Richard and Maureen Kanka were present at the White House when President Clinton spoke passionately about the bill.

"Today, we are taking the next step. From now on every state in the country will be required by law to tell a community when a dangerous sexual predator enters its midst. We respect people's rights but today America claims there is no greater right than a parent's right to raise a child in safety and love. ..... Today, America circles the wagons around our children."

While most of the country thoroughly supports this legislation, it is not without some criticism. The court system in several states is currently deciding on the constitutionality of Megan's Law.

The opposition believes that Megan's Law is punishing convicted sex offenders for life and believe that once a convicted sex offender serves their time in prison, they have paid their debt to society. They maintain that constant societal pressures provide little chance of rehabilitation for convicted sex offenders and cause extreme feelings of hopelessness, which may contribute to the repeating of previous predatory behavior. It may also cause offenders to go "underground" instead of seeking desperately needed therapy. Vigilantism against the offender is also a concern.

In response to doubts about the legality and morality of this bill, proponents of the bill are determined to make America's children safe at any cost even if that means limiting the offender's rights. They believe that certain crimes merit close supervision, not just by the police, but by the whole community. And that supervision should continue for a very long time - quite possibly for life. They concede that it puts a lot of continued pressure on the convicted sex offender but allege it will limit their opportunities rather than providing unknowing victims for their sick, predatory behavior.

Almost everyone would agree that the protection of our nation's children is of the utmost importance, and the threat from pedophiles, molesters and kidnappers is real. The shocking statistics are, as many as one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually molested by the time they reach eighteen. While it is reassuring that lawmakers have finally recognized the need for more legislation for the protection of our children, will "Megan's Law" be enough? Will it guarantee our communities will be safe? Unfortunately, no, for seldom is a sex offender arrested and convicted with the first offense. Most have committed numerous sexual offenses before a conviction. According to recent research of sex offenders, the average may be as high as 100 offenses before a conviction, [see #1 below] with the majority of offenders starting their predatory behavior in their teens. This means there are many sex offenders in our communities of which we are unaware. Also, we must remember that many convicted sex offenders do not register with authorities or may give a false address as their residence.

According to a local paper, the Rockford Register Star, "one-quarter of addresses on the child sex offender lists in Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties are wrong." Now remember, this is only of those who are caught, convicted and have registered with the authorities. The Register Star reported that "there are (as of February 9, 1997) 217 registered sex offenders in Winnebago County, 49 in Ogle and 34 in Boone." At the end of February, the local news reported that a young girl was sexually molested at one of the local malls. The perpetrator was a convicted sex offender from out of state, who, as you guessed it, had not registered with the local authorities.

[Note: There is now a link for Illinois Registered Child Sex Offenders Online, it can also be accessed from ComPortOne Crime & Punishment Page. Keep in mind that any list can only be as accurate as the data gathered and, considering address changes and false information, it is better when these lists include pictures of the sexual offenders.]

Keep in mind that this legislation applies only to those who commit offenses against a child under the age of eighteen. Currently, it does not include serial rapists.

Illinois State Senator, Dave Syverson, says "If only one life and one family is spared, as far as I'm concerned, the law is working."(Register Star, February. 9, 1997)

I agree that each and every life is important, but we must aim higher. Remember the statistics -- we have to figure out a better way to make this work. The legislature is working on tougher penalties for child sex offenders.
In fact, a press release just received from Doug Floski , [now former] Ogle County State's Attorney [Illinois], stated "a bill scheduled to be introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives would make it easier for prosecutors to petition the courts to declare a sex offender a sexually dangerous person. Once that designation has been made an offender could be held indefinitely - until the courts determine the defendant is no longer a threat."

As it stands, Megan's Law could easily give one a false sense of security which could prove costly for our children. To provide for the safest environment possible, in addition to improved legislation and more severe and swift punishment, we need to teach our children and our loved ones safety and self-empowerment skills. Consider the following:

  • Teach children to be cautious and aware of their surroundings. Teach them safety and survival skills. It does not frighten them - it empowers them!
  • Give them a firm foundation in moral and ethical behavior (so they recognize inappropriate behavior.) It is irresponsible to teach children that they must always obey their elders. This can be confusing when an adult they admire is their abuser.
  • Talk to them about "good touch and bad touch." Let them know their bodies are special and off limits to others. Tell them that children are never to blame when someone abuses them. Abusers are extremely manipulative, they will say and do anything to satisfy their urges.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. If the child reports suspicious behaviors to you, stay calm, do not show disbelief or blame the child. Investigate the situation and report any suspicious behaviors.
  • Most cases of molestation are committed by someone the child knows. [see #2 below]
  • Let the child know that you love them and want to keep them safe.
  • Direct your anger at the abuser -- not the victim. Many times a child will tolerate a horrible situation because he or she is afraid of your reaction. Be careful not to threaten to beat or kill the abuser or the child may take on the guilt of having caused the situation. It is important to realize abusive situations may go on for some time (even years) before the child comes forward or it may be something that happened days ago. If the child is still thinking about the abuse it is still relevent and needs to be addressed. Refrain from saying, "That was a long time ago, get over it." That statement will imply that it didn't matter. To fully heal, all the buried issues must be resolved.
  • And most of all remember to love your child. A survivor of abuse needs to be given increased love and support. It will take time to recover from the abuse. It will affect the entire family.

  • Complete healing usually requires some counseling. Getting the secret out in the open is the first step. Remember, it takes a lot of courage for a child [or adult - see #3 below] to come forward. You must be strong and consistent in your support of the child. You must also guard against the abuse taking over your lives and the lives of other family members. Forgive the child for being too trusting and forgive yourself (the caregiver) for not preventing the situation. (Abusers are extremely manipulative.) Give the child back some of the childhood the abuse robbed her/him of by creating new memories of love and trust.

Note #1: While in training to be a volunteer sexual assault counselor [about 15 years ago], the class was told the number was 42 sexual offenses before an arrest.

Note #2: Most cases of molestation are committed by someone the child knows. However, it is important to remember that not every overly -friendly person is a child molester. Unfortunately, most often, molesters are friends, family and relatives.

Note #3: Often older survivors do not come forward and get help because of the stigma attached. The most destructive and false belief is that a abuse victim will someday become a perpetrator themselves. While some do, the majority become great defenders of children. They become great mothers and fathers and would never consider hurting any child in any way. They often become volunteers and professional counselors dedicating themselves to eradicating an intolerable sickness. Give them credit for surviving the horror and support them in their positive endeavors.

This does of course bring up the subject that some victims do become perpetrators. However, bear in mind that it may be their reason [at least in their mind] for victimizing others - it is NOT AN EXCUSE! There is no excuse. They deserve sympathy only for the crimes committed against them - not for the crimes they choose to commit against others.

Connie Eccles

ComPortOne Crime & Punishment Page
Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling
Articles written by ComPortOne's Editor
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