Communtities Wrestle With How to Manage Sex Offenders and Predators

An excited neighborhood huddles around the announce-ment of its newest addition.

The new arrival’s wallet-size face looks up at his new neighbors, who carefully read his name, birthday, his height and his weight.

The block is abuzz, and the whole community, like new parents, will sleep a bit lighter simply because he is there. Signs are put in yards, but they hardly welcome this new neighbor. The “welcome wagon” almost never rolls out for men like him.

He is a registered sexual predator.

As many as 17 registered sexual offenders, including seven registered sexual predators, have lived at a house within two blocks of the University of Tampa.

Sex offenders and sexual predators defy prediction, especially when the stakes are so high.

Some of them might be the absolute, unqualified worst of society. Hopeless hunters of children. Hijackers of youth. Serial molesters. Child rapists. Murderers in waiting. We won’t know their potential for violence until some future newspaper details their evil acts.

We might even shake our heads then: How could someone like that have been walking among us? But they do.

However, experts say most child molesters are rarely violent to their victims, leaving emotional rather than physical scars. Statistics vary, but only a fourth of them will re-offend, fewer if they stay in counseling, experts say.

Most of these registered offenders, in fact, served their time and learned their lesson. Upon release, there will be no celebration, no welcome party back to society. No, they are free but will never know true freedom, heading instead for the margins of society where they hope to lead anonymous lives under the radar of a watchful and condemning community.

For them, if we ever see their faces in the newspaper again, it will be after their deaths, in an obituary that will most likely describe their second lives: the ones after their rebirth, a fitting metaphor as most sexual predators and sex offenders who are released emerge childlike, unable to go out after dusk and under constant grounding.

If sex offenders and sexual predators can’t be locked down, at least they can be locked in, we think. Satellites, like dutiful orbiting babysitters, will check in on them for us-make us feel safe. Curfews can protect us from them by protecting them from temptations that creep in the night, but these conditions of sex offenders releases can also give us a false sense of security.

Where They Live

Dana Berry, who spearheads Sexual Predators Information Notification (S.P.I.N) at the Tampa Police Department, said that Cleveland Street is not the only popular transitional house for sexual predators in the Tampa Bay area.

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