The word is out, and so are the names, photographs and type of offenses Pennsylvania’s sex offenders have committed. The state police launched a revised version of its Megan’s Law Web site earlier this week, which posts personal information about registered sex abusers living in the state.
Users can access the site for free, and are able to search for offenders by county, city, zip code, name or alias.
Megan’s Law is a federal law that requires, “all 50 states to release information to the public about known convicted sex offenders when it was necessary to protect their safety,” according to www.parentsformeganslaw.com.
State laws vary, and notification of sex offenders usually depends on the severity of their crimes. Some communities are actively notified while in others the information can be accessed by community residents on their own.
Because the Internet provides such easy accessibility, Pennsylvanians flocked to the Web site to view the information.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, by midday Monday – the first day the site was posted – 32,000 people had already visited the site, which is substantially higher than the 3,000 to 8,000 hits the site normally receives.
Though many concerned parents are championing the state’s measures to publicly list some 7,000 offenders, including 1,449 in Philadelphia and 26 within Temple’s zip code, the effort to make local communities safer may have gone too far.
All sex offenders listed on the Web site are grouped together, no matter what the charge. Placing the mug shot of a person who engaged in consensual sex with a person he or she did not know was underage and a person who raped a 9-year-old is not equal punishment.
Though the social stigma attached to sexual predators is deserved, for those perpetrators who regret their actions, served their time and are now trying to live a normal life, the Web site is just additional weight they must unnecessarily carry.
Granted, criminals know they must relinquish certain rights when found guilty of an offense, especially one so egregious that the social stigma surrounding it prompts a public display of this scale.
Because the Internet is so pervasive the posting may precipitate harassment, threats and intimidation directed toward some offenders now attempting to properly conduct themselves.
Concerned parents promoting safety have a right to access the information. A curious web surfer with nothing better to do is a different matter.