Go to the Pennsylvania State Police Web site and you’ll see “Megan’s Law Web site” at the top of the page. Click on it and enter your zip code. Within seconds, a slew of names appear on the screen, all of which are sex offenders who live in that neighborhood. In zip codes 19121 and 19122, 114 sex offenders are registered.
“Parents need to be vigilant and aware of these kinds of situations where people commit these kinds of crimes,” William Burrell, a criminal justice professor, said. “It’s a popular misconception that it’s a unitary group, but sex offenders are all different kinds of people. They don’t all fit common stereotypes.”
According to Capt. Robert Lowell, chief of the investigations unit at Campus Safety Services, 99.9 percent of reported offenses are committed by people who are commonly
known to victims.
“In the university environment, it’s typically someone who knows someone else,” he said.
A very small percentage of sex offenses are actually reported, according to Charles Leone, deputy director of Campus Safety Services. In the past three years, 17 have been reported to Campus Safety Services.
Campus Safety Services conducts multiple
programs and activities that inform students of safety measures and encourage
those who have been offended to step forth.
Rape Aggression Defense is a two-credit program that students may take and there is also a modified version that does not count for credit. They also discuss such issues at orientation and sometimes go out and speak to fraternities and sororities.
“Just be aware of where you are, what you’re eating and what you’re drinking,” Leone said. “Make sure there is an out for you, and let us know if this thing occurs.”
Internet registries are not completely accurate since it is the offender’s responsibility to make updates upon moving.
According to Burrell, Internet registries may create a false sense of security.
Burrell said there are many unfamiliar
components of Megan’s Law that people should be made aware of, other than the Internet.
“Megan’s Law is actually a package of eight or nine laws,” Burrell said. Not only must sex offenders register where they are living, but they also must undergo “risk assessment,” possibly “post incarceration
civil commitment” and submit DNA samples.
Risk assessment is a process that looks at a sex offender’s background, history, psychological evaluations and criminal record, according to Burrell. Risk assessment is a three-tiered process in which offenders are categorized by levels.
“A risk assessment is to look at this offender and say, on a scale of three levels, ‘how serious is the case, or how likely is this offender to re-offend?'” Burrell said.
Sometimes after sex offenders serve their time in prison, they must comply with a post incarceration civil commitment.
“So even after you serve your time they can be confined in a psychiatric hospital or a civil commitment facility for an extended period of time,” Burrell said.
“Here, the idea is to keep these guys off the street for as long as we legally can.” Convicted sex offenders must also submit DNA samples so that they can be easily identified if they repeat the offense.
However, the criminal justice system has recently included more felony-level offenses that must also submit samples, which has created a “backlog” of samples, according to Burrell.
“State lab crimes are so far behind in doing the analysis and the classification. They literally get hundreds of these samples every day and they take time to analyze,” Burrell said.
A person convicted as a sex offender, may receive one of two registration regulations
– 10 years or lifetime. Several crimes that may lead sex offenders to be subject to 10-year registration are those convicted of kidnapping minors, luring a child into a motor vehicle, institutional sexual assault, sexual abuse of children or sexual exploitation of children. Cases in which sex offenders receive lifetime registration are offenders with two or more convictions of any under 10-year registration, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, incest where the victim is under 12 years of age and those offenders identified as “sexually violent predators.” A sexually violent predator is a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense due to a mental abnormality or personality
disorder that makes the person likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses.
Sexually violent predators must notify local law enforcement upon moving into a designated area. When a sexually violent predator moves into a neighborhood or begins a new job in a school or university, everyone within 1000 yards is notified, according to Lowell.
“Once we get the notification, students living in that area are notified,” Lowell said. “If someone doesn’t notify local law enforcements, they’ve committed a felony.”
Whenever a prospective employee or student who is a sex offender applies to the university, Campus Safety Services is made aware, and becomes involved in deciding whether or not the person should be admitted or receive a job. “We haven’t had anyone registered [as a sex offender] as a student or an employee in three years,” Lowell said.
There were two cases in which sex offenders
applied to the university, but both cancelled their applications before Campus Safety Services began investigations.
Advocacy for Megan’s Law gained momentum
13 years ago, when a man in New Jersey lured a 7-year-old girl into his house to see his puppy. He then raped and murdered her and disposed of her body in a nearby park. Jesse K. Timmendequas, the man who murdered Megan Kanka, lived across the street and was a twice-convicted pedophile, yet none of the neighbors knew. States immediately began to initiate and expand new legislation to notify communities of sex offenders living in neighborhoods.
“It caused a huge outcry,” Burrell said. “The theory was, had they known that these guys [sex offenders] were living across the street, they would’ve been more careful with her. Based on that outcry, Megan’s Law was written and passed in a very short time – four months.”
Megan’s Law varies state by state. However,
in Pennsylvania, then-Gov. Thomas Ridge signed it on Oct. 21, 1995, and it became effective April 21, 1996. The legislation introduced by Ridge sought to identify sexually violent offenders and allow courts to impose a life sentence on those offenders, register with the state police both sex offenders and sexually violent predators and notify the community when persons identified as sexually violent predators move into neighborhoods.
Nine years later, Gov. Edward Rendell signed Senate Bill No. 92, which made significant changes to Megan’s law, most common being that information on all registered sex offenders would be made available to the public via the Internet.
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.