But listing offenders is not going to solve the problem of childhood sexual abuse or sexual violence as a whole, she said.
“The vast majority of people who are perpetrating sex crimes are not on Megan’s Law and never will be,” Houser said. That’s because sex crimes are often unreported, and the statute of limitations renders many cases unprosecutable by the time they are reported.
Since Megan’s Law is only for people who have been convicted, by the time those people end up on a list they’ve already done harm, Houser said. Her goal is to prevent sexual violence, which can’t be done by relying on a list.
“We have an over reliance of thinking that list is there to keep us safe,” Houser said. “That list is one tool to keep us safe. … If we are depending on the sex offender registry to keep our neighborhoods safe, then we are going to fail.”
Houser supports abolishing the statutes of limitation for civil and criminal cases of sex crimes, and adopting a retroactive window for civil cases.
But even that isn’t going to stop sexual violence against children, she said.
“If we want to be serious about ending sexual assault and protecting each other, we have to think bigger,” she said. “We have to get comfortable about learning about things that make us uncomfortable.”
Parents have to recognize the bigger danger to their children is the person who already has their trust – whether a family member, a friend of the family or a caregiver like a coach or teacher – and whom the children trust, who are grooming children for sexual abuse or are already sexually abusing them, Houser said.
“We have to stop saying ‘John wouldn’t do that. Mary wouldn’t do that,’ ” Houser said. “John and Mary do do that, that’s how you end up with a grand jury report.”
Instead, parents have to get comfortable talking to their children in age-appropriate ways, about sexual violence. They have to know where their children are and with whom, and ensure they aren’t in situations that would allow them to be violated, and if such a situation arises, they need to disrupt that, Houser said.
Parents need to hold their schools and youth organizations accountable for their policies and practices that could leave children at risk.
The last thing Houser wants people to do is use the list of names provided in the grand jury report or those offenders listed by Megan’s Law to give them a false sense of security. The people who are listed are the “low-risk category,” Houser said.
“You don’t want to go through life paranoid,” she said, but you also can’t go through life with blinders on. “The reality is this stuff happens, and it happens close to home.”
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