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Megan's Law... Solution? Solution. Solution

by Pat Fish


On May 30, 1994, Jesse Timmendequas, a repeat sex offender, was convicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of Megan Kanka of Hamilton Township, New Jersey. On May 17, 1996, President Clinton signed the federal "Megan's Law," legislation requiring formal notification of the community, should a sex offender move in.

Megan's parents said they would never have let Megan walk freely on their street if they knew a convicted sex offender lived across the walk.

Since its enactment, Megan's Law has proved to be an exercise in futility, a quagmire of geometrically increasing quandaries and a study in just whose rights are guaranteed by the constitution of the United States.

While the tone and intent of the law are well-meaning ones,
Composition, by Michelle Nicolai
by Michelle Nicolai
the enforcement is a nightmare. Convicted sex offenders are required to register their address upon release from prison as well as anytime they relocate. Police must then notify any residents of the "community," quoted because the definition of which residents is often not so clearly delineated. If the offender moves right here, at the further end of one community, but directly across the street from right here, the beginning of another, is it proper to inform only the actual community of the offender's address? Or should the community be defined as a circular radius around the offender's home? Just how large should a community be, if not legislatively defined?

Then isn't there some stipulation in our constitution that all should be allowed the pursuit of happiness? And isn't it an accepted tenet of American life that once a penalty is paid to society, an offender has every right to a chance at a new life? But what about potential victims of convicted sex offenders, their crimes notorious for the highest recidivism rates? Don't they too have a right to pursue their happiness with no fear of a heinous attack potentially avoided if not for their ignorance of the criminal lives of their neighbors?

And if the conundrum hasn't dipped quite deep enough, there's the problem of "notification." Should police and parole officers send a form letter? Should they telephone the notice? What is their liability if mail is lost or unread, a telephone call missed, an attic apartment overlooked? Could Megan's Law be, when the covers are lifted and the corners turned, legislation enacted to placate a crime weary public with no intent that it could ever be enforced?

The skeptics maintain this.

How many of us have been informed, under the auspices of this federal law, that a convicted sex offender has moved in our midst? One informal poll, conducted via the Internet, found that only one person in the over five thousand responses received from all over the country, was able to so state. In excess of five thousand people. That's a lot of communities and in a lot of states. Yet only one person was unfortunate to have a convicted sex offender move to their community? Granted the lack of controls on such an impromptu survey, there was no denying the many respondents' lack of knowledge that such a law even existed much less having received any notification. So how can the law be enforced if so many whom it was meant to protect are unaware of its existence or unable to ascertain the source of such information?

The statisticians debate the efficacy of such a broad and nebulous law. The righteous expound on its justness because of the innocents it protects. The constitutionalists rant on this infringement of every American's birthright. And wary parents seldom receive any notification of anything at all.


Pushing aside the debate by constitutional purists, consider that there IS a way to register all convicted sex offenders newly released from prison and with their recorded home address. If the makers and shapers of this law really meant for it to be more than rhetoric, they would amend the law to require formation of an Internet web site and assign government personnel whose sole assignment is the daily maintenance of the data within. Such a central and widely known database would allow concerned parents to access the site to determine if that new neighbor across the street might be on the list.

This is not the same thing as personal mail or telephone notification, agreed. But if the ends of quick availability of information is achieved, then most would not quibble with the means.

It can be argued that if our legislators were truly sincere in the passage of Megan's Law, no mind future supreme court rulings, it will be telling if such an amendment is ultimately proposed.


Removing ourselves momentarily from the fire of the arguments, we might ask just how do we protect our children from convicted sex offenders? Indeed, and this is the crux, just how do we protect our children from ANY sex offenders?

Could Megan's Law in its purest form and performing at its optimal, lull us to a sense of security to which we are not entitled? It is not only the convicted who commit sex offenses.

Thus even if a consistently maintained web site were constructed, parents STILL will not have done everything to protect their children from those who would harm them. It isn't always evil neighbors that inflict abuse. In fact, in more cases than not, child sex abuse generally is inflicted by an individual within the family unit. In many cases, teachers, coaches or trusted adult leaders inflict the abuse. There are sex offenders, and not necessarily convicted, that would costume themselves in attire designed to inspire trust in their potential victims. A police outfit is often such a device. Here's the only solution that applies in every instance and no matter which country: Talk to Your Children and Talk to Them Straight!

Don't mince words or shy from vulgar terms. Don't be afraid to destroy their innocent trust. Don't believe that your words are wasted.

Warn them against ANYONE, in any guise, job or relation, who suggests an activity that makes them uncomfortable. Include their teachers and scout leaders in this classification. Make sure they understand this and make sure they understand this when they are old enough to understand anything. Tell them the safety actions they should take and try to cover as many scenarios as their age would have them grasp. Update this warning talk each and every year. If you have access to any great Internet web site with all known convicted sex offenders, by all means use it. And if you find the friendly fellow right down the street is on the list, tell your child to stay away from this person at all costs. Forget pity. No law will ever be enacted that says you have to be nice to someone you fear will cause you and yours harm.

If parents take this bull firmly by its horns, such well-meaning but toothless legislation such as Megan's law and the debates it spawns will be of little import. This will by no means eliminate all dangers from our children's lives. Such, in this busy and well-traveled world, is impossible. And it's a bit sad, in this age of wondrous technology, that no computer will ever be programmed to protect the children as well as the diligence and concern of loving parents. The care of our children will always be more our job than could ever be handled by another government bureaucracy.

If the limp Megan's Law has done nothing else, it's alerted us to danger in our midst and the clumsiness of our government to protect us. In true American spirit, we will always have the ability to pursue our happiness b y protecting our children in the most trustworthy fashion available to us: Watching Them Closely and Steering Them from Danger.


Pat Fish's backyard has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat. Her first book, Everything You Need to Know About Being a Woman Can Be Learned in the Garden, can be downloaded at In addition, Pat has been published in all of the major birding magazines including Birds and Blooms, Wildbird and Birders World. Pat also distributes a daily email list she calls her daily musings. Monthly, she writes a birding column called "Observations from the Feeder" at EWG Webzine.


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