what I want you to know: discovering a sex offender lives in the neighborhood

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This post is written by Jaimie Bowman.

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On Halloween night, we made a horrifying discovery after we came home and put the boys to bed. We went trick-or-treating at a sex offender's house. 

I know.

While we were walking up and down the blocks near our house, I vaguely remembered that a sex offender lived in our neighborhood, but was not sure where exactly.  I told my husband, "I'm sure his lights will be off. After all, it's illegal for them to hand out candy on Halloween."

Wrong.

After we put the boys to bed, I looked up the Megan's Law website.  I typed in the zip code and saw the red dot dangerously close to our house.  The photo came up of the man, and I called my husband in the room. We looked at each other with wide eyes - it was him.

There was a certain house we went to, and I walked our older son up to the door. The man seemed nice, but I had a creepy feeling. He looked at my son, smiled, and gave him some candy, and we left.  But it was him.

For awhile I really freaked out. I felt like a horrible parent.  I had trouble getting to sleep, knowing that I had just put my son in the worst situation possible - the presence of a registered sex offender; one who had committed "lewd and laviscious acts with a child under age 14."

I had to really pray last night for peace.

This morning I called a friend and told her how I was feeling, and she reassured me.  "We are around people like that all the time and we don't even know it."  It's true.  We don't know the strangers who live in our neighborhoods, who we come into contact with on the streets, in grocery stores, at gas stations.  It's a scary world we live in.

I called the police this morning and spoke to a detective in the sex crimes division. "Unless he is on probation or parole," she said, "there is nothing we can do. He is allowed to hand out candy." She looked him up for me.  "He is not on probation or parole, so he is really no different from any other neighbor out there.  Except that people who have committed crimes like this often do repeat them, so it is wise to be aware and check out the website regularly.  Even your kid's friends houses - if they want to go play, look the address up.  You can also write your local congressman and ask for the laws to be changed.  I'm sorry there is nothing we can do."

I felt helpless. Seriously, nothing they can do?  We don't know how long ago his crime was.  Statistics vary on how often sex offenders repeat - but most studies show it is a rate between 50-90%. 

Does that mean that we should lock our doors and keep our kids inside at all times?  That's not our plan. We are very vigilant about watching our kids and being careful who they are around.  When they are outside playing, we keep a very close on on them at all times (thankfully they are not in view of this convicted sex offender and he does not know where we live).  Yet no matter how hard we try to protect our kids, there will always be bad people in the world.

What is the solution?  We do our best to protect our children, and we trust God with their lives. We educate ourselves, and we do our research.  We volunteer at their school and get to know the kids and the adults they are around.  It is just a shame no matter what steps we may take,  the law doesn't protect our children more from sex offenders with this horrible behavior.  So they continue to turn on their lights and hand out candy on Halloween to unsuspecting children and parents.

Next time, we know better.  Check the website before we go out trick-or-treating.  Be aware of who our neighbors are.  And always, always be watchful.




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