Update 2004: Check with your state legislators to see if your state has yet joined the national effort! (Originally published December 1997)
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Only 14 states of USA have joined national sex offender registry effort
As of December 1997, only 14 of the 50 states of the United States of America were participating in the national sex offender registry, according to White House officials. Although all states are keeping local registries as mandated by federal law, only a handful have joined in the national effort. The 14 states that so far had voluntarily taken part nationally to share data included Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Without a national computerized database effort, predators cannot readily be followed from state to state. President Clinton wrote on October 30, 1997, to the remaining uncooperative 36 state governors asking them to comply.
The effort for a national program is run by the US Department of Justice. The Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996 ordered the FBI to establish such a national registry of convicted sexual assault criminals.
CALL TO ACTIVISM
The decision to join the national sex offender registry will come from each state, one by one. The state legislatures will have to pass a law for this. If your state is not one of the ones listed above that are participating in the national program, please consider doing the following.
Write to your states governor and the local representatives to your states legislature. Also fax them the letter you write, and phone in your opinion. Print, photocopy and pass this Survivor Activist newsletter page on to other organizations and interested individuals.
Although the benefits of a national convicted-perpetrator registry should be obvious, most politicians respond to the opinions of their constituency. To get this issue on the top of the list of things to push we must make each states elected officials aware of its importance.
To find the name, address, and phone of your in-state senators and representatives and your governor look in the white pages phone directory in the blue pages of government listings. Look under the name of your state for a headings such as governors office or legislature, then call the state house for the names, addresses, phones, and fax numbers. Ask if you can write to each representative - in separate envelopes - but to each one care of the state house.
If your local phone book fails you, call directory assistance for the state capital and ask for the phone number of the state legislature. The reference department of your local public library should also be able to help you get identifying information. For those with Internet connections, there very likely is a Web site that gives you identification of the local politicians within your state.
It is best to word your letter in a non-belligerent way. Be positive about the future rather than blaming the politicians for the failure to so far implement this. Write your own personalized letter, but if you dont have a lot of time, send the same one or a similar one to each politician. In this newsletter is a copy of the letter sent to Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Almond by this writer, Frank L. Fitzpatrick.
Previous legislation passed on the federal level included Megans Law, which attempted to require states to notify the community when a child molester moves into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, only a minority of states, however, actually do mandate community notification; most only require registration by the perpetrator of his address with law enforcement, which is the basic requirement ordered by the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. The Jacob Wetterling Act was passed as part of the federal crime bill of August 1994. All states now have their own sex offender registries. A few do not have the register statewide but only county by county. These notable few, as of 1997, included Georgia, Nevada, and Nebraska.
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Key points to be made in a letter:
Sex offenders are often repeat offenders.
State registries fail when the offender skips to another part of the country. A national register is therefore imperative.
There is a strong need to protect the public.
Cite instances given in this or past newsletters of repeat offenses by released sex offenders.
52 Lyndon Rd.
Cranston, RI 02905-1121
Governor Lincoln Almond
State House, Room 143
Providence, RI 02903
Re: National sex offender registry
(Date of letter, mine was November 1997)
Dear Governor Almond,
Thank you for your past support on the issue of a statewide registry of sex offenders in Rhode Island.
I strongly urge you now to join the effort by the federal government to establish a national sex offender register. The federal government has been working on this since December of 1996 when Congress passed the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996. This act ordered the FBI to establish such a national registry of convicted sexual assault criminals. Each state is to share their statewide sex offender registry information with the federal governments central database. So far, 14 states have joined and agreed to do, in order that a sex offender - simply by skipping town to a new region of the country - cannot abuse again after escaping the tracking of one states system. As it is now, to check on a new resident, offender registries in all 50 states must be contacted individually by authorities - in actuality, even more than 50 because a couple of states track convicted sex offenders on the county level rather than statewide.
It is not only Rhode Island sex offenders moving out of our state to abuse in other states that concerns us here, of course, but also sex offenders coming in to Rhode Island from elsewhere. Without a national coordinated effort, we will know nothing about the convicted rapists and child molesters criminal pasts. Statistics show that child molesters and rapists in many cases are repeat offenders. And it is a harmful myth that sex offenders are able to be identified just by looking at them. Standard practice for a child molester is to infiltrate the ranks of volunteers who work with children - and masquerading as one of the good people - they gain easy access to new potential victims. Right now, Rhode Island sex offenders can simply leave the state; and at the same time, we can be sure that sex offenders from other states are, in turn, entering Rhode Island.
In the past, sexual crimes have been dealt with in whispers. As a survivor of sexual assault in my childhood, I know well how destructive this veil of silence can be. Had police been immediately notified, and my perpetrator, James R. Porter, been prosecuted and tracked wherever he moved after his very first offense, he would not have been able to quietly pose as a model citizen among people in Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Minnesota, while he sexually abused children in his care over a span of thirty-five years. As it was, he sexually assaulted literally hundreds of children between 1953 and 1987. Over 130 of Porters victims came forward in 1992 and 1993 to finally put a stop to his career of crime.
And Porters persistence in crime is not a rarity among sex offenders. Repeat offenses by child molesters are a commonplace occurrence. As the founders of Survivor Connections, Inc., a Rhode Island based non-profit offering support and information to survivors of sexual assault, my wife and I have had contact from over 3,300 survivors from around the country since 1992. Many of these people have learned that they were not the sole victim of their perpetrator. In addition, I often scan newspaper articles from the Internet and have identified many instances of released offenders raping again. Enclosed are articles from our newsletter, The Survivor Activist, that cite particular instances.
Please add your voice to those asking that the public be protected through the dissemination of knowledge. I am not asking that sex offenders be branded with a scarlet letter. When a convict finishes his prison term and all conditions of his parole, he has the right to start his life anew. But balanced against this must be the right of the public for protection. The authorities must be permitted the knowledge of a sex offenders past crimes so that a reasonable decision can be made about whether or not to trust that person with children. Please commit the state of Rhode Island to joining the national sex offender registry.
Frank L. Fitzpatrick
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Text of United States President Bill Clintons October 30, 1997, letter to each of the 36 governors whose states have not yet joined the national sex offender registry.
I write to you again to seek your assistance and cooperation on one of our most important responsibilities - protecting our children from violent, sexual predators. Nothing is more threatening to our families and communities than criminals who move from neighborhood to neighborhood looking for children on whom to prey. That is why we must do everything we can to track these offenders and keep them away from our children.
With your support, we have already enacted critical legislation - such as the Jacob Wetterling Act, the Pam Lyncher Act, and Megans Law - to help our communities guard against repeat sex offenders. these laws now serve as the foundation for many state sex offender registration systems and for notifying communities of released sex offenders. Congress is now considering - and I strongly support - additional legislation to help states implement these registration systems and to make sure that sex offenders convicted in federal or military courts are covered by these laws.
Equally important, my Administration has worked hard to defend the constitutionality of state sex offender registration systems and community notification laws. And I am pleased to report that three federal courts of appeal have now upheld sex offender statutes in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Washington against constitutional challenges. My Administration will continue to fight to uphold these laws in the courts.
Last year, I directed the Attorney General to create a national sexual offender registry to join together the efforts being made in all 50 states to track sex offenders. Our national registry will only be effective if every state participates and shares its data on sex offenders with other states. Although our interim registry became operational this spring, only 14 states are currently participating. With an incomplete registry, the law is unable to follow dangerous sex predators wherever they go - state by state, neighborhood by neighborhood. I urge you to move expeditiously to participate in our national registry for the safety of the public and our children.
I cannot emphasize enough how important your continued support and personal involvement is to the success of these initiatives. Through our combined efforts, we can be confident that we will have taken decisive steps to help families across our country protect their children.
Sex offender registries in Great Britain & Australia
Convicted sex offenders in England and Wales have been required to register their whereabouts with police since September 14, 1997. The centralized records are maintained on the Police National Computer, and currently list 3,237 offenders. The British Association of Chief Police Officers says that their research shows that so far roughly 83% of released inmates have complied with the new law. Police say the remaining 17% includes those very recently released who may not have yet gotten around to registering.
In Australia, a national sex offender registry to be focused specifically on child molesters is at the proposal stage. In mid-September a newspaper report from Melbournes Sunday Age said that a forthcoming report from the National Crime Authority identified that there was a loosely organized network of 5,000 pedophiles in the country. It recommended a register in New South Wales and throughout Australia. Use of the Internet and online bulletin boards to trade information on potential victims was widespread. Justice James Woods royal commission on pedophilia in Australia also had found it to be a large-scale problem. Next, New South Wales - the most heavily populated state in the country - then initiated the demand for the national register. The state premier, Bob Carr, wrote to Prime Minister John Howard in September. Following Carrs announcement to the press, the next day Queensland Police Minister Russell Cooper gave his qualified endorsement to the idea. Cooper said that he would support a national register if the majority of the people did.
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