You and your family interact with dozens of people throughout every day, from neighbors who attend community events to coaches who help your children improve their pitching technique. While parents want to assume the best in people, you can’t be too careful when it comes to your children’s — and your own — safety. Here’s how you can check for sex offenders in your area and what you need to know about their labels to determine how much of a risk they are to your family.
Research a Neighborhood Before You Move
One of the most popular ways to find local sex offenders is to look up a neighborhood before moving there. In this case, it helps to use databases to find criminals listed by area. You can search by your city, ZIP code, or even your address and find registered sex offenders within a certain radius. Some people prefer to limit their search to within their neighborhoods, while others use the tool to identify people in surrounding areas.
For example, many sex offender laws limit how close registered offenders can live to schools and parks. However, if your child bikes to school or visits friends outside of that radius, he or she could be at risk of interacting with local sexual offenders. Before you drop your child off at a friend’s house or take him or her to a new place, it helps to check the local offender registry to see if they’re concentrated in that area.
It always helps to do this research before you move to a new location. You wouldn’t want to discover that you live close to a violent offender after you already signed a lease or bought a home. A few minutes of research could save you a lot of frustration in your new home.
Find a Specific Name or Record
If you don’t want to spend an afternoon scrolling through all of the sex offenders in your area, consider using CheckThem’s sex offender database, which allows you to look up someone by name and then narrow the search to your state. This is a great option for checking on new neighbors or community members, and can also be used to check on potential coaches or tutors for your kids.
While you can narrow the CheckThem search by state, you can also run a search through all of the states. While sex offenders have to register and get approval any time they want to move, their records might not follow them immediately. By broadening your search, you’re guaranteed to find any records that are out there.
Understand Your Risk Level
Activists are constantly trying to modernize the sex offender registry to paint a more accurate depiction of how dangerous sex offenders are. If you’re just given a broad list of names, then how are you supposed to tell the difference between a nonviolent offender from 12 years ago and a violent offender from last year? Fortunately, the Adam Walsh Act categorizes offenses by severity, which correlates with how long sex offenders must register. There are typically three categories:
- Tier One: The offender must register for 15 years. This is typically for nonviolent crimes where the victim is over the age of consent.
- Tier Two: The offender must register for 25 years. This is typically for nonviolent crimes, though the victim might have been a minor.
- Tier Three: The offender must register for life. This is typically for violent crimes and crimes against minors.
Along with the severity of the offense, some local databases have started including tiers for the likelihood of reoffending. These typically also fall into three levels, with lower numbers meaning they’re unlikely to offend again and higher numbers meaning they’re habitual offenders.
Learn About the Type of Offense
Outside of the basic tiers discussed above, some websites color-code their sex offender list based on the crime. They will highlight names or locations in red for crimes against children, yellow for rapists, blue for sexual battery, and green for other offenses. This allows parents to understand the threat these sex offenders pose to their children.
In one Florida case, an 18-year-old girl was labeled as a sex offender because she had a relationship with a younger female classmate, and the parents believed gay relationships were a sin. Because the girl was 18, she was labeled a sex offender because her girlfriend was 15. In this instance, the sex offender is nonviolent, unlikely to repeat the crime again, and not a visible threat to her community, which means people are more likely to be fine living near her than a violent offender or child pornographer.
Know Your Rights and Theirs
Even if there is a sex offender living in your area, you, as a parent, have the right to protect your child. For example, some states limit the activities of sex offenders on nights like Halloween. They may be required to put a “No Trick or Treating” sign out and are instructed to stay indoors and away from children.
Sex offenders must also follow strict parole guidelines. If they violate their parole and live within a certain distance of a park or a day care center, you can report them to local law enforcement. By understanding the guidelines in your state, it’s possible to keep your children safe from any sex offenders nearby.
While it’s good to know your rights, it also helps to know the rights of these sex offenders. Previous laws that were meant to make sex offenders more public to families ended up getting modified because of violent threats from neighbors. Sex offenders still have a right to live and work in your community, and knowing their rights will prevent you from stepping over the line and breaking the law yourself.
Armed with the right tools, you can significantly reduce the risk that your family comes in contact with a violent sex offender while limiting the number of nonviolent offenders living in your area. The research you do today could save your child’s life or prevent him or her from going through years or trauma and recovery therapy.