MARC CHASE: Protect victims, don't just punish monsters

2014-04-24T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Protect victims, don't just punish monstersMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 24, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It's impossible to feel any measure of sympathy for convicted sex offenders, especially those who victimize children. The parent in me says hit these monsters with every possible penalty the law prescribes.

But at some point, logic should be applied in determining which of the laws on the books are effective at truly protecting potential victims.

The case of a former Portage middle school teacher and admitted sex offender raises an important question about an Indiana law barring registered offenders — whose victims were children — from residing within 1,000 feet of parks, schools and youth centers.

I know these types of laws well, and the legislative bodies adopting them often misleadingly argue they provide a layer of protection for children.

About 11 years ago, I examined a more restrictive law in Iowa prohibiting sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and day care homes or facilities.

An investigation at the Quad-City Times newspaper in Davenport concluded the law amounted to a sex offender rural-relocation measure. After conceptual 2,000-feet circles were drawn around schools and day cares in urban areas, offenders' only residential options were in cornfields outside of town.

I've led similar and more recent reporting investigations at The Times, though the 1,000-feet circles here don't appear quite as restrictive as what we saw in Iowa.

I have to admit kicking sex offenders out of town seems like a great option on face value. Some of us would like to kick sex offenders other places as well.

But Bryan Truitt, the attorney for former Portage teacher Bryan Tyman, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to soliciting a minor, begrudgingly made a good point this week. Truitt successfully petitioned Porter County Judge Mary Harper for special permission allowing his client to remain in his home, even though it's located within 1,000 feet of Olson Memorial Park.

The prosecutor didn't object.

You won't catch me arguing on behalf of a middle school teacher who pleaded guilty to texting a sexually explicit photo to a female student and then requesting she return the favor.

But Truitt's court motion pointed out a flaw I've always seen as glaring in nearly all sex-offender residency restrictions throughout the country. Most of these measures, Indiana's included, don't bar offenders from visiting schools, parks or other restricted areas.

Tyman can knock on the door of a school, walk past schoolyards populated with children or picnic in a park loaded with kids if he wishes, all within bounds of Indiana law. Such offenders just can't reside within 1,000 feet of those places.

So how truly effective are these residency restrictions at protecting children?

If we're using such laws as additional punishments for people convicted of putrid, inexcusable crimes, I'm OK with it.

But let's not create a false sense of security by pitching such laws as a safety net for our kids.

It's like telling a wolf to dig his den 1,000 feet away from a flock of sheep and pretending he will lose his taste for mutton.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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