Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moral Dilemma

This is not a knitting post, except in the sense that I am knitting to deal with my shock and horror. Yesterday I attended my monthly "Community Collaborative" meeting at my kids' school. It's a really great and very effective collaboration (as the name suggests) between the school, the police department, and different community representatives, including the management of two large apartment complexes, several churches, and local homeowners/parents (whom I represent). During this meeting, the issue of child predators came up. There have been several incidents lately with children being approached on their way to or from school by an unknown man or men trying to convince them to get in the car. This sort of thing instantly raises the hackles of parents and teachers and is cause for an all-out effort to identify the culprit or culprits and get them the hell away from our kids. Now.

As part of the discussion, the school counselor reminded us of the existence of the Megan's Law website. Megan's Law is a California law (also passed in other states, I believe) that makes available to the public the names, photos, addresses, and criminal histories of people convicted of sex crimes against children. Now, I'm not an alarmist, and I believe that people should not have to pay forever for their crimes, once their sentences are served. That said, I also believe that sexual predators are not curable, and that the interests of the public in keeping our kids safe trump the privacy interests of child predators. So I think this website is a good idea, but I seldom check it myself.

As of yesterday, though, this has changed. I got home from the meeting and logged onto the Megan's Law website. I put in my zip code, pulled up the map, and noticed a flag on a nearby street. Curious, I clicked on the flag. A picture popped up, my jaw hit the floor, and I almost fell off the couch. I know the man in the picture. Not only do I know him, he is the live-in stepfather of one of my son's friends. My son has been to their house--without me. And this man's been to my house and been swimming in my pool with my kids. This is a guy my husband and I spent time with and determined was a "nice guy." Some nice guy. He's been convicted of "lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14." And he has five kids of his own, in addition to the stepson he lives with.

Now that I have this information, I am in a moral quandary. My son will not be going to this man's house again without me. I can manage this without telling my son why or making an issue of it. I can also avoid ever having this man at my house again. But what about the other kids who are friends with this kid, whose parents may not know about his stepfather? Some of these parents are friends of mine; most of their kids are friends with my kids. Do I tell the parents? Do I strongly suggest they check the website and let them discover it for themselves? Or do I just butt out? I don't know exactly what this guy did. The website doesn't give any details. We all know that the justice system does not always work the way it should, and people sometimes get off for bad things they do or get convicted for bad things they didn't do. I would hate to be responsible for making this guy an outcast if he's innocent, and I would hate to see his stepson ostracized for something that's not his fault. But I would also hate to sit by while someone else's kid is put in danger. What a mess. What would you do?


sophanne said...

This school teacher suggests butting out based on your comments about the justice system. Such a gray area. If it indicated repeated offenses, that's another story. If it were me and I didn't know the whole story, it would be difficult for me to say something and create that community of gossip.

Maureen said...

That's a tough call, isn't it. I wonder if you could talk to someone at the school just to put the bug in their ear that it would be worthy of having discussions within the classrooms. Without going into the specifics of what you found out, they could be asked to talk to their students and educate them on what they can/should do if they're ever faced with something like inappropriate behaviour, abuse, etc. No doubt topics that most kids heard discussed before, but it never hurts to remind and reinforce.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late in reading your post and almost didn't leave a comment (as I am sure many others did not) because I had no clear recommendation for you. I wish you could find out more about the charges and frequency of the charges brought against this man. I wonder if there is a way to do this? More than once and I would be so all over it and telling my friends. Tough one. Good luck.