Every sane person’s and parent’s worst nightmare is a crime against a child. To think of a child being hurt by another, especially by an adult, in any way, is practically unfathomable and certainly detestable. So it is no curious situation that when an adult endangers or harms a child, most people and parents want nothing but the worst for that offender. As a society, however, we are prone to act even more harshly against pedophiles. Though in some cultures around the world, it is not only condoned but it is commonplace for an adult to be with a youth — in 74 countries, there is no minimum age for marriage — Americans are completely intolerant of such behavior and remain unforgiving.
When the Simi Valley City Council considered an ordinance in July that aims to protect children from convicted pedophiles, the issue seemed black and white. After all, who would want their children to interact with tried, convicted, sentenced and currently released child sexual predators? The ordinance, which at first aimed at all sexual predators, has been targeted at only convicted pedophiles publicly listed on the Megan’s Law website, and the law only applies on Halloween night. The mandate: Such criminals must post signs on their front doors that read, “No candy or treats at this residence,” and they are banned from opening their doors to children on the holiday, displaying Halloween decorations or having exterior lighting on their property from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Should the Council pass the ordinance on Sept. 10, the Council’s next meeting, it will go into effect 31 days later, in time for Halloween. Similar ordinances have been passed in the cities of Orange, Ontario and Riverside. Though, based on appearances alone, it looks like a good deal — maybe both for offenders to avoid children and children to avoid offenders — there are some concerns about this Scarlet Letter-type ordinance that call into question the purpose behind it. No one would make the case that predators and children should interact. Nonetheless, should a person who has completed his or her time for such a crime, trying to live relatively peaceably, be forced to, in essence, announce publicly on the street that he or she is a convicted pedophile? Simi Valley Mayor Bob Huber said that he wasn’t aware of any such issues on Halloween in the past, but wanted to be proactive. This ordinance assumes such criminals would pose a greater threat on that night than any other night and that young children and teenagers aren’t being supervised, when in fact, more parents are out on that night than most other nights all year.
When it comes to Megan’s Law, as well, what many people might think of as an innocent act can turn into a complete nightmare. The law is clear. Anything an adult does that can be interpreted as sexual toward a minor falls under the law, and certain crimes require registration on the Megan’s Law website. Depending on which county the perpetrator is being tried in, juries may be more liberal or conservative. What one jury sees as a 16-year-old tricking a 22-year-old into a sexual relationship by lying about her age can be seen conversely as a predator taking advantage of an innocent teenager. Not to say this happens often, or even if it happens a lot, the fact remains the same — it’s all based on what the jury believes to be true. Would a 19-year-old man be convicted of pedophilia if he were to perform a sexual act with his longtime high school sweetheart who is 17? What about if he were in possession of a picture she sent of herself naked? Under the law, both are crimes against a child and both would require him to register if convicted. Though prosecutors may be careful about treading such waters, it doesn’t mean they won’t file charges and win in such cases.
In the end, it boils down to the purpose behind the decision on the proposed Simi Valley ordinance. Is it solely for the purpose of protecting our children, or is this part of some sort of political agenda? And what about the people in the neighborhood who see the sign and don’t bother to check on the crimes the resident committed? Will neighbors form an alliance against a resident to chase him or her out of the area? Furthermore, will the police have a list of Megan’s Law registrants and give out tickets or even arrest convicted pedophiles who don’t have signs up or do have up decorations? How will these convicted criminals all be informed? It seems that these sorts of laws aren’t well thought out, nor do they really serve any purpose to truly protect the public. We understand it might have been a good-effort ordinance, but the logic seems draconian and may be difficult to carry out without a witch hunt