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Maryland Citizens For Sex Offender Justice
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By CARYN TAMBER - Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

Sandy Kennedy hates that her husband’s picture is on Maryland’s sex offender registry.

Elected officials and victims’ advocates say tough sex-offender laws are necessary to protect society from dangerous criminals. But some offenders and their relatives, like Kennedy, see the restrictions as overly intrusive and unnecessary.

Her husband has served his time and is a danger to no one, Kennedy argues.

In Salem, they had a witch-hunt, and in America, we’re still having a witch-hunt, and the witch-hunt is just different,” said Kennedy, a Parsonsburg nurse. “It’s the sex offender.”
- Not sure if this was worded wrong or what, but Salem is in America.  The witch hunt is always brought out in certain moral panics, to justify the punishment and torture of someone, who are the scapegoat for the societies worries.

Kennedy runs a blog called Sex Offenders and Their Wives, where she vents about the difficulties of living with sex-offender restrictions and debunks what she said are myths about offenders, like the high probability that they will re-offend and their imperviousness to treatment.

She also heads the Maryland chapter of the national group Reform Sex Offender Laws. So far, there are only three other members, she said.

Out eight years

Sandy Coulbourne, now 48, met Michael Kennedy, now 53, in 2007 at a bookstore. Both were browsing the murder mysteries.

After only a couple of dates, Michael Kennedy sat his new girlfriend down and told her he had spent 20 years in federal prison for rape and murder before being paroled in 2000. He hadn’t done it, he insisted.

She cried at the thought of an innocent man imprisoned for that long. The two married a few months later, despite his parole officer spending 45 minutes trying to convince her not to go through with it.

People ask how she can love a killer and rapist, but the man she knows could never have done those things, Sandy Kennedy said. She can recite the details of his case, pointing out police, prosecution and witness errors along the way. In fact, it took three trials, with two hung juries, to convict him.

She was spurred to activism when Michael Kennedy was required to register as a sex offender earlier this year, even though he had been out of prison for eight years.

The directive to register came out of a recent federal law that Kennedy and other convicted sex offenders are fighting.

She started reading about sex offender laws on the Internet and found that lots of offenders, their family members and some advocacy groups agreed the restrictions had gone too far.

Human Rights Watch released a study last year arguing that registration laws are overbroad, that registries have led to violence and harassment against registrants, and that residency restrictions “banish offenders from entire urban areas.”

Like Sandy Kennedy’s blog, offender-advocacy Web sites argue that the majority of registered sex offenders are not monsters who repeatedly kidnap and rape children — or, as Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Thomas P. Bernier put it, “some lecherous guy pulling 10-year-olds into a van.”

Many don’t pose a continuing threat to children, Bernier said; some never did in the first place.

Challenging the premise

Fred Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic and an associate professor of psychiatry, said sex offender monitoring laws and restrictions are predicated on the premise that offenders are more likely than not to commit another offense.

Recent studies have shown that, at most, 20 percent to 30 percent re-offend, a lower rate of recidivism than other criminals, he said. (Other sources point out that different types of sex offenders re-offend at different rates, and that this statistic only covers reported offenses.)
- I have more studies here, and here, that show the rate of recidivism is lower, around 5.3% to 3.5%.  It's not an exact science, but throwing all RSO's into one large group is wrong.  They should be evaluated on an individual basis.

Annapolis lawyer Thomas A. Pavlinic said few offenders need to be monitored for life, although many are anyway.

“There are these evil people,” said Pavlinic, who specializes in defending accused child molesters. “Those are violent sexual predators, people from whom the public has to be protected. There are a lot of people who have in the course of their life simply made a mistake, either with their own children or because of the age difference.”
- Why call them evil?  Everyone, even murderers, are entitled to representation, regardless of what they are accused of.

They “get treatment and then they never do it again,” he said.

Sandy Kennedy suggested that the government register criminals with a higher risk of recidivism, like drug dealers.

She said she is not opposed to all sex offender restrictions, just the pointless ones.

“I’m not against totally what they make us do,” she said. “I know there’s a reason people need to be protected. But come on, that Halloween stuff was a joke.”

She was referring to a widely mocked Maryland effort to get certain sex offenders to post “no candy” signs on their houses, turn off their outside lights and ignore knocks on the door on Oct. 31.

The signs were provided not only to child sex offenders but to those registered as sexually violent. So Michael Kennedy received a sign, even though the crime for which he was convicted did not involve children, his wife said.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, who runs Maryland’s Sex Offender Registry, said the effort was merely a “request” on the state’s part, designed to protect the offenders “so the community knows that they’re trying to make sure everyone’s safe.”

Opposing the registries

“Safe,” though, was not what Sandy Kennedy felt when a local newspaper published her husband’s name.

“[O]ur hick town’s little newspaper, decided to use a full page to report every sex offenders name and address,” she wrote on her blog. “I’ve read about the vigilantes who prey on sex offenders. We are small town Delmarva and I could just see some red neck get his buddies loading up in his pick up and start working on the list.”

Vigilantism is one reason some activists oppose putting offenders’ identifying information, including pictures, on Internet registries.

Paul Shannon, a founder of Reform Sex Offender Laws, said registries encourage people to target sex offenders, citing the 2006 murder of two Maine offenders by someone who found their names online. (Shannon would like to see public registries abolished; information about truly dangerous criminals should be shared among law enforcement officials, who would decide whether to alert the community.)

One of the men killed in Maine had served time for having otherwise consensual sex with his girlfriend when he was 19 and she was a few days shy of 16.

So-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders shouldn’t be required to register as child sex offenders alongside pedophiles, Shannon said.

“Virtually all adolescent sexuality is now criminalized,” said Shannon, who said he is not an offender or ex-offender, just a civil liberties advocate. “This is a serious attack on children and their right to grow up.”

ABC reporter John Stossel did a series earlier this year on offender laws gone overboard; among other people, he featured a man who had, had sex with his girlfriend when he was 19 and she was 15. Twelve years later, they are married with four children, but he must still register as a sex offender.

September 15, 2008

This Week in Congress

Your Headlines, Your Issues, Your Opinions



Oprah Winfrey is leading a campaign to help protect our nation's children from online predators who sexually prey on our children. She is calling for citizens to Contact Congress in support of Senate Bill 1738. Get more details and voice your views here. You can visit Oprah's web site for more details on her campaign.


Congressional Legislation
'A bill to establish a Special Counsel for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction within the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, to improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and to make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute predators. '
Bill # S.1738

Original Sponsor:
Joseph Biden (D-DE)

Cosponsor Total: 33
(last sponsor added 09/15/2008)
  25 Democrats
  8 Republicans
About This Legislation:
This summary has been edited for length
Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 - Title I: National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction - (Sec. 101) Directs the Attorney General to create and implement a National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction (National Strategy). Sets forth the required content of such National Strategy, including: (1) comprehensive long-range goals for reducing child exploitation; (2) annual budget priorities and federal efforts for combating child exploitation; (3) a five-year projection for program and budget goals and priorities; (4) a review of the policies and work of the Department of Justice (DOJ) related to child exploitation crimes; (5) a description of DOJ efforts to coordinate with international, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and private entities on child exploitation prevention and interdiction efforts; (6) a review of ICAC Task Force Programs; (7) plans for reducing the backlog of forensic analysis for child exploitation cases; (8) a review of federal programs for child exploitation prevention and education; (9) plans for liaisons with the judiciary on matters relating to child exploitation; and (10) a review of statistical data indicating the overall magnitude of U.S. and international child pornography trafficking.
Title II: Additional Measures to Combat Child Exploitation - Sec. 201) Requires the Attorney General to: (1) establish additional computer forensic capacity to address the current backlog for computer forensics, including for child exploitation investigations; and (2) report to Congress annually on the use of funds for such purpose. Authorizes appropriations for FY2009-FY2016.
Title III: Effective Child Pornography Prosecution - (Sec. 301) Amends the federal criminal code to expand the jurisdictional bases for prosecutions of crimes involving child exploitation, selling or buying of children, material involving sexual exploitation of minors or containing child pornography, and obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.
Title IV: National Institute of Justice Study of Risk Factors - Requires the National Institute of Justice, not later than one year after the enactment of this Act, to: (1) prepare a report on investigative factors that indicate whether a subject of an online child exploitation investigation poses a higher risk of harm to children; and (2) submit such report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Authorizes appropriations.
Detailed, up-to-date bill status information on S.1738.