Living next door to a convicted child molester is a terrifying experience for one Grand Traverse area mother of three young children. How would I protect myself and my family if he ever came over here? she asks.
Last year, while scanning the Michigan State Police Sex Offender Registry website, she was dismayed to find that a sex offender was living next door to her familys four-acre spread southeast of Traverse City. She learned that her new neighbor had been released from a 15-year prison sentence for second degree criminal sexual conduct involving two toddlers, one of whom was his own child. She visited the county courthouse where the case was tried and was shaken and disturbed by the court records. It was awful stuff he did to them, she says.
According to Michigan State Police documents, a second degree conviction means sexual contact (short of penetration) with the threat of bodily harm to a minor.
Today, she fears for her children, ages six, three and one, and for other kids in the neighborhood. (Her name and that of the offender have been omitted from this article.)
Every day you hear in the newspapers about this sort of stuff, she says in a telephone interview. Its an awful feeling. From what I heard about these sorts of people, they dont necessarily get better and some of them prey on kids again.
THE SEX OFFENDER NEXT DOOR
Living next door to a sex offender is more common than you might imagine, even in Northern Michigan.
In Traverse City, for instance, there are a total of 103 sex offenders registered for the 49686 and 49684 zip code areas on the Sex Offender Registry website (www.michigan.gov/msp). In Petoskey/Harbor Springs, there are 27 sex offenders registered in the 49770 zip code area. There are perhaps half a dozen in Leelanau County and twice that number in Benzie County.
Convictions tallied on the website range from indecent exposure and gross indecency between male persons to possession of child pornography and child sexual abuse.
Then too, the website lists a garden variety of rapists in area neighborhoods and locales, from those who have committed violent first degree sexual penetration to those guilty of fifth degree sexual contact.
Proximity to playgrounds, schools and other child facilities can add an additional concern.
Such is the case in the Traverse area situation. We drive our kids to private school, but theres a campground and a bus stop near the home and I get a feeling of impending doom, the woman says.
Here we live by a campground, she adds. You go to a campground and you get a sense that people are friendly just like yourself; but now we have a real fear and a perceived threat.
WHAT TO DO?
Although the State Police website has considerable information on who must register as a sex offender, it is silent on how neighbors can protect themselves.
In the woman‘s case described here, she said the Grand Traverse County Sheriff‘s Department was aware of the situation and that she had been advised to look for tracks in the snow near her home as a warning sign.
Of note, a new film, “The Woodsman,“ starring Kevin Bacon, dramatizes the story of a pedaphile trying to resume life in his community. For Roger Ebert‘s review of the film, see page 35.