Striving to achieve justice and safety

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The sex offender registry is a useful tool aimed to increase public awareness.

The Maine Sex Offender Registry receives 200,000 hits each month, making it the most viewed page on the state’s Web site. However, it is important for the public to recognize that the registry only represents a small segment of sex offenders – those who have been caught and convicted.

Statistics demonstrate that only 36 percent of sex offenses are reported to authorities, which leaves a large portion of offenders free from ever appearing on the registry. Nevertheless, the registry is a useful tool aimed to increase public safety and awareness. The majority of people using it are doing so to inform themselves and protect their families; they are not vigilantes looking to commit a crime.

Federal law requires each state to maintain a sex offender registry and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault believes it is one more tool people can use to help end the cycle of sexual assault and abuse.

The killing of two registered sex offenders on Easter morning was a heinous and unwarranted crime; however, we can only hope that it was an isolated incident. Although Stephen Marshall used the registry to track his victims down, it is important to note that there are other ways a determined individual can find this type of information. These crimes are public record, and can be found in local newspapers or through criminal background checks.

The recent news coverage about this story highlights how complicated and emotionally charged issues surrounding the management of sex offenders in the community can be. There are many views on how best to achieve justice and safety and we should all strive to meet this goal.

While we do not generally believe that the sex offender registry poses a threat to the registered offenders, we do believe that we should all be open to improving the registry any way we can. We want the sex offender registry to be the best tool it can be, and continue to serve its main purpose of helping to improve community safety.

Ultimately, concerned citizens should know that awareness and education are the first steps toward preventing victimization. Maine’s 10 sexual assault support centers are available to provide such education through community meetings about sex offender re-entry issues, as well as notification meetings when a sex offender is released into the community. In addition, these centers also provide support, information and referrals to victims/survivors and others looking for information.

Sarah Stewart is public awareness coordinator for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Augusta.

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