"Tell her I said this isn't a fun game." Bubba's face was dead serious as his fingers swiped across the screen of my iPad. It was 10:15 at night and we were supposed to be playing a rousing game of Scrabble (which he usually wins, by the way). Instead, we had our county's sex offender location website pulled up and there were thirteen little flags planted within a five mile radius of the house we had just put an offer in on.
Our real estate agent had sent me a text message fifteen minutes before to ask me to call her. She couldn't say exactly why, but something had made her pull up the list of sex offenders living in the neighborhood of the house we fell in love with. She wanted us to look up the site.
Bubba was not amused.
Thirteen flags. One with a notation that said "multiple offenders" instead of offering the name and photo of one man (they were all men, in this case) and the subsequent description of his offense(s) and likelihood to offend again.
I wasn't sure what to think and our agent wasn't, either. For comparison purposes, we pulled up the list of those who live near the house we've lived in for the last ten years. Seven.
I had to go through each and every one of the individual profiles, reading about their crimes:
sex with a minor
indecent liberties (what does that even mean? Could be sexual harassment, even)
rape of a child
Oddly, the ones that were noted as "noncompliant" didn't bother me in the least. That means they haven't checked in with their probation officer and there's no way to verify they actually still live there (or ever did). That gave me hope that they had moved on.
The one that bothered me the most was the house with two offenders in it that was less than a block from a daycare center held in someone's home. Home-based daycare less than a block away from two known sexual offenders. I wonder how often that happens. I suspect more than we think.
Within this five mile radius, there are four home-based daycare centers, four schools, three parks and hundreds of homes.
I went to bed not knowing what to think.
I woke up and searched the directory of families at Eve's school and learned that also within this five mile radius there are seven families whose children attend the same school as Eve.
I looked at Bubba and said, "I don't want to be ruled by fear."
We knew that moving from the 'burbs to the city was going to prompt different kinds of discussions with the girls. We knew that it would require some adjustment on our part - smaller lawns, closer neighbors, more noise - but were focused on the benefits to this point. Benefits like driving ten minutes to school instead of 45. Benefits like being able to walk the dog without having to put him in the car and driving to a park or trail. Benefits like being part of a more diverse community.
Methinks we got diverse.
Ultimately, we didn't change our minds about the house. We still love it and feel like it is a good neighborhood. We may have to have some challenging conversations with the girls about freedom and independence earlier than we anticipated, but it is situations like this that force us to find clarity around our family's values and principles.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this entire exercise was when I began asking myself deeper questions about where convicted sex offenders ought to be allowed to live. I am a bleeding heart liberal who knows that people are products of their environment. That said, while I can have compassion for someone who has lived a life that led them to sexual violence, I wonder whether it is possible to be rehabilitated from that and I am not willing to put myself or my children in harm's way to find out. I do believe that housing two convicted sex offenders four doors down from a daycare provider is a bad idea. I also can't imagine how difficult it must be to find a place to live if you carry that past on your back. But the consequences are so enormous that I find myself wondering if stopping the cycle of sexual violence might require some ideas that I find uncomfortable.
I suspect that my abuser was himself sexually abused and that led him to an understanding that, for him, power could be gained by abusing others. In my case, the abuser actually lived in the home where the daycare was being provided, harming untold numbers of vulnerable children whose parents trusted his mother to care for them. Because of the shame and stigma associated with being a survivor of sexual abuse, and the resulting low percentage of cases actually reported, I wonder whether, once someone has shown that they are capable of that sort of violence, it ought to be shouted from the rooftops for all to hear. I know that is cruel and perhaps overzealous, and I truly do not want to be ruled by fear, but as I imagine my girls asking to walk to the corner store on a sunny summer day, I want to be able to tell them which people to avoid at all costs. And the truth is, short of memorizing the faces of each of the offenders living in the neighborhood, I can't.