Sex offenders


I never like using the names of teenagers accused of sexually abusing young children because they are children themselves. Most likely, they were also abused. But the compassion and protectiveness one feels for such teens shouldn’t outweigh the safety of those around them — particularly before they are tried and sentenced, if they are found guilty.

This issue comes up every time I see teens charged with sexual abuse, and today it came up again. The story is pasted below because the online link has messed up in The Gazette’s database, but you can still see the firestorm of comments it generated:

The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — Two Cedar Rapids teens have been charged in separate instances of second-degree sexual abuse, accused of committing sexual acts on children under the age of 12.
Hannah L. Hall, 15, of 1443 E. Bertram Rd. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5 year-old child between Oct. 23, 2007, and July 24, according to court documents. She is also charged with indecent exposure, accused of exposing her genitals to the child.
Patrick W. Conlon III, 14, of 820 15th St. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5year-old boy between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 28, according to court documents.
Hall is set to go to trial on her charges Feb. 20 in Juvenile Court. Conlon’s Juvenile Court trial is set for March 19.

It is my job as public safety reporter to make sure my community has the information it needs to make informed decisions. We only publicize serious (mostly felony) charges against juveniles. It’s a common misconception that juvenile court records are confidential — once a petition has been filed against a juvenile in Iowa, the charges contained on it become public record unless it is sealed by a judge. Unlike “adult” court, very few petitions are dismissed from juvenile court after they are made public record because most of the work is done BEFORE charges are ever filed. That mechanism is there to protect children, and I keep that in mind every time I get access to these records.

I’m also aware that it is human nature to automatically demonize anyone who sexually abuses a child. In some instances the people who do it truly deserve to be scorned, but reserving judgment has never done me wrong. It affects me greatly to think some of these teens I write about may be hurting inside because of abuse that happened to them and are merely acting out those scenes on others. I was a victim of emotional abuse as a child, and from my own experience I can tell you patterns of unacceptable behavior carry through generations of family members. I ache for kids in much worse situations than mine.

Perhaps identifying these patterns of abuse will eventually lead to a better society through the treatment of these teens who are caught in the middle.

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I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea, especially for people like Eugene Anderson. I watched KGAN’s story on Eugene tonight with interest, mainly because they probably got the idea from my coverage on sex offenders who are allowed to live in parking lots and under bridges, as well as the change of address listings I’ve started putting in our Police Log. But I’m also interested because I know the law that helped force him there needs to be changed.

Anderson was convicted of raping his stepdaughter while displaying a dangerous weapon in 1994 outside of Iowa. He was later released from jail, and he showed up in Cedar Rapids 10 years later. He registered his address as 531 12th St. SE and within 3 years was twice charged with failure to register his correct whereabouts with the Sheriff’s Office. After he served his jail time for the last charge, he registered his address as living underneath the Third Street bridge in mid-November. And, apparently, he’s keeping true to his word.

KGAN reporter Chris Jose went down there tonight to talk to Anderson, and he found him. He told Jose that he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him, but that people should try living a week in his shoes. Basically, he wanders the streets of Cedar Rapids all day because he has nowhere else to go, then sleeps under a bridge. Sounds like a good plan for a guy convicted of violently raping his stepdaughter, no?

Here’s an idea — how about trying to make this guy’s life better instead of worse? He’s got no money, no house, no job, no family. He says he doesn’t break the law, but what’s he got to lose? Clearly, he hasn’t always been a good guy, but laws like Iowa’s 2,000-foot law haven’t made it any easier on him post-conviction. Don’t we  need to plan for the reintegration of ALL criminals into our communities once they’ve completed their sentences and try to help them become awesome, healthy tax-paying citizens such as ourselves? After all, the only difference between them and us is that they got caught doing something wrong.

So kudos to you, Chris Jose. I’ve been able to catch up with very few registered sex offenders in my time. Especially in the bitter cold.