Sunday, August 21, 2005

Fight your battles...follow-up from The Chapel Hill News

My efforts in getting The Chapel Hill News to re-evaluate their reporting about a local sex offender paid off. This week the newspaper published several letters criticizing their reporting, and today the editor Mark Schultz wrote a special editoral reply. I was very happy to see the newspaper take this issue seriously enough to give it a full reply.

I am excerpting Schultz's editorial here:

Sex Offender Story Raises Important Questions
by Mark Schultz

The Chapel Hill News, August 21, 2005

"It took a few days, but several letters arrived last week about our story on some Coker Hills residents' reaction to a registered sex offender moving in. "The piece ... perpetuated dangerous myths," wrote Amy Tiemann. It's important to know that readers care, and the letters page is the best barometer of just how much you care.

Still, I was surprised -- if only because in deciding to cover the story, I thought we were showing we did consider the neighbors' concerns to be newsworthy....

....But the letter writers have a point. If the story fell short, it was in letting the detective's statements go unchallenged. That can happen when we're up against a deadline. So Friday morning I asked Sabrina Garcia, the domestic violence and sexual assault specialist for the Chapel Hill Police Department, about the "consensual" controversy.

For the record, the law doesn't buy that sex between adults and children can be consensual. Having sex with a child under 13 is statutory rape, as long as the perpetrator is at least 12 years old.

That's what the sex offender in Coker Hills had originally been charged with. He was convicted of second-degree rape, and in a statement said he never had sex with the girl, but did fondle her with her consent.

That word again: consent.

It comes up often, Garcia says, which is why the law steps in. It recognizes that children don't yet have the maturity to give consent. But that doesn't matter to a child molester, Garcia explains.

"In their mind, as an offender, they can justify the act," she says. "That's what offenders do: they can minimize, they can blame, they can put it in a context that avoids [taking] responsibility."

"We have individuals who have committed these crimes," Garcia says. "That is a reality across the nation. In reality we're never going to be free to live in a world isolated from sex offenders."

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