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August 20, 2017

Is it important to have laws barring sex offenders from living anywhere near their victims?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new AP piece headlined "Sex offenders can live next door to victims in many states." Here are excerpts:

A convicted sex offender who molested his niece when she was 7 years old moved in next door to his victim nearly a dozen years after he was sent to prison for the crime. Outraged, the Oklahoma woman, now 21, called lawmakers, the police and advocacy groups to plead with them to take action.  Danyelle Dyer soon discovered that what Harold Dwayne English did in June is perfectly legal in the state — as well as in 44 others that don't specifically bar sex offenders from living near their victims, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"I always felt safe in my home, but it made me feel like I couldn't go home, I couldn't have my safe space anymore," Dyer told The Associated Press, which typically doesn't identify victims of sexual assault, but is doing so in Dyer's case because she agreed to allow her named to be used in hopes of drawing attention to the issue.  "He would mow in between our houses.  Him moving in brought back a lot of those feelings."

Advocacy groups say the Oklahoma case appears to be among the first in the U.S. where a sex offender has exploited the loophole, which helps explain why dozens of other states have unknowingly allowed it to exist. "This is something that I would dare say was never envisioned would happen," said Richard Barajas, a retired Texas judge and executive director of the nonprofit National Organization for Victim Assistance.  "In all the years that I've been involved with the criminal justice system, I've never seen a case like this."

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have laws dictating how far away sex offenders must stay from their victims — 1,000 feet in Tennessee, for example, and 2,000 feet in Arkansas. Other states haven't addressed the issue, though like Oklahoma they have laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within a certain distance of a church, school, day care, park or other facility where children are present.

"You assume it can't happen and then realize there is no provision preventing it from happening," said one Oklahoma prosecutor, Rogers County District Attorney Matt Ballard, whose agency is responsible for keeping tabs on sex offenders in his area. "To have even the possibility of an offender living next to the victim is extremely troubling."

Arkansas passed its provision in 2007. State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, a former prosecutor, said lawmakers drafted the provision out of "common sense," not as a response to a situation like Dyer's. But Barajas, whose group discussed the loophole with attendees at its annual training event this past week, said support for such laws typically gain traction "when someone who was impacted steps up," like Dyer. "Legislation is never created in a vacuum," he said.

Oklahoma lawmakers have now drafted legislation to close the loophole, using Dyer as their champion.  "Of the 70,000 square miles in Oklahoma, this individual happened to choose a place next door to the victim," said state Rep. Kyle Hilbert, who represents Dyer's mostly rural district and is sponsoring the legislation....

Advocacy groups said most legislatures across the U.S. would be able to close the loophole in their laws relatively easily, and said such measures typically receive strong backing from victims, clergy, parents and police.  "I don't see any legal reason why those statutes cannot be amended to ensure that the actual victims are protected; it's no different than prohibiting sex offenders from living 1,000 feet from a church or school," Barajas said. "It's not that the legislation (already on the books) is anti-victim, it's just that we have lacked the voice. We certainly have a megaphone, but when you talk about victims of (sexual abuse), you can't have a megaphone big enough."

Dyer, who is attending the University of Central Oklahoma in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said she hopes her story will help other victims who may think they're trapped in similar situations. "I think a lot of people feel like they are alone and that nobody cares," Dyer said. "The biggest thing is that they're not alone."

I fully understand the desire and need to protect victims from those who criminally victimized them, not only in sex offense cases but also in other settings.  But if the problem highlighted in this article is rare, I would urge legislatures to be cautious before passing broad new laws that would impact a broad swath of offenders.  With research suggesting that broad sex offender residency restrictions may be doing much more harm than good, I worry about one disconcerting case prompting states to embrace more broad collateral consequences that could create some unexpected consequences.

August 20, 2017 at 01:57 PM | Permalink


Exposure is the standard treatment of PTSD. I am afraid of dogs after getting bitten. I have to get closer and eventually hang out with dogs to end PTSD from a dog bite.

His moving in nearby is an opportunity for Philadelphia Style Rezoning. This is where fires keep breaking out until the person has moved out.

She qualifies for a PFA. Call the police if he looks at her.


Best remedy? Get a licensed pistol. Shoot him in the genitals. Tell the police you felt threatened. To deter.

What will really happen?

Stupid laws with horrifying unintended consequences will be enacted. Thousands of legal procedures will have to take place yearly. Thousands of lawyers will have to be hired to present the plaintiff, the defendants, and the public interest in the middle.

And, child abuse will continue to increase. Thank the criminal privileging lawyer profession.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 20, 2017 2:24:13 PM

A discretionary rule in place, especially for something as blatant as living next door, might be appropriate. A zero tolerance rule, especially involving a range of violent crimes, would lead to dubious results.

Note this is living next door to the victim. Not just near a park, a family with a child or whatever.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2017 2:27:34 PM

Joe. Draft a viable and constitutional statute for us.

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 20, 2017 2:49:09 PM

Huh? Why doesn't she use the tried and true process of getting a restraining order? It is common for restraining orders to require those restrained from not having any contact with the victim and staying a certain distance away.

This is more of what former commentator Erika used to call "icky perv" syndrome. The woman in this situation doesn't have any rational basis for her complaint so she invents an irrational one hoping that we will be sympathetic to her irrationality because "those people" are "icky pervs". In short, she's hoping that since she is hysterical the solution to her problems is to convince everyone else to be hysterical too.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 20, 2017 3:21:26 PM

"I always felt safe in my home, but it made me feel like I couldn't go home, I couldn't have my safe space anymore," Dyer told The Associated Press

But why? By your own definition he is a pedophile and pedophiles aren't attracted to 21 year olds. So what about him makes you feel unsafe? There is zero evidence that pedophiles magically transmute into adult sex offenders. So logically she should feel relieved that she is no longer on his radar and this should make her feel more safe.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 20, 2017 3:25:23 PM

A restraining order requires a certain level of evidence that there is reason to fear harm tied to the specific situation. It is not unknown that people are unable to obtain them and are harmed, it takes time to obtain them or they a violated.

A clear rule involving past offenders in certain cases not being able to live next to their victims would be more clear-cut. People who are on parole, probation etc. often have a no contact order of some nature because unlike the generic restraining order situation, there is a greater concern something will happen.

A victim generally rationally has some reason to fear being attacked again. There is also an emotional aspect to not want to live next to someone who sexually molested you. It is not merely some "ick" factor against some random "sex offender." The person was convicted of molesting her. The final argument is that he is much less likely to molest an adult. The fact he is ONLY a CHILD molester is in fact not highlighted in the article. I assume too that at 21, she might eventually have a young child herself.

But, the first comment doesn't seem to limit itself to that.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2017 3:51:41 PM


"A victim generally rationally has some reason to fear being attacked again."

Certainly, as I crime victim myself I know all too well about it and I remember having panic attacks for months after. However, we live in a society dominated by the rule of law, not the rule of fear. So her fears are irrelevant, as mine where, to anyone but herself.

"There is also an emotional aspect to not want to live next to someone who sexually molested you."

Again, understandable. Yet her subjective emotional state has to be balanced and measured against other socially beneficial rules such as the fact that he has paid whatever punishment society has given for his crime, that he is innocent of any future crime until proven guilty, the fact that as a general rule we want to rehabilitate and reintegrate former offenders of whatever kind into society, and the fact that as a general rule we want the free movement of people and property so as to progress the welfare of the public at large. At some point a single female's emotional state, or even the emotional state of a tiny minority of females, can't trump all other socially beneficial policy agendas.

"A restraining order requires a certain level of evidence that there is reason to fear harm tied to the specific situation."

Exactly. So if that is not the case what is the public policy arguments for her position? You haven't advanced any. All you have done is appeal to our sympathy over the emotional and sentimental plight she is in. One can have sympathy and still think she should go jump in a creek to cool herself off.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 20, 2017 5:30:58 PM

It's ironic that we tend to try to find a line of reasoning behind this. We should consider that such a restriction would fit well with other, equally groundless sex offender laws, which only serve the interests of politicians to gather more votes.

Posted by: Oswaldo | Aug 20, 2017 7:40:58 PM

This situation would seem to be rare, and shouldn't require new laws. In Lexington, Kentucky, where I live and work as a paralegal for a criminal defense lawyer, the sex offender residency restrictions are so tight that there is almost nowhere inside New Circle Road (the inner beltway highway around the city) that registered sex offenders can live. Due to the restrictions, registered sex offenders can only live in rural Fayette County or in a few of the poorer neighborhoods in the city.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Aug 20, 2017 8:13:26 PM

If my next door neighbor's teenage kid was convicted of B&E into my home, as a crime victim, should I expect him to be barred from living next door to me forever?

BS laws based on emotion are irrational and just plain stupid. Therefore, our dumber than dirt lawmakers will pass them, with the backing of a spineless judiciary and enforced by an eager beaver LE agency, resulting in much more work for the legal (not justice) system.

Posted by: albeed | Aug 20, 2017 9:21:24 PM

"This situation would seem to be rare, and shouldn't require new laws."

The article suggests -- granting a person thinks she has a reason to keep him away -- a new law was required here.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2017 10:40:59 PM

"However, we live in a society dominated by the rule of law, not the rule of fear. So her fears are irrelevant, as mine where, to anyone but herself."

The concerns of victims are not merely relevant to the individuals but to the society at large. Note I said "rational" fear as well. This would factor into the situation.

The reply then notes that concern for her (which appears to be deemed reasonable in a vacuum, not mere "emotion") should be balanced with other things. That's fine. But, I'm not sure how him living in that specific location is compelling balancing everything. If anything, there might be for instance a concern that clashes with his former victim (or members of her family etc.) will complicate his re-entry into society.

Finally, it is argued that "All you have done is appeal to our sympathy over the emotional and sentimental plight she is in."

Nope. I suggested that there is when an actual victim is involved in this fashion (not merely of a breaking and entering either) that there is an additional chance of repeat offense as well as a reasonable fear, partially emotionally based, that goes beyond some generalized "ick" factor involving sex offenders. I don't really find it necessary to tell victims of child molestation to jump in a creek to cool themselves but maybe I'm just being emotional there. Grant that last part.

Still, I said I would make the rule discretionary, realizing a case by case analysis is warranted. The reasonable fear in this case -- convicted sex offender -- makes it warranted to have a looser requirement than a normal order of protection. This follows normal practice regarding stricter rules once you are convicted. If it is determined that a child molester is not likely to strike again for an adult, that would be a factor. OTOH, emotional harm that can be avoided here by simply requiring a convicted sex offender not to live one single location itself might not be enough.

Avoiding harm to victims while providing minimal burdens to convicted criminals via a not zero tolerance rule is a quite reasonable approach based that Spock can deem logical.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2017 11:06:32 PM

I don't see a need for a law, simply a reasonable probation or parole condition. Generally speaking, parole officers are required to approve the residency plan of probationers/parolee. In addition, the typical probation or parole conditions include no contact with the victims.

The specific incident cited in the article seems to be a case of a screw-up by the parole officer. Of course, in this country, when something falls through the cracks, the first inclination is to pass a new statute.

Posted by: tmm | Aug 21, 2017 10:39:34 AM

Wow--I find myself agreeing with Joe's point of view . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Aug 22, 2017 12:47:41 PM

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