A horrible thing has happened. A little girl, only eight, has been murdered, and the prime suspect** is a man who has been on the sex offender registry in Florida since 1993 for attempted kidnapping and has had some misdemeanor sexual charges since.
Details are still sketchy, and “facts” will change as more is learned, but apparently he met the mother and daughter and gained the trust of the mother on Friday night. He took them shopping and left the store with the child on the pretext of getting them something to eat.
And now…..and now the hue and cry will go up. I could write the headlines myself. Tougher laws for sexual crimes. Mandatory life sentences for any offense involving a child.
But Florida already has some of the toughest laws for those who commit sexual crimes and some of the most stringent restrictions against registered offenders. None of that helped; none of that gave the mother the information that could have saved her child.
What if, instead, Florida had paid more attention to data that says that putting all resources into targeting those who have committed a sexual offense in the past will not reduce present or future sexual offending?
What if, instead, Florida had listened to the experts who said that the only way to reduce sexual crime, especially against children, is through comprehensive awareness, education, and prevention programs?
What if, rather than persecuting every man, woman, and child in Florida who is on the registry, Florida had looked at the research and the data and understood that punishing more and more strictly after the fact does not prevent sexual offenses from continuing to occur?
What if, instead, some of those education and prevention programs had been in place? What if the state of Florida had decided to spend even half of its resources on an attempt at prevention? Would this child’s mother have received literature or attended a meeting or heard a spot on television where she learned that almost all sexual crime against children is committed by those who have or form a connection to the family?
Might she have seen or heard about “grooming” behavior and recognized it enough so that she would have trusted this new man in her life a little less? Might some warning bells have sounded for her if she had read or heard cautions about anyone who pays excessive interest in children or tries to get a child alone, away from the parent?
We will never know, will we?
But when the strident voices are raised demanding longer sentences and more stringent conditions, I hope the state of Florida listens instead to the voices of experts, the voices suggesting once again that laws and conditions will not protect a child against a predator.
This tragic case is proof of that.
** I do not normally modify posts once they have been printed, but I need to make an exception. I originally wrote "...has been murdered by a man who..." I was taken to task, and rightly so, because I was violating my own beliefs and what I demand of others: an assumption of innocence until guilt is shown. Mea culpa.