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After prison, sex offenders face harassment

1-19-2007 Washington:

In a voice oozing with studied empathy, Sally Jessy Raphael consoled a woman so horribly scarred, she's afraid to reveal her face.

As the woman's story unfolded, Bob watched his grainy TV and the midday talk show with more than passing interest.

The convicted sex offender in his 30s believes he knows how the fearful talk show guest feels.

He blames his fear of the public in part on community notification, the state's attempt at making the public feel safe about sex offenders released from prison and back on the streets.

Bob is a moderate risk to reoffend, a "Level II," which means the neighbors were told where he lives and what he did - molest a boy he was baby-sitting

Word got around. In early November, Bob was at one of his favorite watering holes when a bigger man locked one arm around Bob's neck and threw him to the ground.

"He brought up that I'm a child molester and that I prefer boys," said Bob, who didn't want his real name or his exact location in the Tri-City area published.

In the words of another convicted Tri-City sex offender, notification "is like putting a gun to your head."

It's not uncommon for sex offenders who have finished a lengthy prison term to feel like prisoners in their own homes because they're afraid of retaliation from angry neighbors.

The fliers police send out or deliver door-to-door about a newly returned sex offender usually warn residents that harassment is illegal. The message isn't always heeded.
Patricia Kubie, a former Kennewick-based state Department of Corrections mental health counselor, recalled one case in which neighbors ignored police warnings.

"The neighbors would stand out there and yell, 'Sex offender!' and he had gone through treatment, and he was doing very well," said Kubie, talking about a convicted rapist who moved to Pasco in 1992 and still lives there. "He was harassed by neighbors, and it had nothing to do with behavior. I always go back to that case because it was a really sad one."

But harassment - at least the kind that gets reported to police - isn't the norm in the Tri-Cities. That's also true for the rest of the state.
A 1996 survey of Washington law enforcement files found just 33 incidents of harassment since the law went into effect in 1990. In the worst example, a home was burned to the ground.

To help discourage vigilantism, some police departments send out fliers with intentionally vague information. Pasco used to give neighbors the exact address of a sex offender but now plans to list only the block where he lives.

Either way, the system makes many sex offenders feel as though the punishment never stops. Those in the Tri-Cities subject to notification sound a common refrain - "I just want to be left alone."

Bob would be happy with that.

He works when he can, but he never did well in school and he says a back injury prevents him from holding down a steady job.

Mostly, he watches the TV set wedged into one corner of his cramped living room.

On this occasion, he watched as talk show host Raphael gently urged her guest to remove the black triangle of cloth covering her disfigured face.

Afraid of the audience's reaction, the guest kept the veil firmly in place.

Bob understands. He's now talking about moving away to start over. Unlike the guest, he can't put on a veil. If he moves to another town in Washington, there's a good chance police there would also notify his neighbors.

In his mind, he is just a "lovable" uncle who has done his time and now isn't a threat to anyone.

He can't fathom why someone would want to hurt him.

"It's not right for people to do this," he said. "But the way it is right now is just hell." ..more.. by Tri-City Herald

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