Prohibiting Sex Offenders From Youth Serving Organizations

If you have been watching television over the past few months, chances are you might have seen a commercial by the software giant Microsoft depicting a 4 year-old child clearly demonstrating proficiency in the use of its Windows Live Photo Gallery software. While Microsoft is clearly able to get its implicit marketing message to its intended audience, the greater American public, there are other more austere implications to be considered.

In twenty-first century society, children are introduced to the computer not too long after they are able to walk, and as they grow, are unable to imagine a world without virtual gaming consoles and advanced computing devices that are as central in our daily lives as the television was a quarter century ago. Indeed, most adults now cannot grasp the notion of going through a day without the use of a mobile telephone, a reminder that adults too become enamored and almost completely dependent on these more contemporary devices.

But with these marked advances in technology comes caution, and inevitable danger, especially when our children are operating these devices alone, as ‘Kylie’ ostensibly was in the aforementioned Microsoft commercial. If a 4 year-old can operate, and appear to master, software that some adults remain novices at, then they are certainly able to cogently navigate and explore the internet, a sobering prospect for all parents.

If left unprotected and unsupervised, our children are vulnerable to an entire spectrum of cyber predators, especially sexual offenders. These offenders are often relentless in their pursuit of our children, and unfortunately, are usually technologically proficient, an evolving dynamic in the location and apprehension of these individuals. The U.S. Department of Justice Statistics estimates that over 60% of sexual offenders are currently imprisoned for victimizing children younger than 14 years of age.

In December of 2007 a bill I championed in the Legislature, to prohibit convicted sexual predators from accessing the internet was signed into law. The measure gave New Jersey virtually unparalleled authority to monitor and restrict internet access by convicted sex offenders. Currently, there are no federal laws that restrict internet access to sex offenders; however, since the passage of the aforementioned legislation, many other states have adopted similar laws.

When Megan Kanka was abducted, raped, and viciously murdered by a previously convicted sexual predator in 1994, she was only 7 years old. Even before this incident sparked national awareness on the issue of sexual predators, I felt it was incumbent upon the State to monitor convicted sexual offenders. I became prime sponsor on the landmark legislation that was drafted in her namesake.

Megan’s Law has helped make New Jersey residents feel safer by the unrestricted disclosure of the location of convicted sex offenders. Besides measuring awareness among the public, the underlying premise of Megan’s Law was to limit the opportunities of sexual predators to offend. Restricting convicted sexual offenders from accessing the internet is, of course, a necessary measure to address recent technological advances, there are even more limitations that can be considered.

This legislative session, I submitted legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from serving in youth serving organizations. Common sense dictates that youth serving organizations would not allow sex offenders to work in any capacity in the first place; and moreover current state law provides nonprofit youth serving organizations the ability to request criminal history background checks for their employees and volunteers. However, if this measure is in enacted, it will be a crime of the third degree for any convicted sex offender who violates the provisions of this bill by holding a position, or otherwise serving in a paid or unpaid capacity. It will be a crime of the fourth degree for a person who knowingly hires, engages, or appoints a sex offender to serve in youth serving organization.

As the original prime sponsor of Megan’s Law, and subsequent measures to stymie the threat of sexual predators in New Jersey, I continue to place a premium on the health and safety of our children. Decreasing the vulnerability of our children when they are alone or away from their parents is the key to making sure that these offenses never happen.