Dear Members and Advocates,
Like most kids, I used to go to the carnival when it came to town. I remember exiting the tailgate of the station wagon of the carpooling parent, there was a reminder of where and when we’d get picked up, a cautionary “be careful on the rides” or “don’t eat too much junk”, but never a warning about the sex offenders. Granted, it was a time before the registry even existed, but there wasn’t all this parental hysteria about the mythical sex offender fair worker that exists today.
In preparation for this week’s update, I did a Google search to find the statistics on sexual assaults by employees on the registry at carnivals and fairs. I wanted to understand exactly how big a problem this is that it required such targeted legislation. I could not find any results. All this made me question why the topic of registrants working at fairs has become such a “thing”. What was it about a registrant working at the 2021 Illinois State Fair that caused lawmakers to stand up and say, “we’ve seen enough! There must be a law!”? And just to clarify, the employee registrant wasn’t molesting any kids at the Illinois fair, he was simply working. Illinois is not the irrational one off. Last month, here in Lee County, Florida, an individual was arrested for working at a fair. Again, no allegations of abuse or inappropriate conduct towards a child (or an adult), merely working there was the actual crime.
While I understand that working at locations where children are present might not be the best choice, when your employment prospects are not that great and you have a family to support, it might be the only choice. Working at a fair often involves back-breaking work tearing down and setting up rides, sitting outside in the heat, washing the puke off the tilt-a-whirl, and it probably doesn’t pay well. Isn’t it possible that someone might take the job because it was easy to get since nobody wants it? Why is there an automatic presumption that these two men decided to forego an executive position with a corner office because they wanted to be close to kids? The same thing happens when a registrant is “caught” living at an unregistered address 900 feet from a school. Isn’t it possible that someone might do that because they just want to sleep in a bed and not have to defecate in a plastic grocery bag should they wake up in the middle of the night? Why is there an automatic presumption that the man decided to forego all the other options in his real estate portfolio just to choose this home because he can sleep closer to a school when the school is closed anyhow?
There’s a lot of delusional thinking out there and this delusional thinking has led to stupid laws. Like most sex offender legislation, a “ban on employment at a fair” is another solution to a problem that does not exist. Even if a registrant had ever molested a kid while working at a fair, such a negligible risk does not justify foreclosing legitimate employment prospects for tens of thousands of people who just want to work at any job that will hire them. And it’s not just fairs. In the past we’ve posted about registrants being fired restaurants, as landscapers and even hauling trash. Most states won’t let someone on the registry obtain a professional license or take a service job like repairing an appliance or as a mover because it requires entering a home. If the list of banned employment options keeps becoming longer because children “might be present” at a location, pretty soon there won’t be much left. This isn’t a private babysitting job, a fair is a large event with plenty of other people around. I’m sure someone who robbed a bank has given up on the dream of becoming a teller one day. But can you imagine how difficult it would be if they can’t work anywhere that “money might be present”?
These are challenging economic times. Even people with no criminal history are feeling the pain at the grocery store and the gas pump. Real estate has gone through the roof, leaving rents increasing by 15-20% across Florida. Combine record inflation with someone who already has difficulty finding employment because of the stigma and limited housing options because of residency restrictions and you put people in desperate situations. These “solutions” are not solving anything and they are only creating more problems. It would be one thing if they worked but they don’t. They completely ignore the reality that the most likely perpetrator of sexual abuse is not the random worker showing up for professional reasons, but the friend or family member there for personal reasons.
If the tone of this week’s update is frustration, I’m sorry. We field dozens of calls each week from desperate people who can’t feed their family after being fired from another job simply because they are on the registry, or from desperate family members whose husband/father/son is sleeping in a dumpster behind a car wash at night instead of at home, simply because he is on the registry. It’s frustrating to not have answers to give people. There is a population out there that is trying to do right and rebuild their lives, while lawmakers are legislating them out of jobs and out of housing options. Lawmakers argue they are doing it “to protect children” but that’s BS! It’s propaganda designed to win political brownie points. If they actually cared about protecting the children, they would read the research and discover they are actually compromising public safety.
If you get a chance this week, please remind your Senator or Representative that some people on the registry have children also and their children need to eat. Also, remind them that kids might live 2501 feet away from a school. And finally, remind them that housing and employment instability are triggers for re-offense, so if they actually do care about public safety, stop messing with people’s jobs and housing!
The Florida Action Committee
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July 16 – Sarasota Meet-and Greet
July 23- Lee County Meet and Greet in Ft Myers
July 30 – Manatee Meet-and Greet
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