Distance offers kids little protection from sex offenders
TAMPA It has been called the geography of punishment. But whether it's 1,000 feet, 1½ miles or 2 miles, distance doesn't go as far as parents might think to protect children from sex offenders, according to those who work with them. Within a two-mile radius of Young Middle Magnet School, where more than 600 children will come and go once school starts Tuesday, live 263 convicted sex offenders.That's a greater concentration than at any of Hillsborough County's public schools. Two miles is where most Hillsborough students qualify for a bus ride; if they live any closer they must walk to school or get a ride. Concerns about proximity are behind a Florida law barring any convicted sex offender judged guilty in the last seven years from living within 1,000 feet of a school. In addition, whenever a sex offender moves within 1.5 miles of a school, day care or other buildings where children gather, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Department alerts them. But experts say parents and community leaders may be fighting the wrong battle with moves aimed at putting distance between offenders and potential victims. Distance, they say, doesn't offer protection. The reason: Predators rarely victimize at random. In as many as 93 percent of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the offender, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. "People believe that the registered sex offenders are the highest risks, when they really need to look at the people in their own lives," said Laura Umfer, a sex offender psychologist in Tampa. Learn more on this story from parents, authorities and sex offenders themselves in The Tampa Tribune on Sunday.