Living in proximity to a known sexual offender can be scary, but it’s even more frightening–and more dangerous–if you’re not aware of it. State governments and a variety of watchdog groups offer a wealth of resources for looking up and tracking sexual offenders in your area. Use these resources to become and remain aware of who your neighbors are, and teach any children in your household what to do if a stranger approaches them.
Step one: Know your neighbors
You can use a variety of websites, including Family Watchdog, Criminal Check, or sexoffender.com to look up sexual predators in your area. The pages will give you information including the individual’s address, physical description, and prior convictions. Family Watchdog offers pictures of almost all offenders, which is a particularly useful service. You can also contact your local police department to get more information on local offenders and their locations.
Some of the websites that offer these stats on criminals also partner with criminal information sites such as Intelius in order to offer information seekers the opportunity to purchase full background reports on previous offenders. The information available for free should be enough in most situations, but if you have special concerns, definitely look into getting more facts about offenders in your neighborhood. Other websites provide listings of local offices that can provide updates about sexual offenders’ whereabouts.
On most sexual predator information sites, you can register to receive updates when information changes for offenders in your area. There are usually several registration levels, some of which are free, some of which cost a nominal amount. The free information is plentiful, but if you have any concerns, you may wish to register to receive more specialized and detailed updates.
Step two: Teach your children well
It’s not enough to teach youngsters that strangers are “bad.” This mysterious admonition may only serve to arouse childish curiosity about new people. You need to teach your children safety skills, including how to react if a stranger approaches them. Children should know how to dial 911, be able to dial your home phone number, and know their home address. They should know never to go anywhere or with anyone unless you’ve approved it beforehand, and you should teach them to run, scream, and attract attention if anyone tries to force them to do anything. Saying no to a stranger is one of the best skills your child can learn. Kids also need to know to avoid unfamiliar and poorly lit areas and going anywhere alone. Staying with friends and a trusted adult is the first step toward safety. A super-loud child safety alarm can help protect your children from predators. The AmberWatch, when activated, emits a signal which can be heard from over a football field away.
Since the Internet is a major forum for sexual offenders, teach your children some internet safety skills. Children should never give out their pictures, last names or physical whereabouts online, and they should stop chatting with anyone who makes inappropriate comments.
An apartment living setup brings you and your neighbors closer than regular housing, and can force you to use some common areas, like the pool, mailroom, and laundry room. Though you may be tempted to treat your apartment complex like part of your home, remember that even the most secure complex can be accessed by those who don’t belong, and your neighbors may have histories they’d rather keep under wraps. Don’t let your children wander your apartment complex unattended—make sure they always have a buddy—even better, an adult—to accompany them.
Step three: Stay informed
It’s not enough to do a one-time investigation into the criminal backgrounds of your neighbors. New people are constantly moving into and out of neighborhoods, and as a concerned parent—or just a concerned individual—you need to stay informed about who lives nearby. Register for periodic updates from one of the sexual offender tracking sites, or ask your local police station what you can to do get updates about offenders in your area. Don’t be caught off guard by a questionable new neighbor—know when someone with a record is moving in, and act with appropriate caution.
Once you’re informed, it’s important not to be antagonistic to the individual. It will be impossible for an offender to be incorporated into normal society if he or she is ostracized by everyone around him or her. Be cautious, but not cruel. If you notice any suspicious behavior, report it immediately, but let the police deal with addressing any issues. Don’t take the law into your own hands, but do defend your own safety and that of your family and friends. Information is on your side, so use it, but don’t abuse it. The more you know, the safer you can be.