Does knowing one sex offender keep kids safe?

On EDGE: Opinion

Last week’s RCMP naming of a violent pedophilic sex offender being released into our community brought an unsurprising mix of aggressive social media messages pitted against those concerned with the loss of that person’s privacy.

But what really struck me was normally level-headed people who, based on this announcement, weren’t going to let their kids do things they’d usually do, like ride their bike or play outside. Even if the risk was real, was this the way to solve the problem?

In times like these, I don’t carry a burning stake demanding vigilante justice, nor do I view the world through a wholly compassionate lens that sees everyone’s capacity for change.

I prefer to look at the assumed goal of this announcement: keeping kids in the community safe from predators. While I can understand a parent’s interest in knowing as much as possible about potential risks for their kids, it does lead me to wonder if these campaigns achieve their objectives.

Over the past week, CBC North has fulfilled its duty to the community on this emotional issue, first through Alyssa Mosher asking whether these announcements do more harm than good and then during a thoughtful interview by Loren McGinnis on the Trailbreaker.

On the show, the Salvation Army’s Ruth Gillingham, who has five kids of her own and has worked as a prison chaplain, made a number of good points. This one resonated with me the most: “The reality is there are people who will cause harm to children already within our community, they just haven’t been identified, or haven’t been charged, or it hasn’t been exposed.”

That also means sex offenders are regularly being released into YK, which Gillingham also pointed out. A 2008 report by Maclean’s found 89 NWT resident sex offenders on the national registry and also that the list was, at the time, incomplete. Though not all of these offenders were pedophiles, assuming half of them were in YK, there were conservatively about 45 sex offenders, none of whom were known to the public.

Rather than acting completely out of fear over the current situation, let’s understand there are risks to kids everywhere, from being hit by a car to drowning. Instead of squeezing kids tighter following last week’s announcement, let’s talk openly about the current sex offender announcement. And as Gillingham said on CBC, let’s also help them identify potentially troublesome situations, how and when to interact with strangers and what to do if they ever feel uncomfortable.

“Don’t take candy from strangers” became something of a running joke when I was growing up, though it’s clearly valid messaging. But what about taking candy from people you know?

A wise lawyer friend of mine mentioned during a Facebook thread on this topic that what he doesn’t like about these announcements is they make us believe the greatest risk to our kids is the pervert lurking in the bushes when it’s more likely to come from someone in a position of trust.

That’s not to say we should start looking at everyone as a possible risk. But it is to say that we need to keep things in perspective and can’t stop living our lives based on this announcement.

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