By Sandy . . . North Port, Florida, must be having a really slow news week. In one day, no less than six media outlets printed and aired stories* about the outrage expressed by parents of school children upon discovering that a person on Florida’s sexual offense registry was living within viewing distance of a school bus pick-up location.
After reading all six stories, I too am outraged. However, my outrage has a different focus.
I am outraged that, once again, certain elements of the media could not resist the opportunities to incite fear and panic and create the maximum in click-bait appeal.
I am outraged that some of the once highly esteemed and invaluable fourth estate has fallen to the point that not even a pretense of responsible journalism or balanced reporting can be found.
Without exception, the coverage of this “news” by these six media outlets segued almost immediately from the concern of parents to a discussion of one or more of the following:
- the difference, in Florida, between a sexual offender and a sexual predator;
- how many registrants are in the county and/or state;
- how to access and use the Florida online sex offender registry;
- the rules for registrants in Florida;
- how may bus stops are in the county;
- how many students are in the county;
- the dedication of the state and school districts to student safety – which reinforces that the parents are correct in feeling their children are in danger from the presence of a registrant;
- plans to move the bus stop – which also reinforces that the present location is fraught with danger.
None of this addresses the issue: Are the fears of the parents and the concerns for their children justified? None of that information aids them in analyzing or answering this.
Is the gentleman in question a threat to children? I don’t know. Could he be? It is possible. What could have been included that would have been more helpful than knowing the county-by-county count of the number of registrants in Florida?
How about these?
- Was the victim in the case of his conviction a school-age child?
- Was he or she a stranger or someone well known to the offender, as are the vast majority of victims of sexual assault?
- How long has the person in question been living in the community, this one or any other, and have there been any re-arrests for a sexual crime?
- What are the statistics on reoffense for registered persons living in the community?
- Has anyone seen him approach a child, try to lure a child, or even speak to child who was waiting at the bus stop?
- Did this registrant participate in a post-conviction treatment or therapy program?
- Has he taken responsibility for the actions that resulted in the conviction and expressed regret for harm caused?
- How frequently are random children abducted or assaulted in public places in the presence of other children and maybe an adult by someone on the registry?
- How frequently does this happen even when others aren’t there? (Spoiler alert: virtually never; Lenore Skenazy ran a statistical analysis several years ago and determined that if a child placed himself outside in a public place with the intention of being taken or assaulted by a stranger, he would have to stand there waiting for several thousand years before it would happen. If he waited for a person who was on a sexual offense registry, it would be even more thousand than just several.)
Could the journalists who wrote these articles have included the answers to these questions? With the possible exception of one or maybe two, yes. Of course, they would have had to do a little more work. They would have had to be willing to look at a couple of studies, interview a few people other than distraught parents, and dig into a few police and court records, but it would have resulted in being able to share with parents information that would help them understand the situation in a calm, dispassionate, fact-based manner rather than with hype and fear tactics.
That just seems like it would be so much better – doesn’t it?
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.