You are here

Personal perspective: Point and click to protect kids

I get hundreds of e-mails every day, and I don't always read the forwards or visit the Web links. But the other day, I got the same e-mail from both my mom and my friend, Amy, with a link to a "very important" Web site. When I clicked, a site called Family Watchdog popped up.

The site, www.familywatchdog.us, is a national sex offender registry created last year. It has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, among others.

Simply enter your address into the site, and a map of your neighborhood appears, including the homes and workplaces of registered sex offenders.

Click on an offender location and see the person's name, offenses, and statistics. In most cases, you can also see a photo. Another feature allows you to search by name to see if someone is on the registry. (The site compiles resources from state sex offender registries, so the information available may vary from state to state.)

Imagine my horror when I typed in my address and found two registered sex offenders living very close to my farm. The farm where my kids live. Where they play in the backyard. Where they are supposed to be safe.

Seeing the photos of these offenders and reading the charges on which they were convicted made me feel physically ill, scared, and angry. They look like regular men. Men like you'd see getting a cup of coffee at the co-op or cheering at a Little League game. Not like the kind of men who would assault a child.

I couldn't help but wonder if state and city laws that forbid registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools, parks, and day care centers are actually driving these people into rural areas. In some towns, there's literally nowhere a registered sex offender can legally live.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm happy that the schools my kids will attend fall within those restricted areas, although just because an offender can't live within a few blocks doesn't mean he or she can't walk or drive there. I just hope the countryside doesn't become a dumping ground for sex offenders.

Once I got over the initial shock of my discovery, I found some great resources on the Family Watchdog site.

It provides tips for kids and parents, plus links to other safety resources and an online quiz you can take together. Checking up to three addresses on the site is free, and you can sign up to receive an e-mail or text message when a new offender moves within a mile of your home. Or for $24 per year, you can receive alerts when registered offenders move within 5 miles of three different addresses, like your child's daycare or a grandparent's house.

John Walsh from America's Most Wanted and Julie Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Company, support Family Watchdog through sales of their video and DVD, The Safe Side. The program, which teaches stranger safety to kids, also benefits the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Follow links from Family Watchdog or call 866/723-3022 to order.

There are other sites on the Web that also compile state sex offender registries, including the official Department of Justice site at www.nsopr.gov, but I found the Family Watchdog site to be the most user-friendly, and the map is a great tool.

According to Family Watchdog, one out of every five girls and one out of every six boys will be molested. Ninety percent of those sexual assaults are committed by someone the child knows. Horrifying. The other 10% of assaults are committed by strangers. People who may be on this list.

Visit the site. Talk to your kids about how to stay safe and assure them they can tell you anything. Arm yourself with knowledge. Arm your kids with knowledge. Knowledge is power.

And when you tuck them in tonight, tell them an extra story, sing them an extra song, and hug them extra tight.

I get hundreds of e-mails every day, and I don't always read the forwards or visit the Web links. But the other day, I got the same e-mail from both my mom and my friend, Amy, with a link to a "very important" Web site. When I clicked, a site called Family Watchdog popped up.

Read more about

Talk in Marketing

Most Recent Poll

What best describes your take on buying farmland right now?