As Irma Bears Down, One Group Gets No Shelter

Steve Yoder, a reporter who writes frequently on sex offender issues, sends us this piece:

A potentially catastrophic storm is headed straight at Florida’s mid-section, which includes Polk County south of Orlando. So on Wednesday, county sheriff Grady Judd tweeted a warning — but not about evacuating or finding higher ground.

“If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs [Law Enforcement Officers] will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed.”

You might think that now would be the time for a top cop to put all hands on deck to rescue people who need help. Instead, some portion of Judd’s force will be standing at county shelters to turn away those on the state’s sex offender registry.

A rule like that would sound inhumane even if we had evidence that kids are more at risk in evacuation shelters. But the sheriff didn’t bother to prove that his decree will solve an actual problem. No studies show that children face more danger from sexual abuse and assault at evacuation sites. A comprehensive 2007 paper on sexual assaults during storms noted that “…there is relatively scant data on the vulnerability of evacuees of hurricanes or other disasters to sexual assaults in the United States.”

Worse, the group the sheriff is exiling — “sexual predators” — is a hopeless mélange, encompassing even teen sexters. While much of the public believes that anyone on the registry is an insatiable predator, study after study has shown that 95% will not offend again. A op-ed this January in the Gainesville Sun by a therapist who’s worked with ex-offenders for 20 years explains it best:

In Florida, the definition of “adult” and “child” is a moving target. In terms of victims, anyone under the age of 18 is considered to be a child. Unlike 40 other states where the age of consent is lower, Florida’s age of consent is 18.

When it comes to offenders, children as young as 14 who may have “experimented” with neighborhood kids, can, and regularly are, convicted of sexual offenses as adults. Since their victims are almost always younger, they are considered especially dangerous, as they have “targeted” such young victims and are thus labeled “sexual predators.”

She gives examples from her caseload:

An 18-year-old high school student has sex with a 16-year-old from school. He is convicted of a sex crime against a child, must drop out as he cannot now be around “children,” and his hopes of joining the military after graduation are dashed. Instead he is labeled a sexual predator for his entire life. Had he done this in Georgia, where the age of consent is 16, no crime would have been committed.

A 22-year-old man meets someone in a chat room who claims to be 20 and posts a stock photo of a woman roughly that age. The conversation turns sexual and they exchange photos of their genitals. Her parents discover the photos and call the police. He is arrested and convicted of sending material harmful to a child and labeled a child sexual predator. She was 14 years old, though he had no way of knowing this.

A 23-year-old man goes to a dance club and picks up a woman at the bar. She goes home with him and they have sex. Three weeks later, he is arrested on a child sexual battery charge. The “woman” was 17 and used a fake ID to get into the bar. When she bragged about her sexual encounter with her school friends she was overheard by a teacher, who was mandated by the state to report the crime. The man is now convicted and labeled a sexual predator.

She continues:

I do not mean to imply that there are not true child victims, children sexually exploited by unscrupulous men. Nor do I want to minimize the harm done to children by a trusted adult, such as a stepfather. Children are profoundly harmed by such activity.

[But] when the term “sexual predator” applies alike to young men with “consenting” partners as it does for pedophiles, the term is, in effect, meaningless.

And so is the punishment. What’s happening in Polk County shows we should beware when officials devise draconian rules punishing particular groups. It’s almost never true public safety they’re after — they’re looking for an easy way to convince voters that they’re doing their jobs.

Even when they let their collateral damage drown. – S.Y.

LENORE HERE: It comes down to this: For the sake of being humane, shelters must accept all humans. No one is ever absolutely safe, not even kids in their own homes (especially considering the vast majority of abuse is committed by someone they know). Sending people out to drown is not an option. The sexter you save may be your own teen.

Did your 18-year-old get caught sexting his 16-year-old girlfriend? Florida sheriff will let him drown.

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29 Responses to As Irma Bears Down, One Group Gets No Shelter

  1. Richard September 9, 2017 at 11:59 am #

    After the stupidity and casual cruelty(which we see way too often when the SO label appears), was the apparent view that there was no public duty at all owed to people so labeled. It seems so obvious that if you are going to refuse entry into shelters for a group of people because you believe there is a risk, there is an obligation to arrange other shelters for those people. An announcement that one way of escape is unavailable (whether to all or a group) should always be accompanied by information concerning the available alternatives–crisis management 101.

  2. Donna September 9, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    He also indicated that LE were going to run everyone who comes to the shelter through the system and will arrest anyone with an active warrant. This means that anyone who suspects that s/he may have a warrant will not seek shelter and neither will their partners and children. They are also less likely to ask for help.

  3. AmyP September 9, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

    This is just silly. Even if one were actually on the sex offenders list for a violent offense and IF they were going to reoffend, they would hardly do it at a shelter where there are hundreds (or thousands even) of people all in one space. In regard to the warrants, it is horrible to have such a policy. Yes, it would be good if somebody was wanted for murder to be found and arrested, but there are people out there with warrants for traffic tickets. Whether somebody should have arrest warrants because they can’t afford fines is a different can of worms, but that’s a done deal right now. So the only way to ensure everybody is safe is to not check for that information (just like they didn’t check immigration status in Texas for Harvey) and give people shelter because they’re human beings.

  4. Paul Shannon September 9, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    Sheriff Grady to registrants in Polk country Florida (and praised by the newscasters at Fox News, disguised as human beings):

    “If you are on the registry, we will do everything within our power to make sure you die in the hurricane”

  5. NY Mom September 9, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    Not just that: if you are in arrears on your child support and there is a warrant, you DIE!

    LE is judge, jury and executioner.

  6. David September 9, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    Somebody needs to file a lawsuit and have this inhumane policy overturned

  7. ezymel September 9, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

    Even though they are sex predators, still they are human beings. Yes, although they served time in jail and/or medical facility in order to reconstruct their lives, still in a disaster, like everyone else should not be ruled out. Certainly, they remain a sex predator for life once convicted. I would think with rehabilitation, most come out into the World a better person. How sex predators get this way in the first place is based on psychological problems most likely being raised by abusive parents. They might have been raped at an early age. That is most unfortunate and some children suffer by it. But, in this case, I do feel that if sex predators are let in shelters, they would be among a lot of people and would be watched as well. If need be, a separate area should be available to them so they will be safe from vicious storms. Throwing them out, leaves them in a position where they can die. That is too bad and each State has their own laws on sexual crimes. It can also be determined who is guarding the door and the person they are. Most of these guards are in the police force and have to follow the rules. Of course you don’t want a murderer in as they alone commit a vicious crime and can be a threat to others. I guess there is a law to be followed. I hope I made sense of all what I have written.

  8. Shirley September 9, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Polk County is another pawn of the evil, powerful, self serving, controlling, revengeful “predator” Ron Book, because of his own sin of neglect of his daughter. OK for murderers, thieves, drug dealers and any other felon to stay in the shelters. This singles out the least likely to reoffend, which includes children.

  9. Theresa Hall September 9, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    The only people who I have ever wanted on the list were real criminals. The guy who date lied about their age nope. The teens who hooked up aren’t my idea of criminals. The guy who found passed out girl and took advantage of her most definitely yes! The guy who fooled around with a little kid yes and teens aren’t little kids.

  10. Flossy73 September 9, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

    Providing an “alternate shelter” isn’t a solution either. I am a registered personal n in Louisiana and there is a special shelter 200+ miles away that I’m supposed to find my own way to get to. Here’s the problem, even if said shelter was walking distance from my house, I would refuse to go. Why? It’s not just the cruel and ill formed logic behind the mandated segregation of the registered from everyone else it is the inevitable separation from my family that I would experience. I have a 12 year old daughter and a husband. Under no circumstances would I allow someone to separate me from my family, especially in a time of crisis! We never want this to happen to us and my family has made plans accordingly. But then again, we are talking about a disaster! What would happen in the event that every single family member or friend we have designated as an escape and shelter option is also affected by the emergency? What if the disaster prevents us from leaving town or renders our transportation unusable? Yes, I’m a registered person. But I am NOT a predator, a pedo, a menace to society nor have I been judged through assessment or criminal history to be a potential danger to anyone. What’s i am is a mother, a wife, and a tax payer who once broke law. Why should I, or anyone else in my situation face death, injury or separation from my child in a time of emergency?Are we saying it’s acceptable to bunk down next to murderers, wife beaters and drug dealers but the line is drawn when someone has a sex based crime in their history? Are we all ok with the fact that almost one million Americans are exempt from the most basic act of human decency which is to provide succor in times of great hardship?
    Every person living in this country should be able to depend on the idea that their life has the same value as everyone else. You cant force people to pay taxes and at the same time take away their rights as a citizen, subjugate them to a lower class and deny them the benefits that their participation in your society is supposed to afford them.
    Considering the fact that your own child has a higher chance of being forced into registry than they have of being assaulted by by a registered person, you should wake up and take this situation very seriously.

  11. Flossy73 September 9, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

    David- there was an attempt this week to convince the ACLU of one of the gulf states to file an injunction against the laws segregating RSOs in emergency shelters. The ACLU was not interested.It would appear that the great legal champions of the underdog have even grown fearful of being associated with the political poison that s*x offenders have become.

  12. Richard September 9, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    Flossy, I hope you didn’t take my remarks as suggesting that I considered such segregation appropriate or humane. It was more that the lack of such an arrangement was evidence of a complete abrogation of a public duty owed to everyone and can’t be defended as the product of a misguided concern about safety.

  13. Flossy73 September 9, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

    Richard-I didn’t take your comment in a negative way. I was only attempting to add another layer to the discourse. However, I do appreciate your clarification and your contributions to the overall topic. Thank you.

  14. Kimberly September 9, 2017 at 6:22 pm #

    From my understanding, there is already a lawsuit working its way through the courts regarding the constitutionality of the sex offender registry in that it is an continuing to punish sex offenders rather than be informational only as its intent was. I wonder how this decision by the Polk County Sheriff might play into that lawsuit since now you are potentially denying certain people the right to safety and life. Also, I can’t help but Wonder if the Polk County Sheriff’s Department is so overstaffed with law enforcement officers that they can take police officers off the streets to enforce these rules at shelters when there are people who obviously will need help evacuating.

  15. Papilio September 9, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Oh FFS!!! This is stupid and infuriating, and indeed inhumane. A shelter during a hurricane, that is what? a gym or so filled with dozens and dozens of people with no privacy to speak of. What is a sex offender (even if it is a “real” one, unlike the people in these examples) going to do with a gazillion people around?
    Ugh. Just ugh. How dare they risk human lives to prevent such an outlandish imagined danger.

  16. elizabeth September 9, 2017 at 6:48 pm #

    This is highly unconsitutional. The founding fathers are puking in their graves at this guy. He is denying people, including children, a natural right guaranteed in the constitution itself. And he is basing his decision on the abhorrent behavior of the select few violent offenders.

  17. Kimberly September 9, 2017 at 7:38 pm #

    I just read that Polk County, due to the shifting of the storm, is now under mandatory evacuation for people living in flood-prone areas, manufactured homes, and trailers. In another article, I read that one witness said that sheriff’s deputies said that sex offenders would have to ride out the storm and their trailers.

  18. JTW September 9, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

    I guess the guy is up for reelection soon and after this is over is going to use the sharply declined number of “registered sex offenders” in the county as a focal point of his campaign.

    Or maybe I’m just being my usual paranoid self…

  19. Bmj2k September 9, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

    Sex offenders will be denied shelter in a natural disaster? How is this not a class action suit in the making?

  20. Registry Rage September 10, 2017 at 12:49 am #

    in short, Megan’s Law (community notification) simply does not minimize risk, much less prevent the same thing the Walshs’ and Kankas’ went through. The registry is retaliatory vengeance and a revenge fantasy, not justice.

    Full STOP. End of discussion.

  21. BL September 10, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    I don’t suppose it’s occurred to Sheriff Judd that someone might see one of these no-shelter-allowed people in distress, try to make a rescue, and die in the attempt?

  22. Derek Logue of OnceFallen.com September 10, 2017 at 8:52 am #

    Speaking of Ron Book, he is invoking the Baker Act to involuntarily commit those who refuse to seek shelter. I am willing to bet that most who won’t seek shelter made that decision based upon past dealings with Book. Also, it may be cover to keep many illegally detained long after Irma becomes an afterthought.

  23. Puzzled September 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    So those on the SOR will be left to die. But, remember everyone, it’s totally not punitive.

  24. Jim September 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

    For anyone not from the Tampa or Orlando area Judd is a media whore Joe Applio (sp) wannabe. He is on news basically every day with his latest prostitution sting to my favorite story from a couple years ago a couple stealing golf clubs from an open garage. Yes, one of the biggest media markets in the country actually ran a story for him about golf clubs being stolen from an open garage. And I don’t know how their are any more prostitutes to arrest in all of central Florida because he runs a sting at least once a month and does the huge press conference. He of course has dozens upon dozens of complaints and of course the county is not actually safer for this but he gets to show how he is a big bad tough guy.

  25. Megan September 11, 2017 at 2:15 am #

    The therapist’s message is a good call to reason, but she should have included women among those capable of sexually exploiting children, and she should have called out parents in addition to stepfathers. I don’t mean to split hairs, but Americans have a hard enough time believing that plenty of biological parents molest their kids or worse; someone with her perspective is in a position to wake them up by telling it like it is. Too many people who shouldn’t will be comforted by her choice of words.

  26. John B. September 11, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    But I’m sure the good sheriff would welcome in people who served their time for mugging and beating up grandmothers for their wallets or people with records of looting stores during disasters. As if those kind of criminals would not be a threat to anybody in that shelter. BUT heaven forbid we allow in that man who had consensual sex with a well-endowed 16-year-old girl when he was 23. He might rape every single toddler in that shelter even while everybody is watching!

  27. Peter September 11, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    I do not mean to imply that there are not true child victims, children sexually exploited by unscrupulous men.

    Because women never sexually exploit children.

    Nor do I want to minimize the harm done to children by a trusted adult, such as a stepfather.

    Y’know, a trusted male person. Because women don’t do that sort of thing.

    And she’s a therapist who has worked with sex offenders for 20 years. So she should know.

  28. anon September 12, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    If I was a citizen I would demand records of which persons were denied entry into the shelters.

  29. Yure September 12, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

    Sad, isn’t it? Society is scapegoating. It needs a direction for the hate to flow, as it appeases them. Sex offenders are people too, not to mention the cases in which the offense is small enough not to cause damage. It’s specially true in interactions between two minors. They want them to die young, it seems.