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Op-Ed: SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION NOTIFICATION ACT (SORNA)

Does a community have the right to know whether a convicted sex offender/felon is living amongst them? I find this question interesting and perplexing because most all of the convicted sex offenders in American Samoa are from their own homes, and there is a rising percentage made up of educators.

So far it’s been a practice to incarcerate children in shelters for their “safety” while the sex offenders are allowed back into the homes through plea bargaining, pending court schedules, probation or parole. I do not see a future for any of these victims here in American Samoa. Most likely they will end up being sent away confused, leaving behind them their families and the only life they know.

Meanwhile many mothers and wives who preferred to protect their convicted lovers and spouses continue on with their conjugal lives and visits. It wouldn’t matter if he is able to support the family or not. After all he will still be the head and authority of the home.

The unknowing neighbors and family members will still come visiting or send their children over to be educated, seek jobs or kept for domestic purposes. I can imagine so much energy expended to keep a sex offender happy or satisfied by pretending all is well and the crime never happened — perpetuating the denial disease.

When court renders conditions for a sex offender to stay away from his victim, he is still moving back into another family less then 3 miles away on an island with one main road connecting every shop or public place.

If alcohol is considered as a factor in a sexual crime, then how is it that offenders never miss their target? This last case of the perpetrator fondling his sister-in-law while she was asleep next to her husband, is proof enough that sex offenders have become much more bold and arrogant.

I believe it takes a community to rehabilitate, prevent and help a sex offender to re-enter society. Trust was ripped away by them, now it must be earned back through community notification, awareness and involvement.

Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty or Safety”. If there is one thing we can all bank on, it is that dark deeds of all kinds, especially sexual, proliferate in the dark.

I believe that by shedding light on these sexual offenses through the controversial SORNA, future sexual violence will be deterred. It reinforces heightened awareness and increases surveillance in prevention methods to safeguard our children and family members.

It would also be considered a greater risk of detection by the offender.

SORNA can be a major tool for parenting through education and instructing our children by addressing risky personal habits and making public safety activities more effective.

Education will include risk factors and how to eliminate those risks.

SORNA is not a means for vigilantism, nor is it for retribution or vengeful purposes. By no means should it be considered a punishment. It is purely a protective measure for all the community to observe and respect within the scope of the law. It protects the public from predatory sex offenders.

Being isolated, ridiculed, ostracized, shunned or barred from employment are the risks known by every human being before they commit any crime. This should especially be true for offenders/perpetrators whether in free or third-world countries.

Offenders are just going to have to get over it and survive in the community— or depart.

SORNA will add more meaning and responsibilities for the village watch/ aumaga who are overseen by the village chiefs. The village law should also be a mechanism that will prevent any acts of revenge or retribution. The clergy can become an active leader in prevention, through counseling and reform activities. They also play the role of peace keeping.

There is much to do on implementing and supporting the SORN Act by educating our community.  Emotions run high and out of control when dealing with shame and insults caused by a sex crime. It hurts victims and their families to include the offender’s families. It demoralizes our people on and off island and casts a pall over our reputation as Samoans and our justice system. Transparency heals faster than festering in the dark.

The words of Pretky (1996) provides a good conclusion here: “Rather than responding emotionally, I would far rather address head on, what we can do that will reduce risk and increase the safety of our community”

On a remote island, the eyes of an entire community will work far better and more effectively than one pair of eyes in an enclosed household.



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