- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

We have all heard the names Jessica Lunsford, Megan Kanka, Jacob Wetterling and Adam Walsh — all beautiful children carrying the same hopes and dreams of every young child in this country. Tragically, all these children were denied those dreams and torn from their parents because they were killed by sex offenders.

Their deaths shine a harsh light on gaps in our laws and testify to the ongoing fight to strengthen our justice system against sex offenders. Their cases make one point very clear: We need to completely change how we treat these predators.

For too long, too many sex offenders have been treated like petty criminals. As a result, too many children and too many lives have been lost. These pedophiles prey on our children and will continue to do so unless stopped.

In 1994, Congress passed sweeping legislation that required — for the first time — convicted sex offenders to register their whereabouts with the government. Several other measures have followed, all designed to let local communities know where these predators live.

Though these measures were groundbreaking, we need to do much more to close gaps in the law to ensure our children have as much protection from these criminals as possible.

More than convicted 500,000 sex offenders now live in the United States. Of those, about 100,000 to 150,000 are missing — roaming the streets with no one watching over them. According to the U.S. Justice Department, released sex offenders are 4 times more likely to be rearrested. And, on average, child molesters serve only 43 percent of their sentence. These statistics are frightening.

We need to stop playing Russian roulette with children’s lives. We need to stop these pedophiles now.

In May, we joined to introduce the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. This legislation would overhaul completely overhaul the nation’s laws addressing sex offenders, strengthening state and federal authorities’ tools to keep track of these criminals while providing more avenues for information-sharing among law enforcement across state lines.

Our bill has broad support nationwide, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. These groups and many others know we must reverse the present lenient and outdated laws to prevent sexual predators from victimizing our children.

Our bill has been developed in consultation with John Walsh of TV’s “America’s Most Wanted,” whose son Adam was kidnapped and murdered 24 years ago, and Ernie Allen, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

This proposed Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is the product of dozens of meetings with the Justice Department, the FBI and other federal agencies. We also sought the guidance and support of the real warriors in this battle against sex offenders: the victims and their families. Ed Smart, whose daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from her own bedroom by a sexual predator, and Patty Wetterling, whose son Jacob remains missing, have vocally supported our efforts.

We have drawn up a bill that includes sweeping provisions to:

• Require sex offenders to wear monitoring devices during their supervised release and repeat offenders to wear such devices the rest of their lives.

• Force offenders to update their registration in person every six months, or every three months if they are a sexually violent predator, as well as their photograph once a year. Failure to update or register would be a felony.

• Mandate the U.S. attorney general’s office notify states if offenders plan to move from another state.

• Establish a federal sex offender DNA database.

• Create a multifield, searchable statewide registry of sex offenders and their communities for each state.

This is a common-sense approach on those who seek to harm our most vulnerable citizens. Those who break such a sacred trust and prey on our children — no matter who they are, where they are from, or where they commit their crime — should have to make their whereabouts known or be subject to additional jail time.

As case after case of missing or abducted children is broadcast, many parents wonder if their child is safe. Every day that goes by without this bill is another day we risk another victim.

Now, more than ever, we need to stand together and unite cities, communities and states in the effort to stop the assault on America’s children.

Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, is co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus in the House of Representatives. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican member and its former chairman.

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