[FOUNTAIN]Megan’s laws

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[FOUNTAIN]Megan’s laws

On July 29, 1994, a seven-year-old blonde-headed girl was raped and brutally murdered in New Jersey. Her name was Megan Nicole Kanka. Her murderer was a neighbor living across the street from her, a twice-convicted sexual offender who had been imprisoned for six years for assaulting two girls, aged five and seven. He lured Megan into his house by offering to show her a puppy. The girl, who loved chocolate and candy, was murdered within 30 minutes. Megan’s parents thought their neighbor was a kind man with thick glasses.
U.S. society was furious at the senseless crime. The public called for the death sentence for the murderer, and instead of roses to remember the girl, Americans demanded a fundamental change. On July 29, the public discussion of sex offenders, especially child molesters, had begun.
The Kankas demanded a state law that would inform people about convicted sex offenders in their neighborhoods ― where they were and what they did. A petition drive was successful, and the local media joined an 89-day press campaign for the proposed legislation. Police and district attorneys began looking at the recidivism rate of sex offenders and the pattern of crimes they commit. Robert Elliott and other experts on crimes against children presented the results of their research to support the need to disclose sex offenders’ identities and to track their whereabouts. Some groups argued that even monsters had human rights, and argued that disclosing their identities was cruel and unusual punishment. But most states accepted the demand that parents be helped to protect their children.
In 1994, the New Jersey legislature voted to require sex offenders to register their addresses with the state for 10 years, and the registry was opened to public view. The new “Megan’s Law” was adopted as federal legislation in 1996.
After the molestation and murder of an 11-year-old girl by a man in his 50s who had been convicted nine times of sex offenses, the government and politicians are working on countermeasures. The victim’s funeral was held on Feb. 22 at the elementary school she attended, and the government designated that day as “a day for protecting children from pedophilia” in her memory.
But the response so far seems emotional and impromptu. We can learn from the precedent in the United States. I hope Feb. 22 can be a starting point to prepare comprehensive preventative measures to protect children from sexual offenses, in memory of young souls who have met tragic deaths.

by Park Jai-hyun

The writer is a deputy city news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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