<em>Editor’s Note: What follows is part one of a three part series regarding sex offenders in Chenango County. Parts Two and three will be published in the two upcoming editions and deal with the prosecution, judges, and defense. </em>
CHENANGO COUNTY– A slight majority of Chenango County residents, like United States citizens across the country, are concerned about sex offenders living in the community and would like to see them receive harsher sentences, but many residents also believe rehabilitating sex offenders and educating the public about sex offenders is more crucial to creating a safer, healthier community.
As of May 18, 2015, the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services lists Chenango County as having 184 sex offenders out of 49,503 residents (2013 Census), which is .37 percent of the population.
Of the 184 sex offenders in the county, there are 74 level 1s (lowest risk of reoffending), 65 level 2s (moderate risk of reoffending), 44 level 3s (highest risk of reoffending) and one yet to be classified.
According The United States Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW), 60 percent of those who commit sexual abuse know the victim but are not family members of the victim, 30 percent of sexual abuse perpetrators are family members of the victim and only 10 percent of sexual abuse offenders are strangers to the victim.
An estimated 23 percent of sex crimes are committed by those under the age of 18, reads the site.
NSOPW statistics read that sex offenses represent under one percent of all arrests, and that sexual abuse has decreased by 62 percent since the 1990's.
Despite the low percentage of sex crime arrests and the decline in sexual abuse in the past 20 plus years, according to the NSOPW, sex crimes are common with one in five girls and one in every seven boys experiencing sexual abuse by the time they reach adulthood, and one in every six adult women and one in every 33 adult men experiencing an attempted or completed sexual assault in adulthood.
When 30 Chenango County residents were surveyed by The Evening Sun staff, 17 residents said they would like to see sex offenders in the county receive harsher sentences, and 13 residents said they would not necessarily like to see harsher sentences but a change in how the penal law, criminal justice system and community deals with sex offenders.
Men and women both thought there was a higher percentage of sex offenders in the county than there actually is, and women, especially those with children, said they feared the local sex offenders more than the men.
More than two-thirds of the people surveyed did not want to give their names to be printed in the paper because they felt they would experience negative consequences due to Chenango County's small population.
Residents often said they knew people in local law enforcement, the county judicial system, experienced sexual abuse as children or knew someone accused of sexual abuse. Because they said sex crimes are a controversial subject, which personally affects them and those they know, many said they did not want to be judged for their opinion in a “small town” environment.
Chenango County residents who believed sex offenders should receive harsher sentences said they thought sex offenders should receive 25 years to life in prison or the death penalty.
34-year-old Todd Cole of Norwich said, “If you sexually assault a child, anything less than the death penalty is too light. I don't care about overcrowded prisons. Send them there and the other inmates will make sure they don't last long anyway.”
A 37-year-old female Norwich resident agreed and said, “I think all actual sex offenders -not the statuatory 18-year-old who had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girlfriend [or something like that]- should get the death penalty, and in the states that the death penalty isn't legal, life in prison with no chance of release and no re-trials.”
“That is a crime that will haunt its victims for the remainder of their lives,” she added.
27-year-old Michelle Lowe of Norwich said she thinks sex offenders in the county get off too easy, but she said she also understands there are penal law restrictions that limit stricter sentences.
“I do feel that monitoring, if out of jail, needs to be better such as living conditions, and if they are with non-biological children... Also notification needs to be higher, as someone who previously rented a house to a sex offender and did not know, [I let him move in] across the street from a school,” said Lowe.
Several other county residents agreed with Lowe and said regardless of the sentence they receive, there needs to be more notification of local sex offenders.