Sex-Offender Registry Takes Shape
Ohio Online Program a First for Any State
By Jim Provance firstname.lastname@example.org
July 1, 2006
Columbus - Ohio set out without benefit of a road map yesterday to create an unprecedented on-line civil registry of accused sex offenders who may never have been convicted of a crime, charged with one, or even successfully sued.
With no similar plan tried in any other state, rules proposed by Attorney General Jim Petro provide insight into how the program would work.
The general idea was proposed last year by the Roman Catholic Church when faced with a unanimous Ohio Senate vote to open a one-time, one-year window for the filing of civil lawsuits in child sex abuse cases dating back as long as 35 years ago.
The bill would have allowed victims to sue not only their alleged abusers but also those they claimed covered for them.
The Senate vote followed emotional testimony from those who claimed they'd been abused at the hands of priests as children but were unable to come forward until after the civil statute of limitations had expired.
The Republican-controlled House stripped the bill of that look-back period earlier this year and substituted the civil registry. The Senate went along.
If a judge issues a declaratory judgement that an accused indeed committed a sex offense for which the civil statute of limitations has expired, the abuser's name, address, and photograph would be placed in an on-line database. He would also be subjected to the same registration, notification, and residency requirements as a criminally convicted sex offender.
The burden of proof would also be lower in the civil action. The judge would have to find beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the accused committed the offense as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case.
Mr. Petro's office said the rules were patterned substantially after those guiding Ohio's Sex Offender Registration and Notification (SORN) Web site. But unlike the civil registry, SORN is triggered by a criminal conviction.
The registry also provides the opportunity for a "registrant" to ask for his name to be removed from the list after six years.
"The only difference [from the look-back plan] is that [the registry] strips the victims, blindfolds them, ties their hands behind their back, and then sends them into the dogfight without counsel who can go after [church] records and expose the cover-up," said Claudia Vercellotti, of the Toledo chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"If you don't go after the cover-up, you will never make a dent in the clergy sexual abuse in our community," she said.
A public hearing on the rules is planned for Aug. 1, with a legislative committee review set for Aug. 28.
"Wherever an offender moves in the state of Ohio, the sheriff of that county will be notified," said state Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), who helped push the registry concept.
"If we had just given the victim the right to sue for money, there could be a damage judgement against, let's say, Father Jones in Toledo," he said. "But if Father Jones moved to Zanesville, no one in Zanesville would have known he had a money judgement against him. He could have moved in relative anonymity and abused others."
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