The Dilution of a Sex Offender

By Erika Stutzman
Daily Camera

August 17, 2008

Making the term apply to non-sex-offenders a scary proposition

The term "sex offender" has the tendency to, quite rightfully, strike fear in parents' hearts, cause countless Web sites to track registries (complete with searchable maps), and inspire the citizenry to distribute fliers and call public meetings. And we're not making light of any of it -- the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute estimates that two of every 10 girls and one of every 10 boys will be abused by the end of their 13th year.

It is terrifying, and often has a lifetime of repercussions for the victims.

That's why diluting the term by adding a whole host of criminals to the database is a scary proposition indeed.

And that includes naked priests.

This week, a court declined to downgrade the conviction of Rev. Robert Whipkey, 53, to a petty offense of public indecency. Whipkey, a Catholic priest who has been on administrative leave from the archdiocese since his arrest, was charged with indecent exposure after being caught running naked around the Frederick High School track last June.

It was 4:30 a.m. The witness was an off-duty police officer, who followed the man home, and confronted him there.

This week, a judge ruled that the conviction was constitutional.

"Given the nature of sex offenders and the risk they pose to the community, the court finds that, for those who knowingly expose themselves to the public, it is reasonable that they are given a higher level of sanctions and registrations," Weld County Judge Timothy Kerns said.

Whipkey will be sentenced in October. He faces possible jail time and registering as a sex offender.

Years ago, he had been investigated by the archdiocese for inappropriate behavior. But not charged. And a woman testified this summer that she saw him naked 20 years ago at a camp site. Again: Not charged.

There are problems with sex offender registries going on in Colorado and nationwide right now.

When our courts add, say, a 18-year-old student who has consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend in Georgia, or a man running naked around a Weld County school track at 4:30 a.m., they risk making the term obsolete, or at least weaker than it should be.

When you hear the term "sex offender" do you immediately think there's a risk to area children -- or does your mind start to wander toward how the term applies to a broad base of crimes, including streaking and urinating in public?

That's not to say these things are not crimes, because they are. Running around in the buff is illegal, and so is statutory rape, even when it's consensual. Lumping all of these crimes into the sex offender registry is, however, offensive.

All of it is available online, as well, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. And sites like have searchable maps. Sometimes they are rich with detail, including profile pictures. But they are often short on facts: Such as with what, exactly, the person was charged.

Information is a good thing, but it's incomplete. Individuals can obsess about which registered offenders may be close to their neighborhoods and parks, but our children would be safer if parents and guardians focused even closer to home. In the vast majority of abuse cases, the abuser is a close friend or family member. Looking for signs of abuse and talking about it with our kids is a better strategy than clicking on any map.


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