Have you ever looked inside the Florida Sex Offenders Registry?
It's not for moms who are faint of heart. It has a searchable database where you plug in your zip code and up pops the faces and offenses of men from all walks of life: young, old, Hispanic, black, white, transients from the street and a few wearing medical scrubs as if they just finished working a double shift at the hospital.
I went on there the other night after the s*it hit the fan at Penn State, where the revered former assistant coach and prominent community activist Jerry Sandusky has been accused of preying on children.
I found two convicted sex offender living within one mile of my house; 14 living within two miles.
Never miss a local story.
Guess how many were living within five miles of my house? 365.
Pretty shocking, I know, but those really aren't the guys I worry about.
Unfortunately, I fear the real threats are the ones whose faces don't appear in that database. The ones who haven't been caught. The ones who continue what they're doing because they work in respected jobs, have families and don't fit the stereotype we attach to the sex offenders who, forced by residency restrictions, lived under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in a shantytown for four years.
The ones who are allowed to continue what they're doing because we choose to look the other way rather than come to the aid of a child, either in disbelief, denial or worse.
Contrary to the image of a pedophile as a creepy loner, many sex offenders seek employment or volunteer opportunities in places where they have daily contact with children so they can troll for victims.
Youth sports leagues. Boy Scouts. The Catholic Church.
Kelly Clark, a lawyer who represents sex abuse victims in Oregon, told USA Today she calls them "institutions of trust." They're the places where parents let their guards down, where predators are tacitly trusted, given access and respectability. We're so insulated in our comfort zone that even when some of us see the signs – or even a flagrant violation – we instinctively recoil and think, "That can't happen here."
Just last week, a Miami jury returned a $100 million verdict against retired Roman Catholic priest Neil Doherty, 68, accused of sexually abusing dozens of boys in Little Haiti since the 1980s. How many people in that parish had second doubts or saw something that just wasn't right in the past three decades? How many people didn't speak up?
When it comes to protecting a child, there's no excuse for witness apathy. Mandatory reporting to state authorities is required in Florida of any schoolteacher, social worker, doctor or police officer who suspects that a child is being sexually or physically abused. The Boy Scouts of America now subscribe to the same rule. It's a response we all should adopt, even when that offender doesn't look like he belongs in a computer database.