Anger over Megan's Law website grows

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The Independent Online

A move to expand an online database of sex offenders to include rapists and pornographers is facing mounting opposition in California.

The state's Department of Justice put up a website last month listing the names and whereabouts of 63,000 sex offenders, but some legislators believe it is not enough. The Bill which approved the online database is known as Megan's Law, named after Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old murdered in 1994 by a serial sex offender who, unknown to Megan's family, lived across the street.

The database gives home addresses for 33,500 of the more serious offenders while the rest are listed by postal codes, community or county. Names, photographs, physical descriptions and offences are listed along with maps indicating elementary schools, parks and other sensitive areas.

The website has received more than a million hits since it was launched in December, although advocacy groups say thousands of names are missing and the site does not allow searching by characteristics such as scars and tattoos or criminal predilection - flashing, voyeurism or abduction.

Under legislation proposed by Jim Battin, a state senator, the database will be expanded to include people convicted of spousal rape, incest, child pornography or certain types of indecent exposure involving children, all of whom, he said, pose a risk to the public.

"If you think someone who is willing to rape their own child is not a risk to other children, you're wrong," he said. "If they are willing to sexually assault their own child and own spouse, they are a threat to others."

Opponents are fighting the proposal. They believe it will weaken the impact of Megan's Law, hurt innocent parties, such as relatives, and could bring down property values because, they say, people will not want to move next door to offenders.

The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an association of defence lawyers, opposed putting the original database on the internet and does not approve of the idea of adding other offenders.

Hollywood has entered the debate with two films on child molesters. Both L.I.E., starring Brian Cox, and this year's The Woodsman, with Kevin Bacon, featured paedophiles as the central characters. They received mainly favourable reviews. The Woodsman is particularly topical as Bacon's character tries to keep his record as a convicted sex offender a secret when he is released after serving a 12-year sentence for molesting girls.