The United States Supreme Court will take on the question next week of whether convicted sex offenders should be allowed to access social media sites where minors can post.
A decision by the high court would affect the entire country. Is this a matter of safety or of freedom of speech?
Alicia Kozakiewicz, now 28, said she would feel “utterly betrayed” if the Supreme Court decides sex offenders have the right to go on social media websites because she was abducted and raped in 2002 at the age of 13 by a 38-year-old stranger.
“When I was 13 I was a really typical average kid. The kind of kid that you would think that something like this never happen to, and from a family that you would think, ‘How could that ever happen to?’ yet it did,” said Kozakiewicz.
She said in the days before Facebook, Twitter or even MySpace, her abductor groomed her online and in chat rooms for eight months, convincing her she had a friend her own age.
“Grooming is so simple. It’s just being a child’s friend or pretending to be a child’s friend. It’s telling them what they want to hear versus what they need to hear,” said Kozakiewicz. “He talked to me like a kid, and I was who I said I was why would this person not be who they say they are?”
The online chatting continued until New Year’s Day 2002, when she stepped away from a family meal at her Pittsburgh-area home, to meet her online friend in person.
“It was absolutely horrendous outside,” said Kozakiewicz. “To show you how effective grooming is, I was a kid who was scared of the dark, hated the cold with a passion and never went outside alone after dark and yet here I was walking outside.”
She closed her eyes as she talked about the dark and the cold.
“It was so quiet and it was so cold and in that quietness my intuition finally spoke up,” said Kozakiewicz.
But it was too late.
“I went to turn around and I heard my name being called,” said Kozakiewicz. “The next thing I knew I was in a car and this man was squeezing my hand so tightly that I thought it was broken, and he started screaming commands at me — ‘Be good! Be quiet! The trunk’s cleaned out for you!'”
She said her abductor drove her the about five hours to his home in Virginia where he raped her and held her
“It was my hell,” said Kozakiewicz. “I was raped and beaten and tortured. I was held captive by a locking dog collar around my neck in what has been called, and I don’t really have another word for it either, a basement dungeon. This was a place to torture someone.”
She said she endured four days of this and didn’t think she would live to see a fifth.
“Eventually I had given up hope. He had said on the last day, which I didn’t know was the last day, he said ‘I’m beginning to like you too much we’re going to go for a ride’ and I knew at that point it was game over for me,” said Kozakiewicz.
She said she was planning to fight her captor, even though she knew that would likely mean her death.
That was the day that the FBI rescued her.
“I don’t have another word for it other than a miracle,” said Kozakiewicz. “I realized had they even stopped to maybe get gas that day or say I’m hungry let’s get lunch I probably would not be here.”
Her nightmare experience is why she said she feels so strongly about the issue.
“Sex offenders should absolutely not be permitted to be on social media. That is incredibly dangerous and simply not worth it,” said Kozakiewicz. “We would protect the offender and their rights but throw the kids and the victims and the potential victims to the side. That’s awful. Do I now need to go on search for this person’s name see if they’re on social media and then block them? I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t think any victim or survivor wants to go through and have to do that.”
History of laws forbidding sex offenders to go on social media sites
Four states, Louisiana, Indiana, Nebraska and North Carolina, have tried to enact laws that would forbid sex
offenders from going on social media sites.
The laws of three of those states were overturned by federal courts for being unconstitutional. The fourth
state, North Carolina, went through the state system and will be argued before the Supreme Court.
Carl Sullivan, the director of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office of Internet Crimes Against Children unit, explained “the courts say it’s not a penalty or a restriction to be a sex offender so it’s not a criminal obligation.”
He said he thinks the internet would be safer if sex offenders weren’t allowed online.
“I think things would be safer, but I think the important thing too is not only for us to keep investigating what we’re doing, but for parents to be vigilant with what their kids are doing,” said Carl Sullivan.
It was difficult for Cleveland 19 to find a local example of a convicted sex offender who went online and re-offended.
“I see it, yes, but I wouldn’t say a lot, but again it boils down to they got caught once before … ” said Carl Sullivan.
One example of a convicted sex offender who had originally offended online and then re-offended
online is Larun Miller, and he’s serving time in a federal prison.
Miller pleaded no contest to charges he raped a child in Oklahoma in 1992. He got out of prison and in 2005 he thought he went online to meet an Ohio woman with a teenage daughter who wanted to have sex with him, according to federal court documents. He traveled to Ohio, found out the woman was actually an undercover police officer and went back to prison, records state. He was released from prison a second time in July 2013. He was re-arrested in July 2014 for again talking online to someone he thought was a young girl but who was actually a detective, Oklahoma state records state.
“When we did the forensic analysis on his phone I can tell you there were literally thousands of images of adolescent girls on that phone,” said AUSA Sullivan.
Miller did have restrictions on his probation that did not allow him to access the internet, but he was able to get around them.
“He had to have been doing that for a great period – probably the entire year he was out of custody — he was doing that,” said Sullivan. “As many hours as there are in a day are just online all the time looking for someone to meet.”
Cleveland 19 asked Sullivan why there aren’t more examples of it’s such a big problem.
“The reality is every time somebody gets caught they get smarter about how to evade detection,” said AUSA Sullivan.
But, one lawyer said he thinks legislation that would ban sex offenders from social media is overly broad.
David Singleton successfully fought on behalf of Ohio sex offenders in an Ohio Supreme Court case that established that a residency law restricting sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of a school shouldn’t be retroactive.
He said he’s not necessarily an advocate for convicted sex offenders, he’s an advocate for public policy that
“An across the board you can’t be on social media if you’ve committed a sex offense that’s going too far that’s too broad,” said Singleton. “Those laws may be well-intentioned but they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”
Singleton is the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. He said broad increased restrictions don’t take different situations into account.
“They paint with too broad of a brush. Folks who commit sex offenses, there can be a variety of types of sex offenses not all of which involve children, not all of which involve serious issues of violence and danger,” said Singleton.
While the laws may be well-intentioned, Singleton said he thinks increased restrictions could actually make society less safe for a variety of reasons.
“Legislators pass laws like this and it puts out this idea that it’s making us safer and really it doesn’t. There is no substitute for parents taking time with their children,” said Singleton.
He also noted increased scrutiny and rigid laws could hurt more than it helps.
“If we make it so difficult for people to come out of prison and get on their feet and be productive then that actually increases the risk, not reduces, increases the risk that the person might recidivate,” said Singleton.
He also said he thinks the problem of sex offenders re-offending online or otherwise isn’t as big of a deal as
many might think it is.
“There’s a myth out there that every person who commits a sex offense is a ticking time bomb in terms of recidivism. That is not true,” said Singleton.
Studies suggest that about 14 percent of sex offenders re-offend sexually. That’s compared to others who committed crimes. More than half of all released prisoners overall get rearrested within the first year of their release, and about three quarters are rearrested within five years.
It is important to note the studies all say how difficult it is to accurately, consistently measure rates of recidivism. Studies also note that another difficulty in keeping accurate statistics is that only a minority of sex crimes are reported to police.
But Kozakiewicz says she thinks the risk is already too real. She said she understands there could be sex offenders
who maybe shouldn’t be restricted online, but she said until or unless the system is revamped to take that into consideration she thinks it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“It’s dangerous. Why put – they are already in a cage with a potential lion at any time why put them in a cage with a lion that has already attacked somebody?” said Kozakevic.
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