‘Safety’ cannot be defined by ‘labels’

Safety was the word of the night as concerned residents met with town board members and those who decided to move a “sex offender” into their neighborhood.

Safety, for many of the residents, came down to removing the “sex offender” from the group home in which he was placed and never placing another one there.

Safety, for those with the responsibility of keeping the “sex offender” safe, means placing him in the best environment where he can thrive as an individual without presenting a danger to others.

It was clear those two definitions had little common ground.

My heart aches for the woman who feels she has been victimized twice, first by a sexual predator when she was four years old, and now with a new neighbor convicted of sexual offenses involving a four-year-old child.

Compassion fills my thoughts for the residents of the group home who need a safe, supervised place to live because something delayed their mental development before age 21 that makes it impossible for them to live on their own without a system of support.

I live near the group home in question, not next door, but as country measurements go down the road and around the corner a piece. My grandchildren play freely on the property and I want them to be safe, just as those raising concerns want their children to be safe.

I can’t keep them completely safe. I can’t know every danger that they will face, nor can their parents, their teachers, nor our government leaders. What I can do is teach them to always be aware of their situation, not always afraid, but always aware.  I can teach them there are times you have to speak out because sometime doesn’t seem right.  There are times and places you should always travel with a buddy.  There are people and places you should avoid.

In addition are the lessons that  there are sometimes factors and back stories we can not know, and sometimes the decisions which seem to come out of nowhere were carefully, thoughtfully, developed  and fear is not a great way to assess the situation.

I would rather know someone – whose story I do not know, but who bears the label “sexual offender” because of part of it – is in a setting that a group of well trained, knowledgeable, experienced people determined was the best place for becoming the best person he or she can be with the least chance of harm to those living with, caring for, or living in homes nearby that person, then have someone who bears that label trying to achieve those goals on his or her own.

It was good to hear that residents weren’t afraid of the other individuals placed in the new group homes and are looking forward to getting to know them.  A different situation then when the first group home for developmentally disabled adults was established in the community.  With over thirty years of experience behind us, we have come to understand the wisdom of these neighborhood group homes.

We need to make sure the process in place does ensure the safety of the residents, of those living with them and caring for them, of the neighborhood, and that the safety measures in place are good and the staff well trained.  We must make our leaders aware of what the implications of their decisions about the process and people they put in place to implement it.

Let’s not be afraid of labels, but through careful consideration of all the information available, evaluate the threats to our safety.  We may find the greatest risks come from someone we labeled “safe”.