Their View | Protecting the most vulnerable among us

July 22, 2013 

Recently, in Lancaster County, a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from her front yard. She was heroically rescued by two teenage boys who discovered her in the backseat of a car driven by suspect Harold Leroy Herr. The boys pursued the vehicle on bicycles until Herr released the girl and sped away.

The little girl was gone only two hours, yet tragically, was sexually assaulted during that time. Herr, a registered sex offender who previously served a 20 year sentence for abducting and raping another 5-year-old girl, only needed a split second opportunity to abduct the young girl — and he took it.

Making sure our children are safe is vital to me. Taking steps to assure that playgrounds, schools, and bus stops are safe places needs to be a paramount concern.

This heartbreaking story boils down to two fundamental issues; Harold Leroy Herr, like many sexual predators, could not control his urges, and he had the opportunity to abduct an innocent 5-year-old girl to satisfy those urges.

While we can argue about whether violent sexual offenders and predators can truly overcome their sickness and re-enter society, I believe it is imperative that we take stronger steps to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The truth of the matter is that these violent sexual predators do exist, and they are stalking our children.

Once a child is in a predator’s clutches, we are all powerless. No one can help. We failed that child. Our permissive and naive approach to how we monitor sex offenders has relegated that child to the mercy of someone bent on hurting them. As a community, we are reduced to harrowing parental pleas and aimless searches that all too often culminate at landfills and shallow graves.

According to national statistics, approximately 2,000 children go missing every day. About 58,000 of these cases annually turn out to be nonfamily abductions. In these cases, the child is killed or never recovered nearly half of the time. While it is not my intent to frighten or alarm people by citing these numbers, these statistics speak volumes about the exposure and vulnerability of children in our society.

Earlier this year, I reintroduced a legislative package aimed at making our children safer. One of my bills would ban sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, preschool, day care facility or public playground. The measure would also prohibit sex offenders from living within 500 feet from a school bus stop.

This legislation, while no magic bullet, accomplishes something that is extremely important: It limits opportunity. I strongly believe that imposing reasonable residency restrictions for sex offenders from places children congregate is a step in the right direction. In fact, 27 other states agree with me and have enacted similar legislation.

Senate Bill 86 provides families with an additional layer of protection knowing that sexual predators cannot reside next to places their children frequent. Through limiting opportunities for sexual predators, it is my hope that there will be fewer tragic cases like the one in Lancaster — and that the most vulnerable members of our communities will be better protected.

Lisa Boscola is a Democratic state senator representing Northampton, Lehigh and Monroe counties.

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