herald

Sunday 24 September 2017

Miriam Donohue: As a woman I have the right to know if a serial rapist is living near me

I have a right to know if a convicted serial rapist is living around the corner from me or in my neighbourhood.

We all have the right to be given information that will help us protect and safeguard our children and our families.

Currently one of Ireland's most notorious sex criminals, Michael Murray, a man with multiple convictions for rape and indecent exposure, is trying to prevent Irish newspapers, including the Evening Herald, from alerting the public to his whereabouts.

His lawyers are arguing that Murray has been treated unfairly -- and have the audacity to say that the public has no right to know where he lives or what he does. They claim the newspaper articles are calculated to cause considerable public hostility and animosity towards their client. This is outrageous.

Here are the facts.

In the space of six days in 2005, while he was out of prison for previous crimes, Murray raped four women and sexually assaulted two others.

In the past he has exposed himself to children, one as young as three years old. He has threatened women with murder. And he has taken part in a frenzied knife attack.

If a man with this record is living near to me, even within a few miles of me, I want to know. I have the right to know.

The Michael Murray case has highlighted the fact that the law surrounding the monitoring of rapists and paedophiles here is woefully inadequate.

We have a crazy system where a dangerous sex offender and repeat child rapist can relocate but local people may never know or be informed.

We do have the Sex Offenders' Register, but to call it a register is a bit misleading. What happens is that when someone is convicted of a sex-related offence, a certificate is issued on behalf of the Garda and is sent to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

This unit keeps a record of all certificates and a nominated inspector in each Garda division has responsibility for liaising with the central Garda Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit for the purpose of monitoring offenders. But members of the public cannot find out if a sex offender is living in their area.

The register details held by the Garda are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. What we need in Ireland is a form of Megan's Law.

Megan's Law is the name applied to laws right across the United States which give the public the right to have information about sex offenders in their midst.

The laws are named after a seven-year-old New Jersey girl, Megan Kanka, who in 1994 was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a man who had two prior convictions for sexual offenses. The murderer had moved in across the street from Megan's family, who were unaware of his past history.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Kankas campaigned to have local communities warned about sex offenders in the area and all states across the US now have a form of Megan's Law, which establishes a process whereby information about offenders is given to the public.

Caution

A decision whether or not to give this information is based on an evaluation of the risk to the community from an offender. It is not given out randomly.

In California, Megan's Law goes even further and provides the public with internet access to detailed information on registered sex offenders.

Yes, we need to sound a note of caution about the introduction of such a law here. There would be legitimate concerns. The last thing we would want is a situation where offenders are subjected to harassment and become victims of mob rule. They have rights.

But surely the importance of protecting the safety of the public outweighs the right to privacy of offenders.

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