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Sex offender Web sites center of controversy

Virginia is one of 14 states to establish sex offender Web sites

Correspondent Kathleen Koch reports on Virginia's sex offender Web site
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From CNN Correspondent
Kathleen Koch

(CNN) -- 14 U.S. States have taken to using the Web to broadcast the names of convicted sex offenders. Anyone, for instance, can access Virginia's sex offender registry, which gives details on every violent sex offender in the state. The site is popular -- since December, more that 700,000 people have logged on.

"The net was overloaded. It was overwhelmed," said Virginia State Police Captain Lewis Vass. "So a couple of days after we were up and running we doubled the size of the capability of it."

The Web sites, designed to protect children, are creating problems for others. Mistakes have turned up on many Web sites. Identified offenders have had their homes torched, have been attacked, and have been shot at. Critics say there is no proof that the Web sites are a benefit the public.

"If you ostracize them in this way and increase the chances they'll be discriminated against, they're more likely to commit the crimes of their past," said Kent Willis, of the American Civil Liberties Union.

One woman, whose address, and second husband's name, are on the registry, says she is afraid to leave her house. Her husband served six months in jail for fondling her daughter. The family is still together, recovering, and in therapy.

The woman says she is afraid her daughter will be ostracized for what her stepfather has done, and will find it difficult to make friends. "Would you let your kid come over to my house?" she asked.

State SenatorJanet Howellcreated Virginia's Web site law. She says the law is not perfect, but it's a start. "We need to protect the children. It is a very tricky thing to do, but we decided if we're going to err, we're going to err on the side of helping the kids."

Last week, officials at a Manassas, Virginia middle school used the Web site to tag a sex offender who was hanging around the school.

Other critics, who favor neighborhood notification, say the Web site is too passive. "It's not enough to just say, here's this database, if you want to check it, come look," argued Ernest Allen, President for Missing and Exploited Children. "Because most people aren't going to do it."

Communities to Massachusetts sex offender board: Not in our back yards
Cybersleuth cop attracts pedophiles to his Web
Arizona law keeps sex offenders locked up indefinitely

Virginia State Police Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry
ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union
Senator Janet D. Howell
   •SB 760 Sex offender registration
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