Loudoun's 98 Sex Offenders Face New Federal Restrictions
Thursday, August 3, 2006
Some have addresses in Sterling. Some live in Leesburg. Some in Ashburn. But all Loudoun County residents listed on a state sex offender registry are required by Virginia law to regularly inform authorities of their whereabouts.
Now those sex offenders must also deal with new federal restrictions. Last week, President Bush signed a law making it a felony for sex offenders to fail to register with local authorities -- making life a little tougher for the nearly 100 convicted sex offenders who live in Loudoun.
Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act last Thursday, the 25th anniversary of the abduction and murder of the 6-year-old who is the bill's namesake. Adam was kidnapped from a California mall, and his severed head was found in a canal. His case instantly became the symbol of the then nascent missing children's movement, prompting calls for tougher sex offender and child endangerment laws nationwide.
In the past 10 months, federal agents have arrested 718 unregistered sex offenders, 1,849 fugitives on sexual assault charges and 1,257 fugitives wanted on other sex offenses, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, the agency in charge of tracking fugitive sex offenders.
"We have been working with our state and local partners for some time to go after sexual predators, but when this legislation is fully implemented, unregistered sex offenders will be considered federal fugitives, and they will be a priority for deputy U.S. marshals across this country," said John Clark, director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Failure to register could result in a 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine.
The 98 sex offenders listed in Loudoun represent only a fraction of the estimated 13,000 in Virginia and are fairly compliant with state registry laws, said Dave Canham, Loudoun sheriff's detective and sex crimes investigator.
"Of course, you always have one or two who mess up, but most of the ones who live here are pretty good about registering," Canham said.
Enforcement of sex offender registry laws has become a national issue in recent years after a spate of high-profile child abductions involving people who failed to register. As a result, lawmakers on the local, state and federal levels are enacting new laws to increase enforcement.
Earlier this year, legislators in Richmond signed an omnibus bill that calls for violent sex offenders to register with the state every 30 days, instead of every 90. Those classified as nonviolent are required to register every six months.
Canham said that the new federal law could prove a useful tool in catching the handful of offenders who stray from the registry but that the trick is to enforce it.
"It will be effective if the federal prosecutors pursue prosecutions," he said. "If they don't actively prosecute it, then it's a hollow bill."