How sex offenders avoid children.

How sex offenders avoid children.

How sex offenders avoid children.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 6 2007 7:06 PM

How To Stay 30 Feet Away From Kids

Become a hermit or face jail.

A judge in California imposed a temporary restraining order Friday on a self-professed pedophile who had been posting pictures of what he called LGs, or little girls, on his Web site. According to the order, Jack McClellan, who has no arrests or convictions, must not come within 30 feet of anyone under the age of 18 in the state of California. How do you stay 30 feet away from all kids?

You can't, at least not for any extended period of time. McClellan apparently lives out of his car, but he won't be able to drive anywhere, since there might be a child in another car. Trips to kid-dense areas like grocery stores are also out. Short of setting up a tent in the desert or leaving the state altogether, it's likely that McClellan will eventually violate the restraining order.


This California case is highly unusual, since McClellan isn't a registered sex offender, and the sweeping order covers all 10 million children in the state. But convicted offenders usually have to contend with similar restrictions. Over the past decade, 27 states and hundreds of cities have passed laws to restrict where convicted sex offenders who have served their sentences can live. Usually, they're barred from residing within 1,000 feet of places like schools and playgrounds. Some states are especially strict. Certain cities in Florida call for a 2,500-foot buffer zone, while Georgia throws bus stops and pools into the mix. In Cincinnati, the law effectively leaves at least 60 percent of the city's housing units out of reach. Offenders are forced to find new homes, often in rural areas, where jobs are scarce and where authorities have a harder time monitoring them. (Tracking should get easier in California, where sex offenders are supposed to be outfitted with GPS units.) In Florida, five men who were all convicted of child abuse ended up living underneath a highway. Iowa found that offenders stayed in motels, and, more worryingly, that more offenders are going underground as cities have tried to outdo each other with restrictions since the state law passed in 2002.

Individual sex offenders on parole are often prohibited from living with a child or having unsupervised contact with children. Talking to a kid on the sidewalk would be a big no-no unless a chaperone accompanies the offender.

To comply with these rules, many sex offenders tend to venture outside only when they are accompanied by some kind of supervisor. They watch out for places they should avoid and when they should avoid them. For instance, someone might shop at a Gap store that doesn't feature a Gap Kids next door, or buy ice cream at a gas station rather than a Dairy Queen. They brainstorm escape strategies for emergencies, like how to respond if a neighbor needs to go to the hospital and asks them to watch their kid. Or what to do if they find themselves trapped in a public place where there are children. In these situations, counselors advise offenders to offer to drive the neighbor and the child to the hospital instead, or, in the latter case, to pretend they're about to vomit.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks David D'Amora of the Association forthe Treatment of Sexual Abusers, Jeff Stein of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and Sara Totonchi of the Southern Center for Human Rights.