sex offenders in university housing may be exposed
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sex offenders in university housing may be exposed

Date: December 18, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 1352

JEFFERSON CITY - Registered sex offenders in Missouri would be banned from living in public-university student housing under a measure that has been prefiled for the state legislature's 2008 session.

The bill -- sponsored by Rep. Sam Page, D-St. Louis County -- would require that all public university housing applicants be screened for the sex offenders registry.

"The dorms have large concentrations of young women," Page said. "I don't believe that a sexual predators should be living in that setting."

The sex offenders registry contains a list of sex offenders in Missouri convicted since the registry law took effect, along with their locations and their offenses.

"The registry is continually updated" said Capt. Tim Hull of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The Website keeps the public aware of the sex offenders that may be in their area, he said.

A Columbia representative also said that he supported initiatives to prevent sexual offenses on college campuses. "It's important that students feel safe when they attend our public universities," said Rep. Jeff Harris D- Columbia. He also said that parents should know that everything is being done to ensure student's safety.  

A word of a caution was voiced by one higher education official.   Kerby Miller, director of housing at Linn State Technical College said that although he supports the idea and the right to know of sex offenders in one's surroundings, Miller he said he hopes that this isn't pushed too far. "People can change", he said. There should be a period of time before they are considered to reside in university housing, he said. 

Page said that although people may be able to change, there is high risk that sex offenders would re-offend. "That risk is high enough that they should not live in college dorms" he said.

Currently there is no direct policy to keep sex offenders out of the residence halls, said Frankie Minor the director of residential life at MU. This seems to be true for many other public universities.

Misty Young, public information director at Lincoln University said, "We handle that on a case by case basis." Although it does not look for sexual offenses, the application does ask if the applicant has been convicted of a felony, Young said.

The University of Missouri at Kansas City has a similar policy. Their application also asks about felonies of any kind, said Eric Grospitch the director of residential life at University of Missouri Kansas City.

Grospitch said there was a broader issue -- prevention."It's not a bad idea, but it's not the only idea," Grospitch said of Page's proposal. "I think it's a matter of education." He said that more money should be spent supporting organizations and initiatives that educate people before they reach college on rape and sexual assault.

"I'm sure we could talk about how to prevent sexual offenses but thats not the point of this legislation. The point is to protect young women from sex predators in college dorms." said Page.

Grospitch, who wrote his dissertation for his doctorate in education on rape and sexual assault, said that this bill mostly helps to "get peace of mind". He said that young men understand the "movie type rape, not the 'well she was drinking but she didn't say no'" kind of rape. Funding education could help more than the 1400 residents at UMKC in the fall, he said.

Page said that dorm staff have the responsibility to educate sexual assault issues. "I would encourage dorm staff to educate their residents on common sense sense safety measures" said Page. For example, making sure doors are locked, that they have an escort late at night and staying out of unlit areas are some preventive measures, he said.

"There are obvious ways to protect yourself and stay out of trouble. I'm confident that those are taught during orientations" said Page.

"Everyone that lives in a college dorm should continue to use common sense" said Page.