We are deeply saddened by the horrific murder of 6 year old Christopher Michael Barrios. The little boy was last seen playing on a swing set near his father's home at a trailer park near Brunswick. His body was found a week later about three miles away near the side of a road. In light of this cruel and sickening tragedy, we steel our resolve to create public policy and practice that meaningfully promotes safety for Georgia’s women and children.
Four people have been indicted in connection with the child's abduction and death. One of the suspects, George Edenfield, is a registered sex offender. Due to 1,000-foot sex offender residency restrictions, George Edenfield moved from his previous home near downtown Brunswick to the trailer park where the child lived. Christopher's father, Mike Barrios, was convicted of statutory rape when he was 24 years old and must register as a sex offender. He is also subject to the same residency restrictions as Edenfield and thousands of others, with no consideration for the severity of the crime or likelihood of reoffense. Georgia's restrictions made this trailer park where both the Barrios and Edenfield families lived one of the few places registered sex offenders could live in Brunswick in compliance with the law.
In the last few years, laws prohibiting sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of certain areas have become increasingly popular throughout the United States. The Center strongly opposes arbitrarily imposed 1000 foot barriers because – at best – they do no more than provide our communities a false sense of security. These barriers do nothing meaningful whatsoever to protect our children from sexual violence and abuse.
The consensus among researchers is that overly restrictive 1000 foot barriers like that ones in effect in Georgia are actually harmful to public safety. Many in law enforcement strongly oppose residence restrictions because they are ineffective and they drive offenders underground. The Georgia Sheriff’s Association, for example, lobbied against the school bus stop restriction last year and sought its repeal during this legislative session. Nancy Sabin of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation (an organization dedicated to protecting children, founded after the abduction of a 9-year-old Minnesota boy) states that residence restrictions are ineffective. Law enforcement and child advocates oppose 1000-foot barriers because they know the restrictions are, at best, ineffective.
Indeed, soon after the State of Iowa passed a residence restriction banishing sex offenders from many areas of the state, there was a nearly 300% increase in the number of absconders from Iowa’s registry. Ever since, members of Iowa’s law enforcement community have called for the law’s repeal.
At a 2006 hearing in federal court regarding the impact of Georgia's 1000 foot barriers, experts for both sides agreed that residency restrictions of the sort proposed by Georgia's bus stop provision (barring people on the registry from living within 1000 feet of a designated school bus stop) may be so destabilizing that it actually increases recidivism. Researchers around the country concur: housing restrictions in Florida have been shown to increase isolation, create financial and emotional stress, and destabilized individuals. Despite good intentions, the state's residency restrictions actually make Floridians less safe.
Georgia and other cities and states with 1,000 foot barriers should dismantle these blanket barriers and rely instead on judges to impose individualized residency restrictions as conditions of probation. Arbitrary, blanket barriers that fail to take into account crucial information on a case by case basis will result in more tragedies. We are working to stop the enactment of these additional, arbitrary 1000 foot barriers that threaten public safety.
What We Must Do To Protect Children From Sexual Abuse
We ask that legislators and other policy makers stop their political posturing and commit to actions that will actually prevent child sexual abuse. These are the first steps that must be taken to protect children from sexual harm:
Stop wasting time and resources on people who do not pose a danger:
There are 13,000 people on Georgia’s sex offender registry. Some are serious offenders. Many are not. At present, law enforcement is stretched beyond its capacity in monitoring people who pose little danger to the community. Our clients Wendy Whitaker, Joseph Linaweaver, Martavious Miller, and Jeffrey York and many others are all on the registry for having had consensual sex as teenagers. People with advanced Alzheimer’s disease and people in hospice care with less than two months to live are also on the registry. Because of these flaws in the current law, sheriffs’ deputies and probation officers have spent countless hours and wasted scarce resources monitoring people who pose no risk.
Fund and support the new Sex Offender Review Board:
Last year, legislators tasked Georgia’s Sex Offender Review Board with evaluating all sex offenders released from prison after July 1, 2006. However, the Board has no staff and little funding. It does not have access to documents it needs to conduct meaningful reviews. As of last month, the Board conducted only a handful of reviews. This is unacceptable. The legislature must give the Sex Offender Review Board the tools it needs to start its work immediately.
Launch a public health campaign to end child sexual abuse.
Recognizing the harmful effects of residency restrictions and other politically popular measures, a number of well-respected national organizations and government agencies have proposed launching a national campaign designed to decrease child sexual abuse as successfully as the recent anti-smoking campaigns have reduced smoking.
Such a campaign starts with getting the facts. Many people are surprised to learn, for example, that that approximately 90% of sexual offenses against children are committed by someone the child know and trusts. Residency restrictions and other recently enacted measures perpetuate the myth that the greatest danger to children are from strangers. By misdirecting our attention in a way that has us singularly focused on stranger abduction, we ignore or miss the signs of child sexual abuse when it occurs.
In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention convened a panel of experts to discuss how child sexual abuse can be prevented if it is tackled as a public health problem. Since then, a number of campaigns have been initiated by states and nonprofits. These have been fairly small scale efforts with varied results. Lessons learned from these efforts can – and should – be incorporated into a comprehensive prevention campaign that can save thousands of children from becoming victims of sexual abuse.
 Wendy Koch, Sex-Offender Residency Laws Get Second Look: States Consider Easing Restrictions that Critics Say Provide a False Sense of Security and Often Make Felons Tougher to Monitor, USA TODAY (February 26, 2007).
 Monica Davey, Iowa’s Residence Rules Drive Sex Offenders Underground, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 2006).
 Jill S. Levenson, The Impact of Sex Offender Residence Restrictions: 1,000 Feet From Danger or One Step From Absurd?, 49 Int'l J. of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 168 (2005).
 Stop It Now!, Prevent Child Sexual Abuse: Facts About Those Who Might Commit It (2005). Available online at http://www.stopitnow.org/downloads/Prevent_CSA.pdf
 Summary and recommendations reported in Pamela M. McMahon and Robin C. Puett, Child Sexual Abuse as a Public Health Issue: Recommendations of an Expert Panel, 11 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 257 (1999).