They are called sexual predators, and in some cases, students: registered sex offenders enrolled on college campuses, and it’s entirely legal.
But, their desire for higher learning has some students in Northeast Ohio on high alert, wondering if the person they pass by the dorms or sit next to in class was convicted of a sexual crime.
“I think it is really crazy. I, first of all, had no idea that they would accept sex offenders to go to a university like this," said Aliah Keller, a student at Kent State University.
She is like other students we spoke with at Kent, Cleveland State University and The University of Akron. These students say they were unaware that being a registered sex offender doesn’t mean you can’t go to college.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Education implemented the campus sex crimes prevention act, requiring all sex offenders to provide notice of enrollment or employment at any institution of higher education. In turn, universities would make this information readily available to students by including a link to the sex offender registry in their annual security reports.
Here’s how the numbers break down at the universities here in Northeast Ohio we visited:
At Kent State University, 1 registered sex offender is listed as a student.
A CSU, school officials confirm to us that 3 of the names listed on the sex offender registry are currently enrolled as students.
At The University of Akron, 2 sex offenders are listed as students, with one of those leaving soon.
Officials tell us an even more concerning number is the amount of sex offenders that live within a 5-mile radius of campus.
Around Kent State University, there are 60 sex offenders.
Around CSU, there are more than 13 hundred sex offenders.
Around The University of Akron, there are more than 700 sex offenders.
“Sex offenders can go to parks; they can go to schools; they can go to their children’s schools. They can be around underage people; they can have children living in their homes, if they are sex offenders," said Summit County Inspector Bill Holland.
Local sheriff’s departments are responsible for maintaining the sex offender registry for their respective county. In Summit County, that’s Holland’s job.
“Those sex offenders that have been released from prison or jail, have served their time and are out on sex offender restrictions. There are no restrictions that would preclude them from attending a university to seek an education," said Holland. He also says it’s important students stay alert and educate themselves about who lives near campus.
Tier I Sex Offender
The term 'tier I sex offender' means a sex offender other than a tier II or tier III sex offender.
Tier II Sex Offender
The term 'tier II sex offender' means a sex offender other than a tier III sex offender whose offense is punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year and;
· (A) is comparable to or more severe than the following offenses, when committed against a minor, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense against a minor:
· (i) sex trafficking (as described in section 1591 of title 18, United States Code)
· (ii) coercion and enticement (as described in section 2422(b) of title 18, United States Code)
· (iii) transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity (as described in section 2423(a)) of title 18, United States Code
· (iv) abusive sexual contact (as described in section 2244 of title 18, United States Code);
· (B) involves
· (i) use of a minor in a sexual performance
· (ii) solicitation of a minor to practice prostitution; or
· (iii) production or distribution of child pornography; or
· (C) occurs after the offender becomes a tier I sex offender.
Tier III Sex Offender
The term 'tier III sex offender' means a sex offender whose offense is punishable by imprisonment for more than 1 year and;
· (A) is comparable to or more severe than the following offenses, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such an offense:
· (i) aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse (as described in sections 2241 and 2242 of title 18, United States Code); or
· (ii) abusive sexual contact (as described in section 2244 of title 18, United States Code) against a minor who has not attained the age of 13 years;
· (B) involves kidnapping of a minor (unless committed by a parent or guardian); or
· (C) occurs after the offender becomes a tier II sex offender.
The severity of their offense is also how most universities in Ohio decide whether to admit convicted criminals.
At The University of Akron, a potential student is asked whether they have a criminal record. If they do, they are then asked to be more specific and explain the crime. An acceptance committee then will review the situation, and on a case by case basis, decide whether to accept a student.
“I think a strict policy is good, but a second chance is good too as long as he doesn’t repeat it. If he would do it again, zero tolerance. You’re not getting another chance," said Mason Giardano, a wrestler at CSU.
He said, as an athlete, his coach encourages him and other players to be respectful of women and not put themselves into situations where they could find themselves accused of a sexual crime. He said they recently had a meeting about the topic, and said it’s one of the most talked about issues on college campuses.
As for how other students feel about sex offenders as fellow students, most said they believe in second chances depending on how harsh the crime was and wouldn’t want to get in the way of someone trying to better themselves.
Another concern experts say is important to be aware of is the sex offenders that aren’t registered.
“There are an awful lot of sex offenders on campus already, whether they are sex offenders that have been found guilty in a court of law and are registered sex offenders, or they have committed crimes and they have never been found responsible," said Alex Leslie. He is the Senior Director of Educational Services at The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. He said he works with colleges often about being aware of the potential dangers on campus and how to educate students when it comes to sexual crimes. He said it’s also hard for students to break away from the stereotype of what they think a sex offender would look like.
“I think most of the time, people imagine a sex offender is someone who looks very different from them -- the creep in the van. But the simple fact is that the profile of someone who commits sex crimes is charismatic, well liked and most people would never expect," Leslie added.
Recidivism has long been a concern, especially pertaining to sex offenders. According to statistics from The U.S. Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Management Assessment and Planning Initiative, the sexual recidivism estimates for all sex offenders in the study were 14 percent at 5 years, 20 percent at 10 years and 24 percent at 15 years. The rate of re-offending decreased the longer offenders had been offense-free.
The line between student safety and second chances is one universities we spoke with are not looking to cross; instead, they are looking to promote a secure and inclusive campus where all their students are not only safe but successful. CSU released the following statement regarding our story:
“Cleveland State University is committed to promoting a safe, inclusive and respectful learning environment for all. To that end, we have implemented policies that protect students and all members of our community from violence, discrimination and harassment and work diligently to address any issues that impact our students.”