Advocates for sexual assault victims fear that a recent court ruling in New Hampshire could allow more than half the state's registered sex criminals to petition their way off a list of offenders with no opportunity for their victims to be heard.
The case stems from the 1987 conviction of a man, identified as John Doe, who served about four years' probation for sexually assaulting his stepdaughter over an eight-year period. The state's highest court ruled in February it was unconstitutional to require him to register as a sex offender for life without a hearing because his conviction predated the 1994 creation of the registry.
Doe said in court he wanted off the list so he could live in federally subsidized housing that could accommodate his disabilities. A hearing was initially scheduled for last week to determine if he should be removed from the offender registry but Doe's lawyers withdrew their petition.
Instead, they now are arguing that merely being eligible to be removed from the list should pave the way for Doe to get the federal housing he desires.
His victim learned of his bid only because the file from his 1987 case could not be located and prosecutors sought her input this summer. She would not have routinely been notified.
The victim, now 46, doesn't want him named because it would identify her, and she asked to be identified only by her first name, Dawn.
She said the man legally adopted her and physically and sexually assaulted her two or three times a week from the time she was 5 until she was 13, when her mother divorced him.
"I'm not that scared little girl anymore," she told The Associated Press last week. "I am here to speak for myself and speak for other victims who are potentially facing the same thing but are not being heard and may not know."
The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Amanda Grady Sexton, public policy director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said about 1,500 of the state's 2,800 people on the sex offender registry may be able to petition their way off as a result of the supreme court ruling. Her staff and Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley are working to fast track legislation establishing guidelines and providing some form of victim notification.
"It certainly raised significant alarms from the victim, and I think we need to take the voices of the victims into account here," Bradley said. "So that's why I'm not really thrilled about him trying to come off the register."
One of Doe's lawyers - New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union legal director Gilles Bissonnette - said it's not clear how many convicted sex offenders may benefit from the court's ruling.
He declined to say whether a videotape of Dawn's interview with prosecutors played a role in the decision to withdraw their motion for this week's hearing. In court documents, Doe's lawyers said he didn't want to "subject her to the humiliation, embarrassment and stress of testifying in open court."
Prosecutors oppose any change in status. They have yet to state their opposition in writing and Assistant Attorney General Karen Schlitzer declined comment.
"It blows my mind that he thinks he's entitled to free housing," Dawn said. "He was banking on me not getting notified. So they had no idea I was ready to stand up for myself."