Protecting Children May Take Law Change

By: Renee' LaSalle
By: Renee' LaSalle

When officials with the Rentway Store on North Frontage Road in Meridian hired Tom Monroe Radcliff, Jr., to play Santa Claus, officials said they didn't know about his history. Radcliff was convicted in Lauderdale County in 2001 for the lustful touching of a child.

"What we have with the situation that transpired here locally is a situation where a place of employment, but a smaller operation, did not do a background check," said state Rep. Greg Snowden of Meridian. "And probably was not required by law to do a background check, so I think we have perhaps a small hole in the law that we need to plug."

In 2004, Snowden sponsored legislation requiring convicted sex offenders to tell volunteer organizations which deal with children about their conviction before volunteering. But, he says not every convicted sex offender will be forthcoming with that information and it's always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with children.

"The law requires that they disclose the fact that they are a convicted sex offender, but those persons may not be altogether honest, so it's incumbent upon you, I think, to do everything you can to make sure you understand their status and make sure they are appropriate to be around children," Snowden said.

But, Ginger Stevens of Wesley House, which offers counseling to victims of sexual abuse, says the majority of the responsibility for hiring appropriate employees belongs to businesses and doesn't think requiring disclosure to employers will solve the problem.

"If you are in a situation where there are positions that need to be filled which deal with children, then be accountable. Make sure that you've done your homework and find out who these people really are. Any child any where can be assaulted if we're not careful," said Stevens.

Stevens says it's the responsibility of the entire community to protect our children.

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