Families living in Israeli towns discover paroled pedophiles down the street
Concerned citizens take action, spreading the word, posting flyers and even approaching a released pedophile's wife directly and demanding that she move.
Rumors began flying around Nes Tziona in early June that Yosef Plant, a repeat child sex offender, was on parole and back living with his family in the community's Argaman neighborhood. Concerned citizens took action, spreading the word, posting flyers with Plant's picture around town and even approaching his wife directly and demanding that she move. She told a local newspaper, Kol Nes Tziona, that the harassment included threatening phone calls and vandalism of her car and the door of her home.
In fact, Plant was still in prison. But he was released in August, and since then he and his family have been forced to move repeatedly due to harassment - first to Gedera, where they stayed for only a few weeks before neighbors discovered his identity, and then, in early September, to a rental apartment in another part of Nes Tziona.
"I have a teenage daughter, and for two weeks I didn't know there was a predator right under my nose," says a Gedera woman who gave only her first name, Galit. "He's a serial offender, it wasn't a one-time slip, the question isn't whether [Plant will commit another pedophiliac crime], it's when and where. At the end of the day these people are miserable and sick, no one wants them living next to them," Galit said. "The tragedy is that the state throws the problem at our doorstep. When you corner people they do what they have to in order to protect themselves and their children. The state doesn't take care of the matter."
In 2006 the Knesset passed the Public Protection from Sex Offenders Law, the first of its kind in the country. Its main provisions were to mandate an assessment, prior to parole, of the threat posed to the community by each convicted sex offender, and to establish a monitoring unit. This year an amendment providing for treatment and rehabilitation of sex offenders was passed.
Plant's whereabouts became public knowledge when his wife registered their children for school. Last Friday morning dozens of neighbors gathered outside their building and prevented the family from going into their apartment. Plant charged at the group and made it very clear that he had no intention of backing down. Police officers who were dispatched to the scene explained to the residents that they could not prevent Plant and his family from living in the building, but in the end the Plants moved once again.
Plant, 49, has served six separate prison terms for the same number of convictions for sexual offenses against minors. In the most recent, in 2006, he was sentenced by the Rehovot Magistrate's Court to seven years for performing indecent acts on nine underage girls while pretending to be an instructor of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that combines dance and music.
The sex-offender monitoring agency established under the 2006 law and known as the Tzur unit, has broad powers that can include surveillance operations, surprise visits, frequent phone calls and visits with parole officers, as well as almost around-the-clock supervision and approval prior to an offender's hiring at a new place of work.
Israel maintains a registry of convicted sex offenders, to which all of them must report their home address prior to their release from prison. But in contrast to many countries, most notably the United States, Israel's registry is classified. The authorities oppose moves to make the records public, in part out of fear of widespread violence against offenders living in the general community.
But around two years ago a group of Israelis launched a sort of citizens' sex-offenders registry, pieced together from media reports and public court records. The "wall of shame" of Tnu Ligdol Besheket contains the names, pictures and the nature of the offenses committed by convicted or in some cases suspected pedophiles, together with their home addresses, when known.
One of the site's operators, who asked not to be identified in this article, claims that the judicial establishment often goes easy on sex offenders and the state leaves citizens to fend for themselves. "Of course they have to live somewhere," she says. "My beef isn't against the pedophile looking for a place to live, but rather with the system that throws him outside and doesn't lock him up for the rest of his life. Anyone who has been categorized, defined or diagnosed by the system as an incorrigible pedophile should be behind lock and key for the rest of his life, or totally castrated," she says.
Plant's case, in being forced to move by neighbors, is not uncommon. About two weeks ago a number of people living near a 65-year-old convicted sex offender who was on house arrest in a rented apartment in Ramat Aviv while awaiting sentencing obtained a judge's order requiring the man to move out. He is thought to be living in Jaffa now.
Many professionals in the field are critical of Tnu Ligdol, warning that publishing the names of offenders impedes their rehabilitation and can encourage violence. "It is very dangerous to make the registry public," says Dana Pogatch, director of Noga Legal Center for Victims of Crime.
However, Pogatch says the registry should be open to individual inquiry in certain circumstances. "We see many cases where children are abused by their mother's boyfriend," Pogatch said. "I'd like it if one could apply to a committee and ask to know if a guy you're dating - or a tutor you want to hire for your children - has a criminal record as a pedophile."
Pogatch cautions that while lifting all restrictions on publicizing the offender registry may make people feel safer, there are many negative implications. In the United States, she says, it is claimed that making the registry public has led to a situation where sex offenders all live in poor neighborhoods. Alternatively, she says, "They flee to other states and aren't monitored." Pogatch points to Britain as a more positive example, with a relatively classified offender registry and "almost 100-percent supervision of sex offenders."
Just recently the local rumor mill in Haifa began working overtime with the "news," which turned out to be false, that convicted pedophiliac brothers Shlomi and Oren Korido had moved into the Carmeliya neighborhood. Since the rumors began several days ago, the brothers' public defender attorney, Sigal Davari, says her phone has not stopped ringing. She says she has had to reassure dozens of worried parents, in what she calls a clear case of senseless panic.
In fact, she says, the case of the Korido brothers illustrates the failure of the authorities. As Davari tells it, it was only after extended pressure from the defense that the state responded to Oren Korido's demands for treatment. He is currently receiving "chemical castration" drugs and seeing a senior criminologist for a proscribed 14 sessions.
"There are sex offenders who aren't interested in therapy. I represent a sex offender who poses a long-term threat and who does want treatment and no one takes up the gauntlet," Davari says, adding, "He needs a permanent therapeutic framework. Fourteen sessions is spitting in Oren's face, it's not a solution to the problem."
The Tzur unit currently monitors 750 sex offenders, 60 of whom are described by its director, Yoram Adi, as "walking time bombs." He says most of the men he puts in this category are "pedophiles who wander the streets and don't have a therapeutic framework - that's why they're very dangerous." Adi stresses that the threat posed by these offenders drops in proportion to their integration into society, and for that reason it is very important that they find a regular job, a home and a social network.
'A man needs to live some place'
Each officer in the Tzur sex offender monitoring unit oversees between 20 and 24 offenders following their release from prison. They keep the ones judged most likely to strike again on a very short leash, with frequent surveillance.
"At first it was very frequent, many times a day," one of the convicted sex offenders said in an interview with Haaretz. He asked not to be identified by name. "I saw them tailing me everywhere, afterward the frequency declined. I'm in favor of the monitoring, it's good," he said, adding, "I have nothing to hide. I'm not a criminal and don't act like one. I stumbled, but I want a clean start." He said he has had to move and change his employer several times due to pressure from neighbors.
He says he still feels sexual desire for young girls, but the combination of official supervision combined with the knowledge that a repeat offense would result in a longer prison term keeps him on the straight and narrow.
The efforts to force sex offenders from their homes anger him. "I understand [the neighbors], but a person has to live somewhere," he says. While he says the knowledge that a sex offender is living in their midst is good because it allows people to take precautions, he is certain that making the registry public would cause real damage. "You can't have everyone knowing that information, doing whatever they want, it won't end well. People's judgment isn't always good."