There's nothing to stop sex offender clinics moving near you

There's nothing to stop sex offender clinics moving near you »Play Video
FILE PHOTO - Whole Systems on Milwaukie Avenue was in this building until neighbors complained because the sex offender treatment provider was near the Boys and Girls Club and the Montessori School.

PORTLAND, Ore. – While the sex offender treatment program that outraged parents in the Sellwood neighborhood is now gone, the problem isn’t going away.

These kinds of clinics are treated just like any other business under the law. There's nothing to stop them from moving in next to your home or school and no requirement to alert you if they do.

The new, permanent home of Whole Systems, the treatment program at the center of the debate over health services and public safety, doesn’t exist.

After the public outcry from residents and angry parents at a neighborhood meeting that drowned out even the suggestion of having an open debate at their meeting, the director of Whole Systems, Johneen Manno has stopped announcing details about her future to KATU or any other media organization. And she’s not required to publicly.

Robin Springer, a former Multnomah County prosecutor and mother of two, helped found the Sellwood Safety Action Committee when she found out about the clinic.

She said she just hopes where ever Manno ends up, she'll know to keep her business away from kids this time.

"It's difficult to stand out here, outside the business (where it used to be) and not see the Boys and Girls Club," Springer said.

A Montessori School is just a close, which is a fact that still upsets Springer.

"Many offenders already have restrictions on them about not being close to schools and having contact with children (and) not being in parks and places where kids would frequent," she said.

Yet in the shadow of the school, Whole Systems was under government contract to service 120 convicts from Clackamas and Multnomah counties who'd been convicted of crimes such as molestation, possession of child pornography and rape of a minor.

"Let me be clear that no one has said that sex offenders don't need treatment," Springer said. "That being said, though, we do have city ordinance for drug-free zones (and) we had prostitution-free zones."

But a solution that secludes sex offenders, rather than secures them, ignores the facts, says Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.

"Most offending happens within the home or when people have an opportunity to form different relationships with people whom they victimize," she said.

Christopher says keeping the clinics local helps keep the problem visible.

"You want to know how many people are going to be around, how isolated it is, more so than just saying you cannot set up a treatment center here," she said.

But there's no rule about who should hear about the dangers or even a regulation to just lock the doors. The Oregon Health Licensing agency's only requirement is that therapists perform "risk management."

And that's not going to change anytime soon, says freshman state Rep. Joe Gallegos from Washington County.

"Again, we're doing our research; we're looking at legislation, but I wouldn't say anything's going to be passed this session. Maybe a session or two down the road," he said.

Gallegos got involved when constituents came to him with their concerns about Sonrise Church's special worship classes for ex-criminals, including sex offenders. Like Whole Systems, the church's class is just a few hundred feet from an elementary school.

And while he understands the need for treatment, the kids must come first. He's hoping to engineer a Sellwood-like solution in the short term.

"So if we could find a better location where there wasn't that kind of safety issue, I think that would resolve the issue. I think that's the best solution I could think of," he said.

Gallegos has already had a series of meetings with the church and wants to help it partner with another nonprofit in a location away from kids’ activities.

Manno at Whole Systems said the same thing when KTU last spoke to her. Right now, though, she's renting space at a Multnomah County office building. But that's temporary and only through February.