Parental response to community notification, a school-based study

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Sutherland, Lisa Ruth
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Manitoba was the first province in Canada to develop a Protocol that authorizes Police agencies to provide information to the public regarding high-risk sexual offenders being released into the community. Providing the public with this information theoretically enables them to reduce the potential risk of victimization by informing their children of the danger, teaching them sexual abuse prevention strategies and reducing the offender's access to children by monitoring his behaviour. However, little is actually known about the experience or response of parents who receive a notification. This study conducted focus group discussions with parents of school-aged children to examine their thoughts, feelings and anticipated behaviours in response to receiving a simulated notification. The goal was to identify and explore a diverse range of parental responses. Participants described feeling relieved, afraid, angry and anxious as a result of receiving the information. They had many questions about the meaning of the notification information and the type of response that was expected, effective and required. Despite their uncertainty about how to best protect their children, parents were more comfortable with that responsibility than for monitoring the offender's behaviour in the community. Participants were almost unanimous in their support for community notification. However, although it provides parents with specific offender information the notification does not appear to improve their knowledge or understanding of the issue of child sexual abuse. Most parents thought the notification was a good reminder to review existing child protection strategies, but wondered if there were additional protective behaviours that might be more useful. Participants made a number of suggestions regarding information they felt should be included in the notification, particularly a description of the offender's method(s) of selecting and enticing previous victims.