Ohio bans child sex offenders from working with kids

Child sex abuse survivors beg Ohio lawmakers to eliminate statute of limitations
Posted at 8:28 AM, Jan 05, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A newly-signed law will stop convicted child sex offenders in Ohio from working or volunteering with kids.

Convicted sex offenders in the state have always been able to work around children legally, much to the chagrin of parents like Rebecca Surendorff and others who realize nothing can be done.

"This is, frankly, a crisis level, and we're not giving it the thought and attention that it deserves," Surendorff said.

The law has not prevented it — until now.

In 2019, Surendorff found out the school her children attended was being run by a child predator. Geoff Drew, a Cincinnati priest, pleaded guilty to nine counts of rape in 2021. Unless prohibited explicitly by a court, it is possible a rapist or others charged with similar offenses could still have access to children at work — even after prison.

Kim Neubauer found this out the hard way. News 5 first reported in October that two registered sex offenders were fired from a haunted house after she raised a red flag.

RELATED: Woman quits haunted house job in Columbia Station over registered sex offender co-workers

Woman quits haunted house job in Columbia Station over sex offender co-workers

Neubauer was an employee at the Spooky Ranch in Columbia Station in Lorain County for just one day before quitting. She left when she realized some of her coworkers were offenders, one being labeled by the Lorain County Sheriff's Office as being a “habitual child sex offender.”

"I kept leaving my scene and coming in to check on him to make sure he was where he was supposed to be because I was so uncomfortable knowing he was there,” said Neubauer.

The haunted house owners said they didn't know and didn't do background checks.

State Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), said his bill, now signed into law, will fix this.

"There's a lot of instances where people don't do background checks, and Lorain's is a prime example," Cutrona said of the haunted house. "The person who has this known history now would be precluded from volunteering, which ultimately would come with some criminal penalties tied to it."

In Senate Bill 16, one of the two major criminal justice reform bills, lawmakers included a provision to prevent violent sex offenders from working or volunteering in a position with extensive contact with children. This originated from House Bill 459, which was introduced by Cutrona and state Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.)

The bill would prohibit Tier II or Tier III sex offenders from working with children. Tier I is not centered around child sex crimes but includes a few provisions like the possession of nudity-oriented material of a minor.

Tier II includes rape, sexual battery, pandering child porn and other crimes. Tier III is the most severe and includes felony sex crimes, like rape, child kidnapping and molestation, murder with a sexual motivation, and other violent offenses. Being a repeat offender can also raise tiers.

"Previously, Ohio did not have any laws on the books that would prevent a child sex offender from volunteering in a role with children," the lawmaker said. "This will protect our children and keep them safe."

The language around the bill could be a legal mess, according to Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Mike Benza.

"The statute is very particular. It's not that you are employed by a company or agency that has contact with juveniles or with minors, but that the individual position is a position in which you would have extensive and unaccompanied conduct or supervision of a child or a minor,” said Benza.

Benza points to vague language in the bill that leads to more questions about how it could work, for example, in a haunted house setting.

"I don't know whether this statute actually would address the issue of somebody who was hired at a haunted house because they may not have either the exclusive control or unaccompanied control over a minor,” said Benza.

The bill would also require a detailed description of the job role and a signed statement by their employer as part of the sex offender registry.

If the law is violated, the offender could be charged with a felony.

"This was a good incremental step, but when I look around the country and I see how far behind Ohio is on child sex abuse, I think we need to focus in the General Assembly on making some bold strides," Surendorff added.

News 5 first reported that child sexual abuse survivors begged Ohio lawmakers in October to eliminate the statute of limitations, but no legislators attended their press conference.

RELATED: Child sex abuse survivors beg Ohio lawmakers to eliminate statute of limitations

Child sex abuse survivors beg Ohio lawmakers to eliminate statute of limitations

Surendorff is now the co-chair for Ohioans For Child Protection, a new grassroots organization dedicated to advocating for protections for children. Some of her priorities for this upcoming Legislature are getting the statute of limitations eliminated, implementing anti-grooming legislation and updating background checks to include child protective services calls made against the individual.

Ohio tends to look at other states when putting forward laws, and the mom is suggesting the state look to Arkansas for their bills protecting sexual abuse victims. Arkansas extended the legal deadline for child sex abuse victims to file civil lawsuits to 55 years old. Ohio's is 30. The southern state also created a "lookback window" that eliminated the statute of limitations for two years from the signing of the Justice for Vulnerable Victims of Sexual Abuse Act.

"Ohio parents need to feel safe dropping off their children at school are sending them to Bible study or vacation Bible school," Surendorff said.

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