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Another victory over sex crimes

The U.S. Supreme Court kept the momentum rolling this week in favor of state laws requiring officials to notify neighbors when a convicted sex offender is moving in. That ought to embolden Utah lawmakers to pass an even tougher law than the one now in place.

State law requires sex offenders to keep their current addresses on record for 10 years after their sentences end. That way, state officials can respond quickly if the offenders decide to repeat their crimes. Victims and neighbors may obtain information if they specifically request it, but otherwise they are left in the dark. The time has come to make notification mandatory, particularly when the offenders are pedophiles.We are not suggesting pedophiles cannot be rehabilitated. We are only recognizing statistics and expert opinions that say such rehabilitation is rare. Where most crimes are concerned, a convict who has finished a sentence deserves the benefit of the doubt. But that should not be the case when the safety and welfare of children are concerned, and the court seems to agree.

The Supreme Court let the so-called Megan's Law stand Monday. The law, enacted by New Jersey in 1995, was named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a man who had been convicted twice earlier on sex abuse charges and who had moved in across the street. The law, which has been similarly adopted by 36 other states, requires officials to tell communities when ex-cons who are guilty of these crimes move in.

While the court's decision came without comment and does not constitute a ruling, it was an important victory for the concept of mandatory notification. Last year, the court ruled state could keep sexual deviants confined to mental institutions after their sentences were through if they believed such people continued to pose a threat to society.

Utah's law doesn't distinguish between pedophilia and other sex crimes. Certainly, such crimes against adults are serious and cause for alarm, but when the victims are children, the level of alarm must rise. While generalizations are difficult to make, most pedophiles fit the profile of friendly adults who appear to be good with children. They often win the confidence of their victims, and the victims' parents, before striking. Advanced warning would be a powerful weapon.

As we have noted before, notification requirements do increase the risk that neighbors would harass or harm ex-cons. If such incidents arise, police would have a duty to arrest those responsible.

But when the rights of a pedophile who has served his sentence are weighed against the rights of children, who have no means of defending themselves against these crimes, the children must win.