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My Turn: Sex offender counseling center doesn’t belong in residential neighborhood

I’d like to respond to a column suggesting that emotion is dominating Concord’s approach to dealing with RTT, a facility that provides treatment for sex offenders in a residential neighborhood (“RTT prejudice is undue,” Monitor Opinion page, Aug. 17). The issue at hand is not, as author Rebecca Levesque implies, whether RTT deserves to remain in business; it does. This dispute is about zoning.

For almost six years RTT operated in violation of city zoning law. The services it provides are not supposed to be offered in a residential neighborhood. In 2011, RTT’s then-landlord sought and received a special exception from the zoning board. The approval came despite testimony from neighbors who voiced a number of concerns. One of these neighbors reported that a large group of men loitering outside RTT cat-called members of his family. Those who claim that RTT has happily existed “without incident” might be better informed if they spoke with the people who live next door.

On May 10, 2013, a man with an extensive history of sex-related crimes was arrested and charged with breaking into a home on Beacon Street and sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl. The individual facing charges is a client of RTT, according to prosecutors. An attorney for RTT has repeatedly claimed that there is no link between the incident and the treatment center. Such an assertion defies common sense. The detectives who investigated the assault believe the offender spent a significant amount of time watching the victim’s home and planning his crime, and RTT drew this man into the neighborhood on a regular basis.

With the information gathered from the police investigation, the city decided to revoke the special zoning exception that allows RTT to operate. RTT initially fought this process but is now cooperating with city officials to find a new and appropriately zoned location. In the meantime it remains open for business.

Levesque seems to find it questionable that I oppose RTT’s continued operation in a residential neighborhood when I have fought residency restrictions for sex offenders in the past. These are two very different issues. Laws that limit where sex offenders can live are bad policy, proven to increase the very at-risk behaviors they seek to limit. In the case of RTT, experts say best practices in the field of sex offender treatment indicate counseling should not be done in residential areas. As one astute observer put it, providing this kind of treatment in a family neighborhood is like holding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a bar.

In its “Standards of Practice” the New Hampshire Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers says “the provider shall employ treatment methods that give priority to the safety of the offender’s victims and the safety of potential victims and the community.” The association also says one of the goals of treatment is for the offender to demonstrate “an increase in victim empathy.” RTT and its owner belong to NHATSA. As long as they continue to work in good faith to seek a new and appropriately zoned location, they are showing empathy to the girl who was assaulted and taking into consideration the safety concerns of the community.

(Amanda Grady Sexton is a Concord city councilor representing Ward 4.)

It is not the sex offenders who scare me but the drunk drivers, drug dealers, vandals, gang members and burglars. I'd rather see a registry of domestic abusers for I can protect my daughter on my own but when she gets older and is independent . . .

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