Pondering A Neighbor: The Difference Between Gossip And Information

Dude, I’m not impressed with you. [Photo by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash]

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WHILE ATTEMPTING TO MAKE A left-hand turn into our driveway I had to stop to allow a jogger, the neighborhood registered sex offender*, to run by before I could turn into our driveway.

He turned to look at me and snarled.  I looked at him and tipped my head, slightly, to acknowledge his presence.

I didn’t attempt to run over him with my car nor did I give him the finger.  Both options occurred to me as I sat there waiting for him to get out of my way but I realize that with some people indifferent is the best you can do.

I’D LOVE TO LEAVE THIS story at that, but here’s the thing– and it’s something that’s weighed on my mind since seeing this guy, a man who has served his prison time and is now merely listed on the state registered sex offender website.

In the last year, or two, this man has fathered a baby girl with his wife [girlfriend?].  They live down the street.  In this family neighborhood.

Uh huh.

Interestingly enough, it’s my understanding that soon, in the next year, he will be eligible to have his name removed from the sex offender website.  Meaning that only those of us neighbors who are here now will know about his past.

SO GETTING TO MY POINT, I’m left with three questions:

  1. would any parent knowingly allow their child to play with his daughter at his house?
  2. how unfair is it for this daughter to live her life under the shadow of his crime? and 
  3. when new neighbors move into the neighborhood, should someone tell them the rest of his story?

Discuss.

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* UPDATED: This afternoon I got a chance to use the search function on The U.S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website.  The neighbor is no longer listed there.  HOWEVER, there were 13 other people listed as registered sex offenders who live within a 3 mile radius of my house.  I had no idea…

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Published by

Ally Bean

Observant. Creative. Humorous. Adaptable. Happy enough. Looking for the crumb of truth in the cookie of life.

70 thoughts on “Pondering A Neighbor: The Difference Between Gossip And Information”

  1. Oh wow! I understand that this guy has rights too, but…..what was his girlfriend/wife thinking when she wanted to have a relationship with him? And then get pregnant by him?! I don’t think a sex offender magically changes his ways and is “cured.” I would definitely warn any new neighbors about him. How creepy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beth, you said it! I’m not a gossip, so telling someone about this man’s past would be difficult for me. This “should I tell someone?” scenario is all hypothetical, right now, of course. But seeing him around got me thinking…

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      1. Sometimes when you dont know what to do, do nothing! Listen to your intuition! A part of me would definitely want to inform families around me but in a kind way (if that makes sense) not in a gossip way, but informative way 🙂 and yes, Im definitely hoping they move away from you. Things always have a way of working out!

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        1. I agree with all that you’ve said here. I’d be kind IF I found myself in a position where my intuition told me to talk about this man. Hoping that it never comes to that, says the introvert.

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        1. Radhika, I kind of think the same thing. I don’t know how rehabilitated he is, but wherever he goes, regardless of what neighbors know about him, he’s the one that will have to control his behavior.

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  2. That’s a dilemma isn’t it! Where do our personal judgments and concerns cross into being public concerns when it comes to someone who has, we can only assume, served a sentence and been allowed to return to the community without too much reservation of re-offending. I think we all know how many of these situations turn out, even expecting the best of a past offender, but I’m also unsure of just how far is too far to step into/on his civil rights to live his life now. By speaking out to newcomers to the neighborhood will you be perpetuating a common stereotype that offenders cannot reform, that we must always be distrustful… There’s no good answer to this one Ally.

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    1. Deb, you’ve summed up the situation perfectly. I’m not by nature nosy AT ALL, so for me to talk negatively about this man would be outside of my character. YET, if I found out that some new to the neighborhood child was harmed by this man, I’d feel awful about not warning the family. You’re so right, there’s no good answer to this situation– a situation not of my own making.

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      1. I would likely be much more watchful of this person and his actions for sure, but honestly I don’t think I would make a point of telling newcomers, unless my gut really began to tell me something was up. Good luck Ally, as I share that same concern about any “possible” future incident.

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        1. I think that you’re onto something with your idea about being watchful, reserving judgment if [until?] something happens that makes me worry. This is a hypothetical situation, of course. But one that is a whole new world for me to even think about.

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  3. There is more to the story. Was it a truly heinous crime? Has he been creepy approaching people. Has anyone talk to him about it? I like to err on the side of being kind. It’s probably easy to research. I know someone who made a bad decision 40 years ago and still has it on his record. He’s been a model citizen and father all these years. Then again I know some people who do terrible things and do not get the proper sentence because of loopholes in the system. Truly a conundrum.

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    1. Kate, his story as I understand it is that he solicited sex from a minor online. When he went to the motel to meet this girl, she turned out to be a police officer and he was under arrest. There’s probably more to the story than that, but I don’t want to know it. I agree that the crime and the punishment don’t always align in a way that seems just. What a weird world in which we live.

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    1. Jill, I agree that inviting the daughter over to your house would be the answer. But I feel sorry for this kid given that she’s never done one thing to be shunned in any way. As for telling people, I think that you’re onto it– there are plenty of neighbors around here who will happily share his story with newcomers.

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  4. That’s a doozy of a question, Ally. First, I had no idea that the name of a registered sex offender could be removed from the registry after a specified period time. I just checked Canadian law, and it’s the same here … depending on the original crime and the sentence imposed.

    I believe in 2nd chances and all that stuff, but as a mother, I can’t help but gulp uncomfortably.
    Would I want to know when moving into a new neighbourhood? Yes. No question.

    Your choice of expression that he ‘snarled’ at you as he ran by implies that there has been some mutual animosity. Did you mean that, or that he had that smarmy kind of smirk? If it’s the latter, those always make my skin crawl and I would be even more comfortable about discreetly sharing the information with new residents in the area.

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    1. Joanne, the only reason I knew that you could have your name removed from the registry is because the neighbor who initially told me about this man mentioned it. She keeps her eye on him all the time, having seen him inside her daughter’s middle school building… where she did not think he belonged.

      I agree about second chances, and I want to believe that this man has changed. But I dunno.

      The snarl I mentioned wasn’t personal, btw. There’s no specific animosity between us. He just doesn’t look like a happy person whenever I see him. For good reason, I suppose.

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  5. I don’t know. There are so many crimes that get lumped together into the “sexual offender that we need to let everyone in the area know about” category. Personally, and I know I’m in the minority here, I see a big difference between an adult who would have an intimate relationship with a teenager, and one who would take advantage of a small child. Of course, attempting to meet up with someone you already know (I’d assume, anyway, since there was a conviction) is under 18 is pretty stupid to start with. Without knowing where he falls on the sex offender spectrum, I wouldn’t be sure how to feel about him… though I’d guess his wife/GF has made peace with it (I can’t imagine she wouldn’t know)…

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    1. evilsquirrel13, you’ve hit upon one of the difficulties in all of this. I’m not a psychologist, I have no idea if he’s rehabilitated, I have no way of judging him in a nuanced way considering the specific circumstances. All I know is that he broke the law, went to prison, and is now out in polite society. He’s been labeled by the system as a sex offender, but when he is no longer labeled by the system, is it gossip to remind other people about who he was?

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  6. I agree with so many of these comments – it is a conundrum for sure. I question whether sexual abusers can ever be “cured”, but I know there are those who do believe it – his girlfriend/wife probably being one of those. Or she just loves/lusts for him so much, she chose to believe it. I kind of agree with evilsquirrel13 about feeling a difference depending on the age of the person being abused – there’s a vast difference between very young girls and those in their teens in my mind. Neither is a good thing, obviously, but abuse of very young children seems much more heinous to me.

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    1. Carol, you bring up excellent points. I don’t know this man and his wife at all, so I cannot say what their relationship is like. There are degrees of sexually predatory behavior, but whether they come into play when someone is labeled a registered sex offender, I don’t know. I find it difficult to decide what I think about this man, but I do know that I’m not a gossip so I doubt that anyone would hear about his past from me. And I think that I’m okay with that. I think…

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  7. I think when you buy a house the real estate company is under obligation to let you know about sex offenders in the area. Kind of like a full disclosure that someone died in the house you are about to buy (someone died in our house and they had to tell us, that’s how I know). So, that kind of lets you off the hook in the telling department until his name is removed from the list. I suppose he could not have told his girlfriend that he was a sex offender (guys have been known to keep such secrets, haven’t they?) I would just continue to keep a watchful eye, as I know you will.

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    1. Janet, right now his house shows up on the sex offender map, but if he’s successful in having his name removed from the list, then I suppose it won’t. I cannot imagine how you could keep knowledge of your criminal past away from your partner, but like you said, it happens. This is in so many ways none of my business, but I worry about his daughter nonetheless. It just all seems so odd to me.

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  8. I’m going to agree with other posters who have said my reaction would depend on the crime and the age difference. For example, I might (and I can only say might) forgive a 20y having relations with a 17y, or maybe a 16y if they’d been together since forever, but that would probably be it. If you can be trusted to buy a drink, but the other can’t be trusted to vote, you are probably better off seeing other people.

    To your point though, I do feel bad for the daughter who won’t be able to have sleepovers at her house or other regular childhood things all because of her father’s poor choices.

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    1. Allie P., I take your point. My understanding is he solicited sex online with an underage minor– and got caught when he went to the motel for the hook-up. That being said, in many ways I am indifferent to him and his plight. Bad choices, he made ’em. It’s only because of the daughter that I got thinking about him at all– and because you know that this scenario is being played out all over America in other suburbs. Sadly. There’s no Miss Manner’s advice for this.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Carrie, it’s not like I would want to gossip about this guy. Nor is like I’m ever the first one on the street to meet new neighbors. But I can see down the road that knowing what I do will be prior knowledge that may, or may not, need to be discussed. It’s all so strange…

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  9. My two cents: If the guy did his time, he’s paid for his crime. Obviously he’s not a repeater, or they wouldn’t let his name be removed. Sometimes the offender is a victim of circumstance rather than a monster. I have a family member who was on the registry, even though no crime happened, just accusation. The ‘victim’ later came forward and admitted she lied about what happened. Damage was done though. And his name remained on our state list for the remainder of his life. NOW. If the guy is a creep (and snarling at someone in a car doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy about him..) it’s your call whether you tell others (new to the area) about him or not. Allowing children to play with each other should (IMHO) never be censored…too much division in the world already without helping it along by pointing out differences. IMHO. And would I supervise those play dates? Darn tootin’. Better safe than sorry…

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    1. Embeecee, you make good points about the reliability, or lack thereof, of the sex offender registry. I only know of this guy because a mother on another street knew about him, and wanted me to be aware of him. He doesn’t appear to be a friendly guy, but whether that’s his original personality or one that has evolved because of the consequences of his crime, I don’t know. In many ways I agree that if you’ve done your time, then it’s over. But there’s something different [in my mind] when it comes to sexually predatory behavior. With any luck I’ll never be faced with the task of telling new neighbors about him. Being an introvert has it’s advantages.

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  10. Has anyone befriended/visited the mother (wife), and their child? How do they seem to come across? This is one helluva thing. I don’t know Ally Bean – this is verrrry difficult … if it were me, I think I’d try to meet the wife at the very least …?

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    1. Susan, I don’t know these people in person. I just know that they live down the street, on a very long street. I’m only aware of him because another neighbor clued me into this man, directing me to the registered sex offender website where his photo and address were listed. I know they have a child because a few years back I saw an “It’s A Girl” balloon on their mailbox. That being said, my questions here are theoretical and moral. He’s done his time, so I’d hate to do anything that undermines that, but I wouldn’t want a child to be harmed by him because of my good manners. What a world!

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  11. Only one thing I can say for certain, in answer to question 1, Heeeeeeeeellllllll no. I also worry about his daughter. You never know. Then again, maybe the dude truly has reformed, but I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on it, esp if he’s kind of a jerk to begin with. You were waiting for him, yet he still snarled? What’s up with that?

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      1. Betsy, it’s difficult to know what to make of someone like him. I have nothing against him, but I’m not sure what to make of him, either. Life can be tricky.

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    1. Betsy, I was surprised by the snarl, but maybe he was out of breath and it was supposed to be a smile. I dunno. All I know is I’m wary of this man, and I don’t even have any kids. He’s done is time, so good for him, but…

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    1. nancy, I’d never rush out to tell new neighbors about his past, but if I was asked directly about him, I’d share what I knew. I doubt that will happen though. Being an introvert I’m about the last person new neighbors ever meet.

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  12. Hi, Ally – I have never been in this situation myself. One of my friends, whom I greatly admire, and mother of two young daughters was. She went to meet with the man in question 1:1. He offered to share his story and she listened. She said that she was happy for his daughter to play at her home with her daughters any time. She also said that she hoped he understood that she could not permit her daughters to play in his home. He did understand. The three girls become good friends. There were no further problems of which I am aware.

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    1. Donna, that’s a wonderful story, in that the daughter had some friends with a parent who knew about her dad. I hope that the same sort of thing happens for this girl. I’m indifferent to this man, but I do wonder what might happen in the future. Good things, I hope. But this is a conservative area and his sort of mistake may not sit well with many of the neighbors. We’ll see.

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  13. I have wondered often about this conundrum: on one hand you want to be fair and trust someone who has paid for his crime. On the other, his crime is horrendous and you can’t help wondering if this could happen again. Your original blog post speaks of solicitation of minors on line. Pretty disgusting. Sometimes the full truth lies somewhere in a gray area – kindness and detachment are probably the best options (not sure where you live – here in California it is extremely difficult for pedophiles to live in family neighbourhoods because they are mandated to be very far away from parks/schools and other places where children might congregate)

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    1. camparigirl, you said it. I want to believe that this man is not a problem, but I am wary of anyone who is a convicted sex offender. I suppose that might be more of a reflection on me, than him. Having looked today at the current locations of sex offenders around here, I’d say there are no laws restricting where they can live. Laws must be looser here. My concerns in this post are theoretical, but it’s a topic that I feel ill-equipped to understand fully.

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  14. I wouldn’t want to be in your position, either.
    Let’s just say I was a well-informed, overly-cautious mother when my kids were small. If you see a minor in a possibly dangerous situation, by law, you are obligated to report it. Beyond that, gossip may be necessary at times, and if so, it’s best to play dumb. “I heard that…”
    If he solicited a minor, depending on age difference, it’s likely his child isn’t at risk — moreso the babysitter O_O
    Keep an eye out, the rest of us depend on the keen judgment of others.

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    1. joey, I doubt that I’ll ever have to speak up to anyone about this man, but the idea that I could possibly find myself in that sort of situation got me thinking. Of course, I don’t often initiate conversations with neighbors, new or old. There’s something to be said for being an introvert. You make a great point about any adult’s responsibility to report possible child abuse to the authorities. I agree about the babysitter; I hadn’t thought of that. You just never know, now do you?

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  15. Lots of thoughtful comments here. Since you don’t have children yourself living with you, his status doesn’t affect you directly. So far, you’ve lived a pleasant life in your area with no disturbance or problems with regard to this neighbour. And, as so many have mentioned, being listed on the registry is a result of a pretty wide array of offenses, beginning at age 18. Unless you know for certain what his offense was, it is impossible to make a clear judgment call. And…why? At any rate, the idea of penalizing a child for the offenses of the parents is, at the very least, Unkind, and I know you’d never stoop to that.

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    1. nance, these questions started floating through my brain when I saw this guy jogging, not because I have any particular interest in the guy. His offense was soliciting sex online with a minor. Overall I’m indifferent to this man, but I do realize that his crimes will always be a topic of conversation/gossip in this neighborhood, long after he’s off the registry. Which he now is, according to my research yesterday.

      Having chatted here with everyone about this potential situation, which I suspect is common across the USA, I’ve come to the conclusion that unless someone were to ask me a direct question about this guy, I have nothing to say about him. Taking the high road, am I. 😑

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  16. This is the way I always look at it. What if I didn’t say anything, and because of that he preyed on someone else? I would not be able to take that gamble, in all conscience. Does he have the right to live freely after finishing his prison term , without harassment? Yes. Does he have the right to completely erase his dangerous past? In my mind, no. People talk about my past and other people’s when there is no potential danger, so why not this? I don’t get the chance to erase the mistakes I’ve made as a teenager or young adult either, although my errors were nothing like this. Just my 2 cents worth.

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    1. Margaret, you raise valid points. I’ve never had any personal interaction with this man, just know about him because a neighbor woman clued me in. Therefore, I learned about his past via gossip, or information [depending on how you want to categorize the communication]. My concern about what I’d do in regard to telling other neighbors about him is, at this time, theoretical. I’d not hesitate to say something about him IF I saw something bad going on, BUT considering that I never have I’m left in this gray area of social behavior. What a world, eh?

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  17. As the granddaughter of a pedophile, my story is long but I can say that my mother did not believe that her father would molest her children though she knew he had been inappropriate with her. That was just dumb. But she has said that she would not have broken up her family by telling anyone. My father once bailed him out of jail because they were convinced he was innocent. My aunt knew what he was as did my mom. Back then you didn’t talk about it but I feel betrayed. The three granddaughters that we know about kept his secret because we did not want to hurt our parents but it eventually came out to my mom.

    On the flip side one of my daughter’s friends dad made inappropriate comments about our daughter who was well endowed. She also told us that his youngest daughter said he molested her but she denied it when confronted. The man is an alcoholic and I had never felt comfortable around him yet I didn’t want to hurt his daughters. We visited with the parents and his wife said, “He makes jokes but he wouldn’t molest anyone.” Yeah right. Anyway, we told them that “A” would not be allowed to visit their home but the girls could visit at ours.

    Sadly I have learned that people don’t really want to hear about what their kids are doing that might get them in trouble nor do they want to hear about people they should avoid. It seems that the person doing the telling is regarded as a gossip and besides that they don’t want to have to acknowledge what they know or take action. I reported to a mother of one of my daughter’s friends that she was having unprotected sex. She didn’t seem appreciative and eventually her daughter got pregnant at a young age. So I stopped trying.

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    1. Patricia, your story is compelling and sad. I’m sorry about what happened to you, both in regard to your grandfather and in regard to attempting to help another child.

      You’ve hit on something I’d not thought of before; that is, if you’re talking about abusive behavior with someone who doesn’t want to hear about it, then your message will be tossed aside and you’ll be labeled as a gossip or troublemaker for doing so. Clearly that’s what has happened to you along the way, and it makes me feel for you, a person who was trying to do the right thing.

      As I said in a comment above, after talking with so many people about this man whose past is now not public record, I’ve decided that if someone asked me directly about him I’d share what I know. But like you said in your last sentence, it’s pointless to try to warn people who are in denial about, or indifferent to, your cautionary message.

      Even if you know that you are telling the truth.

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  18. I have no personal experience or insights to add to those already expressed. Simply wanted to say what a sobering, but thoughtful discussion. Thanks for asking the questions Ally.

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  19. This is a tough situation to be in. I have kids, and I live in a friendly, safe neighborhood. But you simply never know what goes on behind closed doors. It was my policy early on to always have my kids’ friends play at my house rather than having them go somewhere else. I also networked A LOT (which is soooo hard for this introvert, but I did it for my kids’ sakes) and made sure to involve myself with people who seemed to have a lot of activity at their houses, other kids in and out, and who were involved in the community.

    It’s not a foolproof method–we’ve all heard the horror stories–some people know how to get away with terrible things. But it’s the best we can do in this society.

    In my opinion, I don’t think it’s fair to hold a man’s crime over his head for eternity if he’s served his time. Plus, it really is up to us, as citizens, to be proactive about learning who is in our community. If it is that easy to search the database for regsistered sex offenders in our communities, then that responsibility of being forewarned falls on the shoulders of anyone who has children and wants to ensure their safety.

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    1. Kate, you did what I think I’d do if I had kids. That is, be overly observant– and get over my introverted nature so that I’d know more about the neighbors. Like you said, it’s not foolproof, but you made a good effort to keep your kids safe.

      Your last paragraph is where I found myself on this issue. When I wrote this post I wasn’t sure what I thought about this man who has now done his time for his crime. IF I thought something wrong was going on at his house, I’d speak up to the authorities immediately. BUT in light of his daughter, I would never gossip with any new neighbors about him. They’d have to ask me about him directly.

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