Laura R. was 7 when a 50-year-old man who rented a room in the family’s Minnesota home sexually molested her. She later was diagnosed with genital warts. Now 30 and in California, Laura occasionally attends group therapy sessions for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The divorced renter, who still denies he committed the 1985 crime, was convicted and served less than a year behind bars, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press in the first of a series. On Dec. 22 – 22 years to the day since cops started investigating the allegations – Laura searched the Internet for her molester. Up came Gary George Vadnais, now 72, as December’s “volunteer of the month” for a nonprofit conservation agency in St. Paul. A profile described a man who has “taught countless children the art of chess.”
The case raises vexing questions surrounding the thorny issue of child sexual abuse and child sex offenders. What are the lifetime effects of child sex abuse? Can offenders truly be rehabilitated and integrated successfully back into society, only to be haunted continuously by their pasts? Are background checks beneficial or harmful? Is there a perfect balance between ensuring public safety for our most vulnerable citizens -children – while giving people with criminal records, including sex offenders, a real and fair shot at reintegration? More offenders may face similar scrutiny as more states ratchet up sentencing and registration laws such as the federal Adam Walsh Act, which mandates more public disclosure about where sex offenders of all types live and work. The law has come under criticism from civil rights lawyers, legislators, and some child-advocacy groups. Some see it as a draconian ”one-size-fits-all” approach that could be counter-productive. One question: Is Laura’s inquiry legitimate, even if it could be unfair and damaging to the man convicted of molesting her?