Due to specific state laws that protect registered sex offenders, certain details in this article are purposefully vague.
I want to ask you a couple of questions. And I want you to be honest when thinking about the answers.
1. Do you have registered sex offenders involved within your theatre community?
If your answer is no, my next question is:
2. Are you sure?
If your answer is yes, my final question is:
3. Have you checked on that?
The last question is an important one because it's more than likely that you haven't. And to a degree, that's understandable. When it comes to community theatre, background checks usually aren't a part of the audition/callback process. But should they?
While the vast majority of community theatre participants aren't registered sex offenders, some are. And when they go unchecked, the results can put not only others involved in a precarious situation but also put theatres in great liability risk.
Last year a theatre in MD, the Fells Point Corner Theatre, had to cancel their production of A Christmas Carol 48 hours before opening night because it was discovered that the man playing Scrooge, Steven Shriner, was a registered sex offender. Shriner had been convicted on five counts related to sex with a minor while living in New Jersey and was on Maryland’s list of registered sex offenders. And yet, here he was, starring in a production with close contact with children, possibly unsupervised.
A couple years ago, a community theatre in CA had to admit that they unknowingly allowed a sex offender to work on productions with children in the cast. The Tehachapi Community Theatre had to account for Sean Corey Pelino, who had been volunteering with the group and had been involved in productions of “The Miracle Worker” and “DNA” earlier this year. Pelino and with his wife were convicted of a sex crime involving at 15-year-old girl in Santa Maria in 2007. That revelation led to board member resignations and a complete policy change of how to vet staff working on productions there.
A college in CT apparently employed a registered sex offender in their theatre department where he spent time alone with women in the program, unsupervised. This person was incarcerated later on when he violated his parole while working at the school.
Even this year, I was notified that there is an upcoming production in CT, whose stage manager is a registered sex offender. (CT law prevents information found on the sex offender registry to injure or harass those listed on it).
While few and far between, incidents like these are happening all over the country. While it's hard to try to identify sexual predators who haven't been arrested or convicted, the fact that theatres aren't protecting their communities from those who have been, is almost even worse.
Percentages of repeat offenders do vary depending on the offense but, studies have found that sex offenders had a total recidivism rate (for both sex crimes and nonsexual violent crimes) of approximately 36% over a period of five to six years. While those percentages might not seem high, just one incident happening within a community is one too many.
So what can theatres do to prevent these situations from happening? Well, the first step would certainly be to vet everyone involved in these productions. Also, when it comes to productions with children, have them under constant supervision either by their parents or someone designated by the theatre to watch over them backstage. There are plenty more and this is where it's good to reach out to professionals who can recommend polcieis and practices.
In every event, cover your bases. Your first priority is to protect those who are working within your space, the second is to protect your theatre company.
A search of a sex offender registry takes very little time but can prevent disasters. Always better to be safe than sorry.