CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - A Chesterfield County, SC teenager, who is a survivor of sexual assault, is pushing state legislators to strengthen laws on sex offenders after she ran into her attacker working near children. She was appalled when she discovered it was not against the law for her attacker to be working with kids.
“I had to write like two pages of everything that happened to me in court,” 14-year-old Janessa Bowles-Morton said. “I had to write every detail of what he did and everybody knew about it. I didn’t do all that for nothing.”
WBTV does not usually identify victims of sexual assault, but Janessa Bowles-Morton wanted to share her story in hopes of changing current sate law. She was five-years-old when she was assaulted.
Janessa, now 14-years-old, and her family were visiting a horse ranch in Darlington County in September. She knew her attacker was out of prison, but she never expected to see him employed at a facility that is frequented by children.
“Her offender is standing right there with a staff shirt on,” Janessa’s mother Stephanie Morton said. “I looked at my husband and said ‘what do we do?’ I mean we obviously have to leave, but look at all these kids.”
The Mortons called several agencies about his employment, only to find out it was not against the law for him to be working near children.
“Wow, this is what the court system does,” Janessa said.
WBTV called several agencies as well, including the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services and the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office.
All three agencies confirmed it was legal in this case for the registered sex offender to be working at the ranch near children.
Because it was not against the law, WBTV chose not to identify the sex offender or the ranch that employed him. The ranch did not want to comment on the matter, but later told WBTV they terminated him after learning more about his past.
WBTV also made several attempts to speak with the sex offender, but got no response.
South Carolina sex offender laws say registered sex offenders cannot live within a thousand feet of a school, daycare or playground. But there is no law saying a sex offender cannot work there.
The Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon services does set conditions that restrict a sex offender from working or volunteering near children, but those conditions only apply if the sex offender is on probation or parole.
In this case, DPPP spokesperson Peter O’Boyle told WBTV the offender is considered a Jessie’s Law offender. Meaning he is monitored 24/7 by an electronic monitor worn on his ankle, but he is not on probation or parole.
“He was not violating probation or parole, because he was not on probation or parole,” O’Boyle explained.
The state of North Carolina does have a law restricting registered sex offenders from working or volunteering near children.
The Department of Education and the Department of Social Services have their own regulations on who can work within a school or a daycare, which is why registered sex offenders cannot work in facilities regulated by those agencies.
The Mortons contacted State Representative of District 53 Richie Yow (R) about their concerns. He was surprised by their findings and researched the law further.
“I think a lot of people in the state would be alarmed,” Yow said. “I’ve met with some legislators already and we’ll need to do research on the current law and try to garner enough support to see what we can do to make it better, change it so we can keep our kids safer.”
“The law has to be changed, and I won’t stop,” Stephanie Morton said.
“I feel like that piece of me will always be with him and it kind of disgusts me,” Janessa said. “I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I went through.”
According to WBTV’s sister station WMBF, the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office charged the then 24-year-old man who sexually assaulted her in 2011 with two counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor. At the time of his arrest, deputies said when the man assault Janessa, he was out on bond for similar charges he was facing against a 12-year-old victim.
Her attacker pleaded guilty in 2012 to two counts of committing or attempting to commit a lewd act upon a child under the age of 16. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
According to Department of Corrections Interim Communications Director Lee Dexter, he was released from prison after serving roughly five years and eight months. He was serving a non-85 percent truth in sentencing offense. In most cases, Dexter says, offenders serving this kind of sentence only 51 percent to 60 percent of their sentence. Good time credits and earned work credits were also factored into his early release.