The worst part about reading tales of child abuse is knowing I allowed someone else'snightmare to continue.

When I was a teenager, I went to more than my fair share of parties. Most of the time they would be out in the woods somewhere or out in the middle of some cornfield. Sometimes, however, they would be at someone's home. I never knew whose home it was and it didn't really matter to me. They were old enough to buy alcohol and were willing to give some to me; who they were was irrelevant. One of the places to stand out in my mind is a white, two-story house with a detached, broken down garage, in a part of Plymouth Township I had never been to. I was 17 at the time. My boyfriend, Ed who was 20, was invited and, since he didn't drive, I was invited by default.

When we walked in, I was amazed at the number of people crammed into the place and I couldn't tell which was louder, the sound of everyone talking or the sound of the music vibrating off the walls. I was hovering by Ed in the living room, because I didn't know another soul there, when I saw a figure coming down the stairs out of the corner of my eye. I turned, and at the bottom of the steps was a little boy in his pajamas, who could not have been more than8 years old, scanning the room and looking lost. His short brown hair was disheveled and he still had sleep in his eyes. Guiltily, I hid my beer and cigarette behind my back. Suddenly his eyes sparkled with recognition when he saw who he was looking for. Just as suddenly, the spark turned to fear when I saw a woman rushing toward him. Even though her back was to me, I could feel the way she was glaring at him when she reached him.

"What the hell are you doing out of bed?" she said, as more an accusation than a question.

With his eyes downcast and tugging at his pj's, he replied, "I can't sleep. The music's too loud."

She reached back with her right hand and he flinched. I thought she was going to slap him, but she abruptly reached for his right arm, swung him around and started half dragging, half carrying him up the stairs.

"Just who the fuck do you think you are coming down here telling me the music is too loud? I'm not allowed one fucking night to myself after dealing with you little brats all fucking week? You don't see Jamie down here whining about the music!"

All the way up the stairs you could hear her berating him, until she slammed the bedroom door behind the two of them. I looked at Ed in horror as I heard loud banging noises coming from the bedroom upstairs, but he and his friends were carrying on like nothing had happened. I looked around and it seemed no one, but me, noticed the exchange. And I was still hiding the beer and cigarette behind my back. I feigned sick and left Ed there with his friends. The sad thing is, I was so worried about Ed being pissed for leaving him there, I didn't give another thought to that boy, or his sibling, until now.

About a year after that, Ed and I went to Pat's apartment. Pat was a female friend of Ed's, whom I'd met a few times before, but this was the first time going to her place. Ed had just finished lighting up a joint when out of one of the bedrooms comes a little girl about 5 years old, with long blond hair and the prettiest blue eyes I've ever seen.

Ed doesn't even try to conceal his joint and Pat barks at the little girl, "You need to get back in that bed right now!"

"Could you please come read to us, Momma?" she pleaded, her blue eyes starting to fill with tears.

"Cantcha see I'm busy? Now go!"

I found my voice and squeaked out, "I'll read to them."

"You really don't have to, but whatever floats your boat."

The little girl squealed, grabbed my hand and led my back to the bedroom. There wasn't a book in sight in the tiny room. Her sister was about three years old and they shared the bed as well as the room. I asked them what they wanted to hear and did my best to remember just what the heck Little Red Riding Hood was about. They were happy to refresh my memory on what I got wrong. I hung out with them for a little while just talking after finishing the story. That's when I noticed all the bruises on the arm of the 5-year-old. While we continued talking, I casually tried to see if there were more on her, or if there were bruises on her sister. In both cases, there were.

The question just popped out of my mouth, "Where did you get all these bruises from?"

"From my mommy punching me," said the 5-year-old so matter-of-factly, you could have been asking her about the weather. Just a normal everyday occurrence.

I was so shocked at her casual answer; I didn't say anything for a little while and just held them close to me.

I felt completely helpless. I didn't know what to do, so I just turned and faced them on the bed and said, "Your mommy hitting you is wrong. No one should ever hit you, not even your mommy. If she or anyone else ever hits you again, you should tell somebody."

It didn't dawn on me till months later, they did tell someone. They told me and I did absolutely nothing.

The worst happened 11 years earlier. My mom got married and we moved to a small town of about 400 people. We'd been there about a year and all the kids in town had easily accepted me and my sister. There were only about 15 kids around our age in town and we all hung out together. We really didn't have too much of a choice.

There was one guy who hung out with us who was much older. We knew he had graduated from high school, so he must have been at least 18. We thought he was so cool. He would even give us cigarettes from time to time. At 9 years old, I puffed more than I smoked. One day, I happened to be by myself when he came walking along.

"Wanna smoke?" he asked.

"Sure."

"We could go up in the woods by path so you don't get caught."

"Okay."

We went a little deeper into the woods than I was expecting and I kept looking over my shoulder.

He saw the worried look on my face and sat down saying, "Don't worry I'll protect you."

I smiled nervously and sat down next to him. He lit up a couple of smokes and handed one to me. We sat there silently until we finished our cigarettes. He put his hand on my knee and looked at me. I just stared at his hand, wondering what it was doing there and thinking how dirty his fingernails were.

He interrupted my thoughts by asking, "Have you ever been fingered?"

I looked at him dumfounded.

He chuckled. "Do you even know what that is?"

I just shook my head no. He explained it to me and asked if I wanted him to do that. I shook my head no again.

"What are you afraid of?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"Well, your sister let me do it. Aren't you older than she is? You don't want her to know you're a scaredy cat, do you?"

"No."

"Good. Now you're going to have to pull your shorts and underwear down. And I'll pull mine down too so you don't feel so uncomfortable. Okay?"

"Okay."

He made himself comfortable and waited for me to get finished, then reached over to me. His hands must have been sweaty because I noticed dirt and bits of dried twigs and leaves were stuck to his hand. One of his fingers was pushing up into me and I felt like I was about to throw up, when he pushed his shirt aside and started stroking himself. It looked huge and shiny and weird. I became even more terrified and my eyes widened in horror.

He smiled at my reaction, saying, "You could do this for me."

I started to say no, but he had already grabbed my hand and started showing me how to do it. He kept telling me I was doing it too hard and eventually made me stop. I was relieved, but at the same time felt like a failure.

He seemed to catch my emotion and said reassuringly, "Don't worry. You'll do better next time." Then he pushed on something with the finger that was inside me. It made me wince. "Do you know what that is?"

"No," I feebly replied.

"It's your cherry. I could pop it for you if you want?"

I shook my head ferociously. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I didn't want him doing anything else to me. He laughed hysterically, removed his hand and pulled his pants up.

While I was pulling my shorts up, he said, "You don't need to tell anyone about this. It'll just be between me and you. Okay?"

I nodded my agreement and when we left the woods, I went home. He tried to get me alone other times after that, but I always said I needed to get home. One time he caught me on the path, which was the short-cut to the playground, or the court, by myself.

He was back in the wood a little ways and called to me, "Hey, Denise! C'mere. I got something real cool to show you."

"No. I can't. I'm meetin' Sandy at the court."

He started walking towards me, "C'mon now. You know I'll protect you."

I just started running like hell and the sound of his laughter followed me all the way down the playground.

Sandy and I became best friends and I eventually told her about it, four years after the fact. He had done the same thing to her and her younger cousin, but never, thank God, touched my sister. At 12 and 13 years of age, we knew what he did was wrong, but we didn't have a name for it, didn't know who to tell, or who'd believe us. We sat silent for a while and stared at each other with the same questions and uncertainties reflecting in our eyes. Sandy finally broke the silence.

"I heard he moved to New York somewhere."

God help me, all I thought was, Good. We never talked about him again.

I'll be 35 years old in a couple of weeks and I can still remember his name. Out of curiosity, I went to the State of Pennsylvania's sex offender registry and typed in his name, or at least how I thought it would be spelled, and he wasn't there. I went to the State of New York's sex offender registry and found they only list the level three offenders, those at high risk to commit another offense, on the site and you have to enter your name and address before you can access the information. I went through the required steps but didn't find him there either. I could have called the 800 number to find out if he was a level one, low risk to repeat an offense, or level two offender, moderate risk to repeat an offense, but didn't. Then a scary thought entered my head. He'd be about 44 years old now and if he were never caught, he'd probably be dating women my age that had young children.

I thought there would surely be a national database of sex offenders that could be accessed, so you could find out of if the new next door neighbor is one. Or if the man, or woman, you are dating is not just with you for your children. But there's no such database. Most states do have their own registry, which list only the offenders who were committed their offense after 1994, and in some states as early as 1989; mainly due to the passing of Megan's Law. However, sex offenders are criminals and always doing what is legal, like registering with the local Police Department as a sex offender, is not on the top of their list. After conducting a search for unaccounted for sexual offenders, it was disturbing to find the amount of articles written about the multitude of registered sexual offenders unaccounted for in various states. One article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled Molesters: thousands live hidden among us, dated June 19, 2005, revealed there are "about 17,800 sex offenders in California who are supposed to maintain current registration are unaccounted for, according to the attorney general", which is about twenty percent of the 85,000 sex offenders who are required to register.

All states must recognize this as a problem, but what are they doing to keep the public informed of sex offenders that have flown the coop? Nothing, apparently. There were a few states' sex offender registries with separate listings of offenders with no known current address. That's one step in the right direction, so why not go a step further? If most sex offenders register like they should, why not create a national listing of those who don't?

Most police departments have access to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) 2000, which has access to the criminal history of a person regardless of what state they were convicted in. One of the services provided by NCIC to law enforcement is access to a "Convicted Sex Offender Registry" which "contains records of individuals who are convicted sexual offenders or violent sexual predators." Obviously, the technology is already in place for a national sex offender registry, so it should not be too much of a leap to make public those offenders who have not registered as they should. Then, not only would it enable you check your state's database for the 'law-abiding' registered offenders, but also check the national database for those offenders who do not keep up with the conditions of their release.

When I was growing up, child abuse and child molestation were not issues widely discussed. Today, there seems to be stories on the news, nearly daily, of atrocities committed against children. As a nation we are doing what we can to get the message out that crimes against our children will not be tolerated. Now, something needs to be done to keep the known predators from continuing to prey upon our children.

A/N: I had planned to add a second chapter with an alphabetical listing of the states with links to each state's sex offender registry and relevant notes; however, the site rejects most of the link addresses and makes it too convoluted to upload.