The possibility of housing more level-three sex offenders at a group home in Poulsbo has not only caught the attention of the community’s families concerned for their children’s safety, but also survivors of sexual assault.
April Haywood said she has recently had to stop attending therapy at Kitsap Sexual Assault Center’s offices at North Kitsap Fishline, following the revelation that offenders are living about a mile-and-a-half away. Haywood said she first experienced sexual assault at 4 years old and that she continued to experience sexual assault into her teens.
Haywood has sought the help of KSAC therapists who specialize in working with the victims of sexual assault. She said she owes her life to the services provided by the center.
“I have found a place where I feel like I fit in and I belong,” she said. “I walk in and I’m not carrying that [weight] anymore. I have other people there that help me and I help them carry theirs … I don’t think I would be alive today if it weren’t for the therapy and the help that I have gotten from KSAC.”
As a result of the multiple traumas she experienced in her youth, Haywood suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, severe general anxiety disorder and panic episodes. After discovering that a group of high-level sex offenders was already being housed on Viking Way — with the possibility for more to come — Haywood said her peace of mind has been shattered.
“I can’t go and get the help that I need at the place that I feel is the most beneficial to me,” Haywood said, adding that she becomes violently ill at the thought of attending therapy in Poulsbo and has instead sought help at KSAC’s Bremerton offices. “They re-offend every time I have a panic attack or an anxiety attack and I can’t breathe, and I wake up screaming in the middle of the night for my husband.”
“It breaks my heart for the other people that go there, that they have to be within walking distance of a pack of predators,” she added.
Jill Cain is a therapist with KSAC. Cain said victims suffering from PTSD often experience a sort of “hyper-vigilance” related to their safety and surroundings.
“It can cause some anxiety for a survivor to know that a sexual offender is in the area,” Cain said. “With a survivor going through therapy, hopefully they’re going to be learning some skills to help them with their anxiety and to help them feel safe within the community, wherever they may be.”
While Cain said she hoped that through therapy survivors could learn coping mechanisms, she also acknowledged the inherent unease which accompanies the knowledge of a sex offender living nearby.
“A sex offender’s residence, anywhere, is a little disturbing to everybody,” she said. “It’s kind of like putting a prison right next to an elementary school … I would like to see those kinds of facilities out, away from public areas.”
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson weighed in on the issue as well and didn’t mince her words.
“It is bad policy and bad implementation,” Erickson said. “It was handled terribly … I’m annoyed by this, that no one knew. I didn’t know, it appears that no one knew in the county. We didn’t know. That is not appropriate, I don’t know what their process is in state government that they can do things like this without telling us. I think that’s pretty poor.”
“Where it was located, and the lack of public disclosure on this was just very badly handled,” Erickson said.
It seems that Sheila Ring, the interim executive director for Kitsap Sexual Assault Services, can also be counted among those who were not made aware of the sex offender housing. Ring said a phone call on Tuesday morning inquiring about the proposal was the first she had heard of the nearby group home.
“I was not aware they were that close to that [KSAC] location,” Ring said, adding that she would be reaching out to law enforcement for more information.
A community meeting to address the concerns for public safety related to the Viking Way group home is scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at Poulsbo City Hall.
—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org