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Mother of sexual assault victim will stop at nothing to protect children

9:53 PM, Nov 13, 2013   |    comments
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FLORIDA -- In the months since the tragic death of Cherish Periwinkle, there has been much attention focused on violent sexual predators - and the system that sometimes fails to keep them from re-offending.

One mother says she had to take justice in to her own hands after her son was raped.

"I went online and posed as a 14-year-old little boy," said Judy Cornett.

The mother of a sexual assault victim, she says she will stop at nothing to keep children safe.

"This guy was living at the wrong address, this guy was living at the wrong address. This is Kevin Kinder. The one who took my son," she says, pointing out mug shots.

Kevin Kinder is just one among two dozen sex offenders she's helped put behind bars... but to Cornett, he's different.

He's the man convicted of raping her son.

"It wasn't bloody and gruesome shredded skin, but it was my son. My son had been raped. My son had his underwear inside out," she said.

Kinder didn't serve half of his 17 year sentence before he was committed to the Violent Sexual Predator Program, a way of confining sex offenders deemed too dangerous to release.

After just a year of therapy, psychologists at the center found he was rehabilitated and set him free.

Judy Cornett knew better.

"I went to that hotel and I handed out flyers to let them know there was a registered sex offender there. He left there and went to another hotel, so I went to that hotel and handed out flyers," she said.

Following Kinder became a full-time job for Cornett, who quit her high paying job to start a nonprofit to track sex offenders released from prison.

"It wasn't about getting Kevin Kinder off the streets. It was about getting a sex offender, who was potentially going to murder a child, and at the very least molest more kids off the streets, because as a parent that was MY duty because the system failed me," she said.

A year later, Cornett caught her son's rapist with another young boy after following him to a motel.

After that, she wouldn't stop until the state pressed charges.

She says her son was never the same after the attack, and is now in prison himself.

After attempting to take his own life, he was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to 25 years behind bars.

So now she dedicates her time trying to save other people.

She educates families and neighborhoods on technical probation violations, like drinking alcohol, and helps them send offenders back to jail.

"You can't give up. The system is going to fail us. There is not enough law enforcement to help us. We can't rely on other people to help us. We have to help ourselves, we have to help our children," she said.

Cornett focuses on the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, Florida. It houses more than 700 violent sexual offenders, who are deemed too dangerous to put back on the streets.

The Supreme Court ruled that violent offenders can be held indefinitely if they're getting treatment.

But Cornett argues they don't need therapy, they need to stay in jail.

"Why are we spending billions of dollars to rehabilitate someone who we will never be able to fix? They are broken forever! Lock them up, throw away the key," she said.

Gene Costlow worked at the Department of Children and Families, which oversees the Violent Sexual Predator Program, for nearly 40 years.

He says dealing with sexual offenders is more complicated than just throwing away the key.

"It's not a yes/no, there's just a hell of a lot of shades of grey," she said.

And green. Florida has allocated $29 million to operate the civil commitment center next year alone.

But mental health advocates say that's not nearly enough to pay for the therapy that the men there need.

A recent stat review of the program found that 10% of those released from the program will ultimately re-offend... Like Kevin Kinder. 

"The problem with that question is the only way you judge it is by counting their failures, you don't count their successes," she said.

But to Cornett, any failure is one too many.

"For this child all hope is lost, because nothing is worth what innocence cost," she said.

Even with the Florida Civil Commitment Center, communities around Florida have to absorb dozens of sexual predators each year. In Jacksonville, 76 violent sexual predators have been released from the Commitment Center.

First Coast News

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