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A registered Level 3 sexual offender and convicted child rapist is being observed by South Carolina cops in the presumed deaths of two young women, including a New York teenager who disappeared while on spring break in Myrtle Beach almost three years ago, Fox News reported.

Each year more than 1.5 million students go on spring break, spending $1 billion on their spring fling. According to a University of Wisconsin study, 75 percent of those college males and 43 percent of females are intoxicated daily during that week. One in five of those college females and three in four college males are on the hunt for sexual encounters.

But here’s the newsflash: So are sexual predators, and several of the top destinations for spring breaks have become hot spots for sexual offenders. Any wonder why?

Remember this, too: More than one-third (35.6 percent) of youth sex offenders are those under 18 years of age. Seven percent of them are female. More than 66 percent of rape victims between the ages of 18 and 29 claimed to have known their attacker. And, according to the U.S. State Department, “rape commonly, but not exclusively, occurs at night or in the early morning hours, and often involves alcohol and the nightclub environment.”

And if you think Americanized resorts south of the border are the way to go, just as 100,000 college students going to Cancun every year for spring break, think again. Tom Crosby, AAA’s vice president of communications told Fox News, “We get a lot of people traveling to Cancun, but Mexico is the place with the most [safety] uncertainty.”

Ross Thompson, co-founder of travel safety company Mayday360, warned that the greatest hazard for the U.S. collegiate crowd in Cancun is that they “act like they are still in the U.S. and that the U.S. law will protect them. That’s wrong and that can add up to disaster.”

Stratfor Global Intelligence, or SGI, just published its “Spring Break in Mexico 2013: Security Risks and Travel Tips,” in which it reported: “While many people do travel to Mexico safely (approximately 150,000 U.S. citizens travel to the country each year), there is a misconception that cartels want to avoid interfering with the profitable tourism industry, or that they only target Mexican citizens. This simply is not true.”

“Many popular spring break locations foreigners perceive as having ‘acceptable’ levels of crime have experienced violence related to the drug wars raging in Mexico. Firefights between federal police or soldiers and gunmen armed with assault rifles have erupted without warning throughout Mexico, affecting mountain villages, large cities like Monterrey, and resort towns like Acapulco and Cancun,” SGI added.

In 2011, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw warned American tourists that “various crime problems exist in many popular resort areas, such as Acapulco, and crimes against U.S. citizens often go unpunished.”

Even according to the U.S. State Department, of the roughly 100,000 spring breakers who will travel to Mexico, “the vast majority” will enjoy their vacation but “several may die, hundreds will be arrested, and still more will make mistakes that could affect them for the rest of their lives.”

SGI said, if travel to Mexico is planned or necessary, visitors would be very wise to heed the following:

  • Do not drive at night.
  • Use only pre-arranged transportation between the airport and the resort or hotel.
  • If at a resort, plan on staying there; refrain from going into town, particularly at night.
  • If you do go into town (or anywhere off the resort property), do not accept a ride from unknown persons, do not go into suspicious-looking or run-down bars, do not wander away from brightly lit public places and do not wander on the beach at night.
  • Stop at all roadblocks.
  • Do not bring anything with you that you are not willing to have taken from you.
  • If confronted by an armed individual who demands the possessions on your person, give them up.
  • Do not bring ATM cards linked to your bank account (among other things, an ATM card can facilitate an express kidnapping).
  • Do not get irresponsibly intoxicated.
  • Do not accept a drink from a stranger, regardless of your sex.
  • Do not make yourself a tempting target by wearing expensive clothing or jewelry.
  • Do not venture out alone, but bear in mind that being part of a group does not guarantee safety.

But maybe the best and wisest thing for us to do is simply to quit risking lives and limbs for a week of self-indulgent ecstasy.

McGraw has the best tip here: “Underestimating the violence in Mexico would be a mistake for parents and students. Our safety message is simple: Avoid traveling to Mexico during spring break and stay alive.”

What I’ve learned about today’s college-aged young adults is that they are compassionate and want to better their world. So why not try one of the “alternative spring break ideas,” like those volunteer-based opportunities mentioned on the About.com Student Travel website? And what about parents offering to pay for these life adventures rather than those which place our kids at risk?

Conservation and home-building projects with United Way or Habitat for Humanity are always looking for volunteers. Or check with local churches in your area about their mission trips to rebuild lives or aid the poor inside or outside our country.

Maybe modesty rather than mania, and service rather than serve-us, should be our new goals for the next generations.

Regardless of yours or your child’s destination, when traveling within the U.S. and its territories, always do a five-mile radius search of sexual offenders and other criminals at online national registries and watchdog sites, like the FBI’s sex offender registry and CriminalPages.com.

With more than 400,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., the worth of the national registry is obvious, but keep in mind that those lists are not exhaustive. And no list can offer protection from a first offense, so don’t ignore your conscience and instincts.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist; I’m just tired of people staring at common sense and discarding it like a joker from a deck of cards.

You know the saying, “If you play with fire …” It’s also good to remember: A spark neglected can rage into an inferno.

Time to wake up, again, America! Times are changing.

Just because it’s spring break doesn’t mean sexual predators and criminals take the week off. Fire takes no holiday.

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