Many consider suicide, and some succeed. Many people assume that anyone listed on the sex offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But by the mids, many state sex offender registration laws were drafted to include children adjudicated delinquent of sex offenses as well as children tried and convicted of sex offenses in adult court. We conducted in-person interviews with youth sex offenders, as well as immediate family members of another 15, in those 20 states. Many of the sexual behaviors of youth are problematic, and need to be addressed in a clinical setting or by the justice system, but placing children who commit sex offenses on a registry—often for life— is going too far. Their forming identities make young offenders excellent candidates for rehabilitation—they are far more able than adults to learn new skills, find new values, and re-embark on a better, law-abiding life. This is especially likely to be true of children in the juvenile system, where there is no clear legal obligation that they be informed of the consequences of their admissions of guilt. The three states with the largest number of registered sex offenders adults and children were California , , Texas 68, , and Florida 57, A year later, he and his wife divorced, and Jacob was awarded joint custody of his daughter. The young girl, impregnated by her younger boyfriend at the age of 13, was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sex with someone under age Recent laws, like the Adam Walsh Act, reserve the harshest punishments for those who target children. Since his offense fell under juvenile court jurisdiction, Jacob was placed on a non-public registry. Indeed recent laws, like the Adam Walsh Act, reserve the harshest punishments for those who target children without seeming to appreciate that child offenders, whose crimes almost always involve other kids, are particularly likely to be subjected to these harsher penalties. What could I have done to prevent this? In Oklahoma, for example, children adjudicated delinquent of sex offenses are treated in a manner more consistent with juvenile sexual offending behavior. Human Rights Watch tried in various ways to obtain this information, but to no avail. We requested data on offenders registered for crimes committed as children from all 50 states.
Before each interview, Human Rights Watch informed each interviewee of the purpose of the investigation and the kinds of issues that would be covered, and asked whether they wanted to participate. The children of youth sex offenders often cannot be dropped off at school by their parent. He was finally removed from the registry at age In reality, this policy was based on a misconception: There is little reason to believe that registering people who commit sexual offenses as children delivers either. They are sometimes shot at, beaten, even murdered; many are repeatedly threatened with violence. Individuals placed on the registry for offenses committed as adults were not interviewed for this report. The Adam Walsh Act did not, in its initial draft, specifically address the situation of child offenders. A Policy Based on a Misconception Sexual assault is a significant problem in the United States and takes a huge toll on survivors, including children. Nevertheless, the public and lawmakers have understandable concern, even understandable outrage, about sex crimes. Yet this means that it is often children themselves who experience these harsher penalties, because their crimes almost always involve other kids. Registrants were between the ages of 14 and 48 at the time we interviewed them. Two states responded with aggregate counts but we were unable to determine the percentage of total registrants these individuals represent. The Lychner Act, passed in , amended the federal community notification laws, providing for a national database to track sex offenders and subjecting certain offenders to lifetime registration and notification requirements. In addition to seeking geographic diversity, we sought registrants from an array of locations including both rural and urban areas and ethnic and racial backgrounds. Our attempts to use public registries to obtain counts were stymied by the fact that states and the federal government do not independently track the age of registrants at offense; moreover, state data may undercount the reality. Youth sex offenders are also sometimes subjected to retroactive registration requirements for offenses committed decades in the past—even after years of living safely in the community. Each state, US territory, and federally-recognized Indian Tribe now has its own set of sex offender registration, notification, and residency restriction laws. These include not only differences in cognitive capacity, which affect their culpability, but also differences in their amenability to rehabilitation, in the nature of their sexual behaviors and offenses and in the likelihood that they will reoffend. Eight interviewed registrants were age 10 or younger at the time of their conviction and when registration began, with the youngest being 9 years old. Offenses Most jurisdictions mandate registration of children convicted of a wide range of sex offenses in adult court. A report from the Texas Department of Public Safety revealed that the number of registered sex offenders in Texas more than tripled between and I wish I could explain what it is like to be the parent of both a child who has been abusing and a child who has been victimized. However, in , there were , sex offender registrants adult and youth offenders in the country. Ten of the states subjected children found guilty in both juvenile and criminal court proceedings to sex offender registration laws, and had done so since the mids Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington. But accountability achieved through punishment should fit both the offense and the offender. Approximately 95 percent of the youth offenders we interviewed were found delinquent of sex offenses in juvenile court proceedings; less than five percent were convicted in criminal courts.
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