Sunday, January 20, 2013

The predatory justice of juvenile sex-offender laws

Original Article


By Michael Zoorob

When lawmakers crafted laws to combat sexual violence, they probably never expected that children as young as 10 would end up on public sex offender registries. Law enforcement probably never expected that they would have to notify neighbors that a 13-year-old sex offender lived nearby. Yet that is the reality of America’s sex offender registration laws: Though the judicial system tends to distinguish between youth and adult offenders, 35 states subject minors convicted of sex crimes to the same registration, notification and restrictions as adults. Seven states require juveniles to stay on the registry for life. These crimes aren't always violent, either: A recent Human Rights Watch report notes that teens have found their way onto sex offender registries for benign acts like sexting, public urination and consensual sex with other teens.

In fact, 36 percent of all sex offenders who victimize children are themselves juveniles — and more than half of these juvenile offenders are 14 years old or younger, according to a recent study commissioned by the Department of Justice. It is understandable that laws should be created to curb sexual violence — but imposing the stigma of longtime and sometimes lifelong sex offender registration on juvenile offenders creates unnecessary harm both to them and their families. Juvenile offenders often experience emotional problems, difficulty securing employment, social ostracization and difficulties at school. There are, incredibly, cases of teens being barred from attending school due to their presence on sex offender registries because they sexted, the act of which the law considers child pornography. As adults, these offenders can expect restrictions on their residency, employment and mobility, and a significant minority will be fired, harassed, assaulted or even murdered because of their sex offender status.

Registration may also hinder crime rehabilitation of youth offenders. Depriving juvenile offenders of access to education, employment, religious services and healthy relationships — all common consequences of sex offender registration — could actually raise the probability that these children become lifelong delinquents. Unfortunately, registration requirements may deter families from reporting sex crimes committed by their child against a sibling for fear of the legal consequences, thus denying access to rehabilitative services.

Registration of juveniles has also been shown not to reduce sex crime. Studies by Elizabeth Letourneau of the University of South Carolina have found that registering juvenile offenders neither reduced overall rates of offenses nor reduced recidivism. This makes sense. It’s hard to argue, for example, that public safety was enhanced by the eviction of a 26-year-old married woman from her home in Georgia because a daycare center opened nearby. Her crime was that she had oral sex with a 15-year-old when she was 17.
- The same applies to adults.  Sex laws do nothing to reduce recidivism.

Moreover, juvenile offenders are distinct from their adult counterparts. Children who commit sex crimes, even violent ones, usually do so as a way of “acting out,” not because they eroticize aggression. Consequently, psychologists have found that rehabilitation is very effective for juvenile sex offenders, and very few juvenile offenders re-offend as adults. Most studies find the recidivism rate of juvenile sex offenders to be less than 5 percent.
- Recidivism rates are the same for adults as well.

Sex offenders deserve special opprobrium in our society. But we shouldn't let our visceral disgust with sex crimes bar us from making sensible public policy. Children are not miniature adults, and the law should not treat them that way.


NJ45143112 said...

It's very interesting to note that in light of all of the statistics compiled by the Department of Justice, neither the courts nor Congress seem to care one whit about the facts!
Currently, the 113th Congress is reviewing new restrictive laws regarding where a SO may work. If there is even the slightest chance that a minor may be encountered, they want it restricted...
Of course, it's perfectly OK that these same people may move freely in public, shop at stores, etc. But, it's far more dangerous that a SO may be in a customer service job and children might be in the store...
Does this make any sense or am I just cynical?

deathklok said...

Pardon my cynicism, but does the bill restrict registrants from working:
A) In a business that caters to minors. (Chuck E. Cheese)

B) Along side minors. (Kmart, fast food)
C) Any location a minor might possibly be present. (i.e. anywhere)
D) All of the above

Some may make sense. But remember; Most employers reserve the right to discriminate against anyone seeking employment. Provided they don't openly admit to it. It's one of those dreaded loopholes.

NJ45143112 said...

Well spoken, DK!
However, we know from experience that there is little distinction between molesters and the oft inaccurately labeled "offender." Whether it's a good idea or not to keep "offenders" away from areas where they might interact with minors is beside the point. The problem is that, as a general rule, this is flawed in oh so many ways:
1. If passed, all offenders will likely be barred from employment in ANY place where minors may likely be present: Malls, toy stores, drug stores, supermarkets, fast food, etc.
2. The distinction between human rights and the protection of the innocent is further blurred.
3. The restrictive power of government is increased

If the new law/bill is worded in such a way as to allow for a tier system, then perhaps its a good idea. However, I have little doubt that it's just another political agenda promoter...