For the past week, I’ve been researching the history of sex offender registries for a podcast I’ll be airing in the coming weeks. One of the issues that’s emerged, and one that I think needs much more public discussion and debate, is the requirement for juveniles adjudicated on certain offenses to register as sex offenders.
Recently, the group Human Rights Watch released a report on this topic, which argues that registries do more harm than good when it comes to youthful sex offenders. According to the report:
“The harm befalling youth sex offenders can be severe. Youth sex offenders on the registry experience severe psychological harm. They are stigmatized, isolated, often depressed. Many consider suicide, and some succeed. They and their families have experienced harassment and physical violence. They are sometimes shot at, beaten, even murdered; many are repeatedly threatened with violence. Some young people have to post signs stating “sex offender lives here” in the windows of their homes; others have to carry drivers’ licenses with “sex offender” printed on them in bright orange capital letters. Youth sex offenders on the registry are sometimes denied access to education because residency restriction laws prevent them from being in or near a school. Youth sex offender registrants despair of ever finding employment, even while they are burdened with mandatory fees that can reach into the hundreds of dollars on an annual basis.” (emphasis added)
From this perspective, registration and notification requirements essentially create an untenable situation for juveniles seeking to move past the harm they’ve done, even after they’ve served their time and completed any required programming.
On the flipside of this issue are those who argue that it benefits the public for citizens to know whether or not someone who has committed a sex crime is living in a particular neighborhood. Protecting children and keeping them safely out of reach of sexual predators outweighs the negative consequences experienced by those forced to register, even if those individuals are children themselves.
In 2012, a federal appellate court ruled that requiring juveniles over the age of 14 to register as sex offenders did not violate any Constitutional protections, including ones against cruel and unusual punishment or protections against self incrimination.
I think we can all agree that juveniles who commit sex crimes must be held accountable for their behavior, but does requiring them to register as sex offenders go too far? Vote in this week’s poll and make your position known!
Also, watch for my upcoming podcast about the history of sex offender registries. Think they began in the 1990s? Think again. Sex offender registries have their roots in the 1930s, and involve groups as disparate as the the mafia, the LA Sheriff’s Department, and the Parent Teacher Association (yes, the PTA). Watch for the link – coming soon!