Read the HRW Report
I usually try to avoid unnecessary opinion on this blog since information is more important to my readers, but of all the criticisms I have of my being on a sex offender registry and how it has affected my life and that of my family and loved ones I have always thought having children forced to register as sex offenders - no, not 17-year-olds, I mean 11 and 12-year-olds - as completely bizarre and especially barbaric. Putting aside the issue of adult SO's, RSO's and the SO registry, when I look at how children this young are arrested, tried in criminal court, place in child prisons, placed on probation/parole, forced to undergo treatment, etc..., it's impossible to see how this approach is something Americans can sit back and say, 'yeah this is the right thing to do and it's working'. Also, how does a boy (pretty much all boys we are talking about here) navigate and understand all the rules of restrictions placed upon him while attempting to have friends, go to school, plan for college and his future, play sports, hang out at the park..you know, just be a kid? Incidentally, many of these kids can't go to a park or mall because they are not allowed to be present in a place where 'children congregate'. How crazy is that, almost like if I had to avoid places where adults congregate?!
No, I am not discounting the victim or the impact of the offense at all, but rather addressing a bad and punitive policy that has gotten out of hand, ensnaring many kids and their families. Adults struggle to deal with the impact being on a sex offender registry - surely there is a better way to address juveniles who offend sexually/experiment/act out their own abuse and offer them appropriate assistance rather than denying them hope and opportunity for the future, which seems to be a central tenet of sex offender registries.
In addressing this madness, Human Rights Watch just released the report Raised On the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US. The 111-page report...
...details the harm public registration laws cause for youth sex offenders. The laws, which can apply for decades or even a lifetime and are layered on top of time in prison or juvenile detention, require placing offenders’ personal information on online registries, often making them targets for harassment, humiliation, and even violence. The laws also severely restrict where, and with whom, youth sex offenders may live, work, attend school, or even spend time.At the very least, watch the HRW video and scan through the report to get a sense what's going on with these kids. The press release is below and the link to the HRW report is up top. I am appreciative to HRW for having the courage to investigate.
The following are quotes from youth sex offenders and others interviewed by Human Rights Watch or contained in documents Human Rights Watch reviewed. Names of registered youth sex offenders and their family members have been abbreviated or replaced with pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
“I live in a general sense of hopelessness, and combat suicidal thoughts almost daily due to the life sentence [registration] and punishment of being a registrant. The stigma and shame will never fully go away, people will always remember.”
– Christian W., who was required to register as a sex offender for an offense committed at age 14. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Under the law at the time, he was looking at being put on the public registry when he turned 18. His picture, address and information on the Web.... He just couldn’t bear it.”
– Julia L., mother of Nathan L., who was convicted of a sex offense at 12 and committed suicide at 17. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Everyone in the community knew he was on the sex offender registry, it didn’t matter to them that he was removed.... [T]he damage was already done. You can’t un-ring the bell.”
– Elizabeth M., mother of Noah M., who was convicted of a sex offense at 12 and committed suicide at 17, after being removed from the registry in Michigan. Flint, Michigan.
“Suicide [among children placed on sex offender registries] is a possibility ... even predictable.”
– David S. Prescott, a social worker and expert on treatment strategies for youth sex offenders.
“A member of the community made flyers that said ‘Beware - Sex Offender in the Neighborhood.’ The flyers, with my grade school picture, offense, and address, were posted all over the place.”
– Nicholas T., placed on the registry at age 16. Portland, Oregon.
“A few months after [Max] went on the registry the local newspaper ran a Halloween story entitled ‘Know where the Monsters are Hiding,’ warning families to beware of the registered sex offenders in the neighborhood when taking their little ones out to go trick-or-treating. The article listed all the sex offenders in our town. Max’s name and address was listed.”
– Bruce W., father of a youth sex offender who started registering at 10. Weatherford, Texas.
“The police always expect you are the worst of the worst sex offenders and so they treat you that way. Most of them look down on you as if you are the scum of the earth.”
– Elijah B., placed on the registry at age 16. Houston, Texas.
“My son’s life was ruined before he even turned 18 years old. Due to the burden of registration my son dropped out of school, he is afraid to leave the house, and he cannot get a job interview. He has not committed any new crimes yet this is holding him back from becoming a good member of society.”
– Tony K., father of a child placed on the registry at 17. Kansas City, Missouri.
“Once while attempting to register my address, a police officer refused to give me the paperwork and instead stated, ‘We’re just taking your kind out back and shooting them.’”
– Maya R., placed on the registry for an offense committed at age 10. Howell, Michigan.
“It makes people very angry. My brother, who looks like me, was once harassed and nearly beaten to death by a drunk neighbor who thought he was me.”
– Isaac E., who started registering at 12. Spokane, Washington.
“One time a man from one of those cars yelled ‘child molester’ at me.” A week later several bullets were fired from a car driving by. “The bullets went through the living room window as my family and me watched T.V.”
– Camilo F., registrant since age 14. Gainesville, Florida.
“I was in the [school] parking lot and this truck drove by and started throwing beer bottles at me. I had to run inside. They yelled, ‘Get out of our school, you child molester! I wish I could kill you!’”
– Joshua G., placed on the registry for an offense committed at age 12. Dallas, Texas.
“Neighbors harassed our family. We later found out that one of the neighbors shot our family dog.”
– Jasmine A., mother of Zachary S., who has been on the registry since age 11. Dallas, Texas.
“For sex offenders, our mistake is forever available to the world to see. There is no redemption, no forgiveness. You are never done serving your time. There is never a chance for a fresh start. You are finished. I wish I was executed, because my life is basically over.”
– Austin S., who started registering at age 14. Denham Springs, Louisiana.
“My ten years of registration was supposed to end on September 27, 2012. It is now 2013 and I am still on the state website and all those other registration sites. I feel like it will never end.”
– Diego G., placed on the registry at age 10. Houston, Texas.
“Because of sex offender restrictions my family had to be divided up. I could not live with children. My father stayed in our house with my younger brother. My mother and me moved in with my grandparents two hours away.”
– Sebastian S., youth sex offender who started registering at age 10. Laredo, Texas.
“I worry about my two little children, ages 4 and 2, having to live in a publicly identified house and having to pay this lifelong price for something that happened years before they were born. I want to be involved in their lives but I also want them to be able to live free to be who they are without having to carry such a burden.”
– Jerry M., who started registering at 11. Wilmington, Delaware.
“With parents often the targets of blame for the sins of their children, parents of sex offenders can experience just as much fear, shame, and paranoia as their children.
– David Prescott, a social worker and expert on treatment strategies for youth sex offenders.
“I have found a few places to rent but as soon as we move in the police and neighbors harass us until we get evicted. They keep us homeless. I am banned from living in a homeless shelter.”
– Aaron I., Florida registrant since age 15. Palm Beach, Florida.
“I get hired and fired from so many jobs. I can usually keep a job for a few weeks until the employer’s name and address goes up on the sex offender registry [because registrants must provide this information]. Employers say it’s ‘bad for business’ to keep me on.”
– Elijah B., placed on the registry at 16. Houston, Texas.
“Employment is difficult. I have to support my wife and kids. I estimate that between January to April 2012 I have applied for 250 positions.”
– Joshua G., placed on the registry for an offense committed at age 12. Dallas, Texas.
“I have to look at a map before I walk anywhere. I can be arrested if I am walking anywhere near a school or park.”
– Blake G., a registrant for an offense committed at age 15. Citrus, Florida.
“These fees are associated with the registrant wherever he goes for the rest of his life. They are forever a tax on his life.”
– Ethan Ashley, attorney for James O., a youth sex offender.
“The most recent laws dilute the effectiveness of the registry as a public safety tool, by flooding it with thousands of low risk offenders like children, the vast majority of whom will never commit another sex offense.”
– Detective Bob Shilling, a former chief detective in charge of the Seattle Sex Crimes Unit responsible for making home visits to registered sex offenders.
“We cast the net widely to make sure we got all the sex offenders ... it turns out that really only a small percentage of people convicted of sex offenses pose a true danger to the public.”
– Ray Allen, a former Texas legislator and former chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee– who once helped push tougher sex offender registration bills into law – admitting that he and his colleagues went too far.
“[O]n many state sex-offender web sites, you can find juveniles’ photos, names and addresses, and in some cases their birth dates and maps to their homes, alongside those of pedophiles and adult rapists.”
– Brenda V. Smith, a law professor and the director of the National Institute of Corrections Project on Addressing Prison Rape at American University’s Washington College of Law.