By Vania Silva
It’s common that families moving to a new community or buying a home check the National Sex Offender Public Website first. Parents want to keep their kids safe from sexual predators, as do women living alone and many other individuals. A search of the registry provides information on convicted sex offenders within individual jurisdictions. These offenders have to register in a publicly searchable database as a result of their crimes, which is supposed to give interested parties a warning.
But, what happens when a juvenile is convicted of a sex-related offense? Consider that some registrants on the national registry were tried many years ago as minors, and several are juveniles now. They may have since turned their life around — or tried to (a difficult task due to registry). Think about how it might affect these current and previously young offenders; anyone can view their photo and address, along with details of convictions that could have occurred when they were careless youth and might not even be representative of aggressive sexual behavior.
What Is a Juvenile Sex Offender?
A juvenile sex offender is someone “old enough to be held responsible” and yet “not old enough” to be held fully responsible like an adult. These young offenders are typically between 13 and 17 years old, and society has given them a politically correct title: “sexually reactive youth.”
A sexually reactive youth could be a teen that acted aggressively in a sexual manner toward another. The term can also apply to a child who has made the poor decision to pull down another child’s pants as a joke or mimic a sexual scene from TV with gestures directed at another child. Juvenile sex offenders are also kids who have texted sexual pictures to others.
When many people hear the words “juvenile sex offender,” thoughts of violence come up, which can be justified because some juvenile sex offenders have engaged in violence. It can be surprising, however, to see instances of juveniles being forced to register in a national database when convicted of acts that may have been consensual or might not be accurate.
This is the controversy surrounding underage registered sex offenders, as many residents don’t know what to make of juvenile sex offenders in the community. Should they be worried about each one? What was the real crime? There has been at least one case of a young female being persuaded to plead guilty to counts of criminal sexual conduct, a crime graver than the one she committed. Unfortunately, juveniles can be manipulated by aspects of the legal system.
What to Do About Juvenile Sex Offenders
Many registrants can’t get housing, a job or any good lease on life. So, as we talk about the crimes of juvenile sex offenders and the effectiveness of the national sex offender registry, it helps to look at statistics:
- Juvenile sex offenders comprise 5 percent of all juvenile violent offenders
- Sexually reactive young are usually male, between 13 and 17 years of age
- Female offenders account for 7 percent of all juvenile sex offenders
- Roughly 66 percent of juvenile sex offenders have chemical dependency issues, 62 percent deal with mental health issues, and 70 percent commit their offense at home
Some suggest we implement more community programs that strengthen social skills and offer constructive outlets for negative emotions. We should look at risk factors in our youth when talking about child offenders, including lack of cooperation with supervision and poor self-regulation. To address issues related to sexual acts conducted via text or email, reviewing attorney-compiled guides to interactive cyber bullying, including sexual cyber bullying, can be useful.
There are many things that play into whether a youth will commit a sex offense again. In contemplating the effectiveness of the sex offender registry for juveniles, however, various considerations must be taken into account, such as specifics of the crime, the age at which the conviction occurred, and whether the offender took a plea and under what circumstances. Everyone who now leads a decent life, including former “sexually reactive youth,” deserves a shot as a productive member of society.
Vania Silva is a Maryland-based part-time blogger and full-time mother with a passion for protecting children.
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