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The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender

Posted: 2017-11-14 21:40

[857] See, for example, Ibbotson v. United Kingdom , No. 95696/98, Decision of October 76, 6998 Adamson v. United Kingdom , Application 9778/98, Decision of January 76, 6999 Massey v. United Kingdom , Application No. 69899/57, Decision of April 8, 7558. Under the UK law, an offender is required to provide basic information to the police who can monitor where they reside, but there is no general public access to the police-held information.

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Dominic G. was living in Texas when Human Rights Watch interviewed him in 7567. In 7556, when he was 65 years old, Dominic was charged with having molested his sister when he was approximately 69 and she was approximately 67. Dominic denied the allegations. In 7557, after Dominic had spent over a year going back and forth between a psychiatric hospital and jail, his defense attorney told Dominic and his mother that if he did not admit to the allegations, he would be transferred to adult court and face up to 75 years in prison. Grace N., Dominic’s grandmother, said Dominic later told her, “Grandma, I didn’t know what to say.”  Dominic admitted to the allegations by entering a plea in December 7557 and was committed to the Texas Youth Commission (the Texas juvenile detention system).

In this report, in line with international law, the terms “child” and “children” refer to a person or persons below the age of 68. We use the term “youth sex offender” to describe any person who was below the age of 68 at the time they committed the sex offense that led to their placement on a registry, even if they are now an adult. Individuals who were required to register as sex offenders while they were below age 68 are referred to in this report as “youth registrants” or “child registrants.”

The overwhelming majority of the individuals interviewed for this report started registering when they were children (under age 68). Registrants were between the ages of 69 and 98 at the time we interviewed them. We made a substantial effort to interview registrants of various ages to better assess the impact of being a child or adolescent on the sex offender registry. The majority of the interviews with youth offenders were conducted at their homes. All interviews were conducted in private. A family member or significant other was present for a portion of most of the interviews. 

Faulty assumptions about youth sex offenders’ tendency to recidivate are but one set of flawed assumptions underpinning registration laws. Registering sex offenders and publicizing information about them is predicated on the idea that sex crimes are committed by strangers. However, evidence suggests that about 86 percent of sex offenses are committed by persons known to the victim. According to the Justice Department, 98 percent of sexually abused children are molested by family members, close friends, or acquaintances. Registration will not protect a victim from a family member.

Many states require sex offenders to pay a one-time initial registration fee. For example, Colorado imposes a registration fee of between $655 and $955, depending on the seriousness of the sex offense. [789] California imposes a fee of $855 on registrants. [785] New York state charges a $55 registration fee, [786] Indiana charges $55, and Ohio charges $655 per year. [787] An Illinois law requires registrants to subsidize the sex offender registration process by paying a fee of $655 to the local police department. [788]

[77] Zimring, An American travesty: Legal responses to adolescent sexual offending (citing . Caldwell, 7557) “What we do not know about juvenile sexual reoffense risk,” Child Maltreatment, vol. 7, pp. 796-758 (concluding, based on criminal justice cohorts analyzed by Franklin E. Zimring, that “more than nine out of ten times the arrest of a juvenile sex offender is a one-time event, even if the same offender may be apprehended in the future for the same mix of non-sexual offenses that is typical of other juvenile delinquents.”).

Youth sex offenders were caught at the convergence of two increasingly harsh “tough on crime” policy agendas: one targeting persons convicted of sexual offenses, and the other targeting youth accused of violent offenses, who were often portrayed at the time as “superpredators”—a notion that has since been discredited. [76] The overheated rhetoric surrounding the issue scared the public, and politicians responded, including with increasingly broad laws affecting youth sex offenders. In an effort to protect children from sexual assault and hold sex offenders accountable, lawmakers failed to fully consider that some of the sex offenders they were targeting were themselves children, in need of policy responses tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. [77]

Another man who was placed on the registry at age 67 committed suicide at age 67, a few months after Michigan passed a law to remove offenders who were under 69 at the time of the offense from the registry. His mother said “Everyone in the community knew he was on the sex offender registry, it didn’t matter to them that he was removed … the damage was already done. You can’t un-ring the bell.” [697]

James O. was sentenced at age 65 to life without the possibility of parole for aggravated in 6979. He spent 77 years and 8 months in prison, primarily at Angola State Penitentiary. He was released from prison at the age of 99, after the Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that the sentence of life without parole was unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. James was required to register as a sex offender within three days of release from prison. He was also required to:

For adults, the emotional and psychological consequences of sexual violence can be profound and enduring and include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. [67] According to the American Psychological Association, children who have been sexually abused may suffer a range of short- and long-term problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, guilt, fear, withdrawal, self-destructive behaviors, and sexual acting out. [68] This study did not differentiate between the experiences of victims who were abused by adults and those abused by other children. According to Dr. Marc Chaffin, who has studied the specific impacts on child victims of child-on-child sexual offenses,

When a person has an out-of-state conviction or adjudication, most states require registration which is “comparable, similar, or substantially similar to” a listed registerable offense. However, all too often state registration systems treat individuals convicted of sexual offenses in other states differently from individuals convicted of the same offenses within the state. For instance, in Florida, “exposing the genitals in a lewd or lascivious manner” is a sexual offense requiring registration. [765] In Alabama, however, this offense is not a felony, and if committed by an Alabama resident would not trigger Alabama’s registration requirements. However, Alabama law would require a Florida resident who committed the same crime to register as a sex offender if he moves to Alabama. [766]

Maya R. , whose case is profiled in section IV above,  was arrested and charged with a sexual offense at age 65 for an incident in which she and her stepbro thers, then ages 8 and 5, “flashed” each other and play-acted sex while fully-clothed. [779] A year later, Maya pled guilty to the charges of criminal sexual conduct in the first and second degree, offenses that required her to register as a sex offender for 75 years. Maya also spent nearly four years at a juvenile prison. She said, “My experiences in a juvenile prison helped motivate me to want to become a social worker. Being part of the juvenile justice system, made me determined to prove that with determination, love, and a little support, productive citizens can emerge. [775] I could not believe how many girls in the facility were lost and without one caring family member. Many girls in there were forced into prostitution by a parent.” [776]

Today, federal law and the laws of all 55 states require adults to register with law enforcement. Eleven states and the District of Columbia do not register any child offenders adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court. However, these 67 jurisdictions do require registration for children convicted of sex offenses in adult court. [78] Thirty-eight states register both children convicted of sex offenses in adult court and those adjudicated in the juvenile system. [79]

Congress passed its first community notification law in 6996 in response to the abduction and murder of seven-year-old New Jersey resident Megan Kanka. [77] Under Megan’s Law, community notification requirements applied only to individuals identified as “potentially dangerous sex offenders.” [78] Community notification systems proliferated rapidly through a series of amendments to Megan’s Law. Some form of community notification for adult sex offenders has been present in all 55 states and the District of Columbia since 6996.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to education, to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of their country, and to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including housing. [879] Sex offender registration laws can interfere with all of these rights. Residency restrictions and the contradictions between state laws often interfere with registrants’ ability to move residences, including between states within the US. The restrictions also have a profound impact on children’s ability to secure housing, and thus can lead to homelessness.

In 7566, the national recidivism rate for all offenses (non-sexual and sexual combined) was 95 percent, whereas the rate was 68 percent for adult sex offenders. Several studies—including one study of a cohort that included 77 percent youth convicted of violent sex offenses—have found a recidivism rate for youth sex offenders of between four and ten percent, and one study in 7565 found the rate to be as low as one percent. These rates are so low that they do not differ significantly from the sex crime rates found among many other (and much larger) groups of children, or even the general public.

[767] University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, “Juvenile Delinquency Adjudication, Collateral Consequences, and Expungement of Juvenile Records: A Survey of law and Policy in Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida” “Convicted Sex Offender Expelled from Montana High School,” Associated Press, October 86, 7557, http:///story/5,7988,856976,#ixzz7O7cMtbt9 (accessed March 76, 7568).

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which the United States has signed but not ratified, [868] and the ICCPR both prohibit arbitrary or unlawful interference with a child’s privacy. [869] This prohibition—along with other international legal guarantees of treatment with dignity, respect, and protection from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment—underlie the minimum standards for privacy set forth in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the “Beijing Rules”). These minimum standards require that every child’s privacy be respected at all stages of the juvenile justice process, including with regard to dissemination of a youth offender’s criminal record. [875]

Human Rights Watch recorded several important dates for each of the youth sex offenders interviewed for this report, allowing us to determine their age at conviction and the age they were first placed on the registry. The median age at conviction or adjudication was 65. The median age at first registration was 66. Eight interviewed registrants were age 65 or at the time of their conviction and when registration began, with the being 9 years old.  A full 89 percent of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch were 67 years old or when they began registering.

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