Throwaway Children

Attorney Catherine Carpenter serves on the board of CA RSOL. She spoke at our 2013 conference. Catherine has published a new paper dealing with the practice of putting our children on the sex offender registry. She states, “It is about the deeply flawed and inherently unjust practice of making children as young as ten register as sex offenders for life. It is a subject that fills me with anguish and anger.”

Throwaway Children: The Tragic Consequences of a False Narrative

Catherine L. Carpenter

Southwestern Law School

December 29, 2015


Truth be told, we are afraid for our children and we are afraid of our children. The intersection of these disparate thoughts has produced a perfect storm. We have created increasingly harsh sex offender registration schemes to protect our children from sexual abuse. At the same time, fear of our children ensnares and punishes them under the very same laws that were designed to protect them. Yet, what compels action is premised on a false narrative that includes flawed studies on recidivism rates and misguided case decisions that embraced these findings.

In this article, I explore the inherently unfair and deeply flawed practice of mandatory lifetime registration for children who commit sex offenses. Examination reveals two fallacies in a system that condemns children to lifetime monitoring: the breadth of its ensnarement, and the presumption of a child’s continued sexual predatory behavior. Fueled by emotional rhetoric, both are tightly bound in a fundamentally false narrative that is unnecessary and wholly damaging for the child registrant.

The utility of an overly-simplified registration scheme comes with a hefty price tag: the acknowledgement that mandatory lifetime registration captures and shatters the lives of many non-dangerous children. It is a price tag we should no longer be willing to bear. In the face of overwhelming statistical evidence to the contrary, we must commit to changing the false narrative that children who commit sex offenses are presumed to become sexually dangerous adults. We must commit to replacing it with a narrative that acknowledges that recidivism rates are low and that mandatory lifetime registration is both unnecessary and devastating. See full publication.

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    • #10754 Reply
      “John S”

      Please make sure, if any of you have not yet done so, to also read Nicole Pittman’s Raised on the Registry, and the NACDL report issued in May 2014, Collateral Damage. Either or both can serve as a worthwhile introduction to the need for reform.

    • #10755 Reply
      emil S

      The whole sex offender registry has become a big pile of blunder by including first time offenders with low level of felony and treating them like violent sex offenders for lifetime, thus creating a vicious cycle with minimal or very low life opportunities along with broken families and broken homes for these people. It is as though these people are given life sentences but outside the confines of the walls.
      Oftentimes common sense is not common, and the sex offender registry is a clear evidence of that.

    • #10756 Reply

      What the hell is going on? After reading this paper I just want to scream!! The REAL predators here are the people that put these children on the sex offender registry. What for? To feed the sex offender industry? Is it money? Fear? Stupidity? I just don’t understand it. Being an adult SO is bad enough. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a young person. Ten year old’s? Are we f**king CRAZY??!!! Why isn’t there national outrage over this!!!??? Thank God there’s people like Catherine Carpenter.

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