Registered children face higher rates of assault

From Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health . . . A new study led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children who were legally required to register as sex offenders were at greater risk for harm, including suicide attempts and sexual assault, compared to a group of children who engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior but who were not required to register.

The most troubling findings, the authors say, pertained to suicidal intent and victimization experiences. The study found that registered children were four times as likely to report a recent suicide attempt in the last 30 days, compared to nonregistered children. Registered children were nearly twice as likely to have experienced a sexual assault and were five times as likely to have been approached by an adult for sex in the past year. Registered children also reported higher rates of other mental health problems, more peer relationship problems, more experiences with peer violence and a lower sense of safety.

The findings, which were published online last week in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, highlight the consequences of placing children on sex offender registries.

“The process of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification requirements not only conveys to the child that he or she is worthless, it also essentially alerts the rest of the world that a child has engaged in an illegal sexual behavior,” says study lead Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. “Not only is this policy stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.”

Thirty-eight states subject children under age 18 to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in juvenile court while all states subject children to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in adult court (i.e., when children are waived to criminal court). This practice has been controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1990s due to concerns about the stigmatizing effects of labeling children—often for life—as “sex offenders.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed 256 children ages 12 to 17 across 18 states who had received treatment services for engaging in harmful and/or illegal sexual behaviors. Of these, 74 had been required to register as sexual offenders and/or subjected to public notification in which law enforcement alerted others to the child’s status as a registered offender. Some children were even included on public sex offender registry websites. Five girls were included in the sample, although analyses were ultimately reported only for the 251 boys. Compared to nonregistered children in this study, registered children had worse outcomes on measures assessing mental health problems, peer relationships, safety and exposure to sexual and nonsexual violence.

To identify registered and nonregistered children for this study, researchers obtained referrals from frontline practitioners (e.g., psychologists, counselors, social workers) who treat children for problem sexual behaviors. Children completed surveys by phone, on hard copies or on computers and steps were taken to assure confidentiality. Most of the children identified as male (98 percent) and were on average 15 years old. Half were white, more than one-quarter were African American and 18 percent identified as Hispanic. Most participants, 86 percent, identified as heterosexual.

“Policymakers have argued that if sex offender registration improves community safety it is worth the costs associated with it, which begs the question, does registrations work? Does it make communities safer? The answer is a resounding no,” says Letourneau. “On top of that, our study suggests that these requirements may place children at risk of the very type of abuse the policy seeks to prevent, among other serious negative consequences. Our hope is that this study will convince even more policymakers that the time has come to abandon juvenile registration.”.

Previous research by Letourneau and others demonstrates that less than three percent of children adjudicated for a sexual offense go on to commit another. However, despite numerous studies, including this one, that have evaluated the effects of sex offender registration and notification policies, none have found any evidence that suggests that such policies prevent sexual abuse and assault or make communities safer and, in fact, the results from this study suggest that these policies may be harmful to children.

Previous research has examined the unintended effects of sex offender registration and notification on adults. This is the first study to look at the effects of registration policies on children.

“Effects of juvenile sex offender registration on child well-being: An empirical examination” was written by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD; Andrew Harris, PhD; Ryan Shields, PhD; Scott Walfield, PhD; Geoff Kahn, MSPH; Amanda Ruzicka, MA; and Cierra Buckman, MHS.

The research was funded by the Open Society Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

Source: Newswise

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  • This topic has 4 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 3 years, 1 month ago by AvatarJeremy from Indiana.
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    • #28829 Reply
      Tim L

      I am not at all surprised by this studies findings. While the protection of children is important for a healthy society, it is not the responsibility of government to insure it. In fact that is the job of PARENTS!

      The seemingly political motivation behind SORs notification regime may offer some assistance to a parents responsibility to do so, it only superficially provides protection. Some call it a FALSE SENSE of security because notification schemes like SOR, do not provide defense against those determined to rape, murder and pillage. The incomplete nature of the notification tells too much and too little simultaneously. So while one could find a registrant near them, where they live and so forth, is does not expose what the individual is factually capable of. Thus it is imperative to examine the ambiguity of the registry as much as the plain “Indenture”. Compelled motion though administrative, is still intolerable. The
      people’s demand is duplicious and redundant Indeed in most cases the state has already the information it demands!

      A computer’s demand for information is infinite AND inherent.. The people’s desire to gather it has indeed grown to the point where actual compliance is not viable from a self interest perspective and to protect ones own family.

      I would advise caution to any one who places personal stuff on the web. Being that most Americans are ” all in” on the electronic world. They do so at their own great risk! It is not hard to imagine STALKING being enabled by social media use by victims.

      Instead users of registries are left to imagine who is the greater threat among registrants on the website. Indeed a parent may have remembered every photo within a 5 mile radius it will not protect them from SOs not already identified NOR the determined traveling killer, molester.

      The dangers to identifying minors as described by the article are the same ones experienced by adults on the registry. Children are less capable of dealing with consequences quenches moral grumbling so some states have decided against the public broadcasting of children’s criminal records.
      The case ignored that breech of databases occur thus exposing it anyway.

      Do you doubt private databases of offenders do exist now!

    • #28833 Reply

      There needs to be a study on children of registrants also.

    • #28874 Reply
      Jeremy from Indiana

      I read this article prior to seeing it here, but the site did not allow comments. This is another one of those classic examples of the studies being isolated to children on the registry. Every negative that was discovered can be attributed to adults on the registry as well.

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