Laws based on inaccuracies lead to lifetime of shame for those who offended as juveniles

By Kristan N. Russell and Shawn C. Marsh . . . Few crimes stimulate such visceral reactions and deep-seated fears as sexual offenses. Accordingly, societal responses to sexual offending such as registration and notification laws tend to be quite punitive and highly stigmatizing for the offender. Yet these social control practices are widely considered by the public to be essential for community safety.

However, given lessons learned about the linkages between moral panic and legislation in other justice contexts (e.g., juvenile “superpredators” and waiver/transfer laws), we question the degree to which public perceptions about the characteristics of persons who commit sexual offenses are accurate — particularly of juveniles who commit these types of offenses.

Specifically, we ask: If public sentiment drives public policy in a democracy, how accurate is the information they are basing their perceptions/attitudes on that ultimately frame legal responses to these juveniles? We propose here that the larger societal understanding of and reaction to youth who have committed a sexual offense has been disproportionately severe in comparison to the risk posed by these youth and what we understand about youth development and resiliency. 

Our findings from a pilot study exploring public perceptions of these youth suggest practice and policy reform efforts should continue to incorporate a substantial public education and prevention component.

Over 200,000 individuals on a sexual offense registry are there as a result of sexual offenses they committed as a youth. Many of these registrants have been incarcerated or placed on probation due to their offense and are trying to re-enter and function successfully in society. Registration requirements often include limitations on where one can live, restrictions on computer and internet access, participation in mandatory treatment and following various reporting and notification procedures (e.g., local law enforcement, neighbors).

While these responses are often presented in the spirit of accountability and community safety, they have a substantial stigmatizing effect and potentially disrupt protective factors (e.g., introducing challenges to securing employment). These collateral consequences have been a major focus of research and efforts to reform and better design responses to this category of offense.

Youth tend to follow adolescent-limited sexual offending trajectories, meaning they no longer offend with little or even no intervention as they age and mature into adulthood. Longitudinal research concerning this population demonstrates that around 5% or less commit another sexual offense and juvenile offending is not predictive of adult offending. Further, paraphilia (e.g., highly deviant and persistent sexual attraction to very young children) is rare in juveniles.

Read the remainder of the piece here at Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

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    • #79717 Reply
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      Joshua Novak

      I too was arrested and charged as an adult for a sexual offense committed when I was 13 years old…. I was placed on Pennsylvania Megan’s law as a Sexually Violent Predator, thus being subject to lifetime registration, lifetime counseling, and active Community Notification…. I was also only charged with a Criminal Attempt Sexual Offense…. I was on the registry for 8 years, and in 2019, a new law in Pennsylvania removed me from the registry, so I can relate to this post…. what I did as a young child, phased out when I grew into an adult…. I know morals and limitations…. I would never assault or offend a person sexually this day in age…. and children never made me feel sexually aroused… Children should not be placed on the registry, its it’s pointless….

    • #79804 Reply
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      George

      “…If public sentiment drives public policy in a democracy…”

      I don’t recall ever voting for individual laws. Rather I’ve voted for representatives to vote for me.

      It seems neither a republic nor a democracy preserves liberty for the people.

    • #79816 Reply
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      DavidM

      Those on the SOR are not a protected class. Worthy of government protection ,but should they be?
      The US politicians have succeeded in making them a separate class by establishing a registry that groups them all from hundreds of separate and varying violations into a single class which the general population identifies as pedophiles. Since the government has produced a class should they not be now classified as a class? As a class they now need special protection as a class, because of vigilante actions and as recent developments have shown they now don’t work as lone wolves but are part of militia groups, Some of which have been identified as part of the 7 so far identified groups of right wing radicals that attacked the buildings in Washington. Some making bold threats against what they call pedophilia protectors.
      The lists our government hands out to these individuals like this is like dumping buckets of blood in the water in the presents of hungry sharks. This is what the names on the registry are for these . Not to mention that no child has ever been known to have been protected because of the registry. Not even one. Those crimes are committed by people close to the family involved and over 95% of the time by a first time offender.
      These young people should not be on a list and neither should 99.9% of the people on it. It is a total waste of money and causes pain and suffering for hundreds of thousands and even millions when you count there families. The $200 million the federal government dishes out to states Only causes additional trouble and brings out greedy money hungry politicians circling to grab a chunk of the blood money.

    • #79820 Reply
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      mut

      Slavery is alive and well in Nevada too.

      kidnapping for purposes of involuntary servitude is no longer a sufficient infringement of personal liberty to invoke a southern nevada federal court’s habeas corpus jurisdiction. 2:19-cv-01831-RFB-NJK.

    • #79826 Reply
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      Maureen C Mahaney

      With fear being the impetus for laws, it’s no wonder that so many of them are unsubstantiated and ineffective. They are enacted to calm the hyperanxiety of the public even when they are shown to be detrimental. I am saddened to see the number of lives ruined by the extremely broad definitions of ‘sexual assault’. It is beyond my comprehension why youth continue to be treated as adults when they are clearly not physically able to control impulses until their brain fully matures and they are not given the opportunity to make meaningful changes in their behavior without the wretched stigma placed on them by these laws. It is time to stop the punitive approach and embrace the idea of helping shape individuals to make better choices. Open the eyes of our hearts.

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