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Juvenile Sex Offenders: Marked for Life? - Part 2

In the last blog post, we discussed the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). All states were ordered to adopt a new sex offender registry system that includes juvenile offenders by July 2011. Iowa has already moved towards compliance with the federally mandated system and is known for its strict registry laws.

The story of a now 24-year old man from Iowa demonstrates the effects of a strict juvenile registry system. When the man was a thirteen-year-old boy, he told his four-year-old cousin to expose herself. While he swears he did not touch her, her father still pressed charges. A judge determined the boy was delinquent for intent to commit sexual abuse and assault, and the thirteen-year-old boy was placed on Iowa's public sex offender registry for the rest of his life.

The man says that this designation has negatively impacted his ability to find housing, employment and social acceptance. He finds it impossible to live a normal life. 

Critics of the juvenile registry system point to cases like these as evidence that the requirements are unnecessarily harsh when applied to all juveniles. The Center for Sex Offender Management reports that only ten percent of juvenile offenders will re-offend. Still, young offenders are placed in the most serious category of sex offenders. 

According to juvenile justice experts, children need therapy rather than lifetime registration. Not only do they believe that therapy is the most effective means of deterring recidivism, but many also feel that registration can harm young offenders' ability to reintegrate into society.

Likewise, those opposed to lifetime juvenile registration assert that the system is not effective in deterring future offenses, especially given the fact that most sexual abuse is committed by someone in or involved with the victim's family, and not by strangers. 

Despite these valid arguments and the efforts of those opposing registration, the futures of these children offenders depend upon the actions of elected officials. However, these officials are unlikely to oppose a law that has a goal of protecting children from sexual abuse. Even the author of Iowa's original 2002 residency restriction, State Senator Jerry Behn, acknowledges that the law is overreaching when applied to all sex offenders as opposed to only dangerous pedophiles. Still, Behn points out, "anyone who votes to fix this now is going to be viewed as light on sexual predators."

Although the negative effects of lifetime registration for juvenile sex offenders are well-documented by professionals who work closely with them, politicians hold the power to change the rules. As such, many children who make a one-time mistake in their youth will spend the rest of their lives paying for it.  

Source: In These Times "Barely a Teenager and Marked for Life" 9/3/10

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