You know how you can check your state’s sex offender registry to find the name, picture, address, and specific offense of any offenders in your area? So far, this list includes only adults. Now, scientists are reevaluating the teenage psyche and studying how close it is to the adult mind. Meanwhile, officials are debating the implications of listing child and teenage offenders on the Internet—perhaps even blacklisting them—for life.
Enough evidence exists that proves kids are not miniature adults. Kids don’t have innate knowledge of society, as evidenced by this letter to Dear Prudie, where a mother wonders how to deal with her daughter and niece, both four-year olds, whom she caught “rubbing our butts together.” Of course, juvenile sex offenders aren’t toddlers, and they generally know what they are doing is wrong. However, a number of things should be considered before we give them a de facto life sentence by listing them on the Internet along with violent, knowing, and malicious adults.
The most widely accepted theory (the “learning theory”) is that youth who were earlier abused tend to abuse other children, and they do so at higher rates than the general population. More recent studies find that any number of problems stemming from school or family life may trigger the behavior as well. So, while this doesn’t make sexual victimization okay, how do we treat or punish this behavior among juvenile sex offenders?
It’s a matter of opinion. Parents, armed with Megan’s Law, are anxious to see that all sex offenders, no matter what age, are publicly registered. This is the case in 25 states across the country, and it is, understandably, supported by those raising families. Someone like Johnnie, however, (who was referred to by that pseudonym in a New York Times article), may be branded for life. He’s a juvenile sex offender, but he did the crime when he was in fourth grade. That’s the question: would you give a now 14-year old the same “life sentence” that you give a grown man? And if the answer is yes, how would you draw the line between being a teen and being a responsible adult? Can we justify treating a juvenile sex offender as a minor and an adult simultaneously? Perhaps judges should be given discretion in each individual case.
More importantly, these situations need to be prevented in the first place. There aren’t conclusive studies that guarantee that this form of pedophilia can be permanently extinguished, but researchers are working on it. The New York Times article talks about a couple of different ways that therapists are dealing with these troubled youth. The offenders are asked to write out their fantasies in journals, talk them out, or even act them out in support group settings. The results are inconclusive still, because the phenomenon has been looked at only recently. However, we do know for sure that the stigma attached with being a known sex offender is harrowing for anyone, especially a teenager. As an earlier NCPC blog states, we need to ensure that offenders “make positive connections to the community.” How do we do that? We’re still working our way through that question.