Over the past few weeks I have read tons of articles regarding the seriousness of ‘sexual delinquency’. Sadly, this unpleasant topic has only recently been considered ‘important’ news. For those of you who are not familiar with the term ‘sexual delinquency’ it is one whose sexual behavior is characterized by repetitive or compulsive acts that are done in disregard of consequences or the rights of others; often attempting sexual relations by use of force upon another, particularly committed against children under the age of 16 years. Such an act can and has led to continued devastation for the victim, the perpetrators and the families of both; and ultimately devastates the communities in which these individuals reside.
There are approximately 300,000 cases of child sexual abuse every year; of those 300,000 cases up to half of those cases involve adolescent and teen offenders. In the United States alone there are approximately 50 million survivors of sexual abuse. Rape, molestation, and other types of illicit and illegal sexual behaviors are being committed
by youth as young as 12 years old (even younger have been reported). Until recently, there has not been much discussion about teens and adolescents being a part of sexual abuse cases unless they are the victims. What happens when the teen and adolescents are the perpetrators???
How should teen and adolescent ‘sex delinquents’ be ‘punished’ for their ‘crime’?
Some people wonder if sending teen and adolescent sex offenders to juvenile detention will help; or maybe they should be admitted into a mental institution; and some believe that they should be registered with Megan’s Law. Many states have laws in place that require children as young as eight years old to register as sex offenders for crimes that include things such as public urination, nudity, consensual sex and as serious as rape. Some states go as far as having the young offenders notify their communities via a publicly accessible website, and/or via law enforcement who has the authority to share information with the public.
There is a huge controversy about punishment that is being handed down to juveniles. Of the 50% of cases that are reported, there are approximately 36% of juveniles that are convicted of victimizing children. Based on research from the University of New Hampshire, 93% of those are boys, and seven out of eight of them are at least 12 years of age. This is a large number of offenses, and should definitely be of great concern! The problem is that a large number of these offenses are committed by youth who are not technically sex offenders. What do I mean by this?
Consider the following scenarios:
1) A 14 year old boy is horse playing with a 12 year old boy; he pulls his pants down and sits on his face. When asked why, he says he was trying to be funny and make everyone laugh. Although a ‘joke’ the boy was considered a sex offender and was required to register under the Megan’s Law. The law in this particular state explains that an act is considered criminal sexual contact if it is done for sexual gratification or to degrade or humiliate the victim. Do you believe that it should be punishable by a lifetime registered under Megan’s Law???
2) At the age of 19 years old a young man had sex with his high school sweetheart who was 16 years old. The young girl’s mother thought the relationship was getting too serious so decided to report the young man. He was convicted on sex offense charges and required to register with Megan’s Law. Fifteen years later, the young man is married to the same young lady, and they have four children of their own. The mother of the young lady says the day after reporting the young man, she called the precinct to recant her statement as she had only reported him out of anger; the officers informed her that they would be ‘taking it from there’, and recanting was not an option. Do you believe this young man should have received a lifetime registered under Megan’s Law???
3) A girl 13 years old had sex with her boyfriend who was 12 years old; the two conceive a child, and now are registered sex offenders. In the state where they reside, youth under the age of 14 who have sex with a peer is breaking the law. In this case, the two are both sex offenders and victims of sex offenses. Does this seem like an example of children that should be registered under Megan’s Law for the rest of their lives???
Granted, there are some juveniles that are guilty of sexual crimes; and in some cases, violent sexual crimes. But what should be done about youth such as those listed above? Studies show that having youth registered as sex offenders….for life does not improve or prevent the number of children being sexually assaulted. What happens when the only thing that seems to come out of having children registering under the Megan Law….for life, is only a means of stigmatizing the youth throughout their lives making their growth difficult; they are in turn not able to find good jobs, live in certain communities, work in professions that include children, or participate in certain activities when they have children of their own?
The Human Rights Watch reports that such requirements are a misconception; there is absolutely no proof suggesting that children are ‘safer’. Founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic states that the vast majority of juvenile sex offenders do not become adult offenders; he further states that the only thing this does is keep youth from having the opportunity to grow up and become productive members of society.
A recent Michigan circuit judge, William Buhl advocates for teens that have been registered and labeled as sex offenders for consensual sex states, “What we have done to young men, mostly, is destroy their lives.”
The goal of sex offender laws is simply to protect children from predators. Considering that there is such a need for our children to be protected from predators, it is important for us to put the ‘sex delinquency’ laws in perspective! Laws require youth to be removed from their homes due to younger children residing there; they are ostracized in school by students and administrators; if they are fortunate enough to have relationships, they are denied the ‘normal’ freedoms of parenting; they are stigmatized throughout the rest of their lives; and due to such situations, many of these youth suffer from depression and other mental and emotional ‘disabilities’. As previously mentioned, studies show that the majority does not re-offend; could this be because a large number of those registered are not sexual predators to begin with?
In conclusion, it is not a mystery that our children are in trouble. Fifty eight percent of offenses occur on victims six and younger by family members, and 39.7% by acquaintances; 50.5% of victims between 7 and 11 years old are abused by family members and 46.7% by acquaintances; and 21% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 years are victimized by family members and 72.9% by acquaintances. What is a mystery is how legislatures should address the issues of ‘punishing’ youth for their sexual activities, horse plays, and other nonviolent sexual ‘offenses’. How are they going to determine what lines to draw; who to punish for a lifetime, or for a few years? Who is guilty; who is going to re-offend? Who is going to violently hurt a child; who is simply acting on temporary impulses due to ‘love’ (i.e. consensual sex)?
What are the answers? Our children need to know….the victims, the offenders; those who are hurt, and those who unknowingly hurt themselves. Lives of so many young youth are at stake….we need to first ask the questions; then follow up with clear, precise answers that will ultimately lead to absolute decisions that are not meant to destroy the lives of more children than we set out to protect.
Mrs. Tomaro M. Pilgrim, MS