Juvenile Justice

Sex Law Limits Juvenile Court Tradition

A new federal law on reporting sex crimes against children is going to end the anonymity traditionally accorded to some young criminals.

Those as young as 14 could be included on a new national Internet sex crime registry to be made available to the public, if their victims are less than 12 years old, the New York Times reports in its Sunday magazine cover story.

It’s questionable, though, whether the benefits of including teenage offenders in a program primarily designed to address adult sex crimes will outweigh the disadvantages, according to the article. For one thing, increased reporting to police of misbehavior that children and teens have engaged in for generations can lead to a 14-year-old being publicly branded a rapist for relatively low-grade sexual conduct. That public pillorying of the offender can counteract the positive results of treatment in the juvenile court system, in which teenagers at least sometimes can be changed for the better more readily than adults because they are still growing and maturing.

“In dozens of interviews, therapists, lawyers, teenagers and their parents told me … stories of juveniles who, after being discovered on a sex-offender registry, have been ostracized by their peers and neighbors, kicked out of extracurricular activities or physically threatened by classmates,” the author of the article writes. “Experts worry that these experiences stigmatize adolescents and undermine the goals of rehabilitation.”

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