Children make mistakes. Children learn from their mistakes. Children try new things, explore, wonder about their surroundings and experiences. This is how a child grows and develops into a functioning adult. Children are impulsive, by nature. They often do not consider the consequences until it is too late. This information has been scientifically and anecdotally proven many, many times. Usually, a child’s actions are harmless. Sometimes, however, a child will break the law, often unknowingly. The juvenile justice system takes all this into consideration. As “Juvenile Offenders and Sex Offender Registries: Examining the Data Behind the Debate” by Sarah W. Craun, from University of Tennessee College of Social Work and Poco
D. Kernsmith, of the Wayne State University School of Social Work, delineates, the juvenile justice system has, rather than a focus on punishment such as with the adult system, a goal of reform for the young offenders to help them grow and learn so that they will not make such a mistake again (1). Children can be molded in a way that adults cannot. Lawmakers understand that a child should not be held accountable for his or her actions in the way that an adult can be.
This is why a minor’s records are sealed. However, when a child breaks the law in relation to sexuality, this all changes. Depending on local laws, a juvenile sex offender will have to register on the sex offender registry. In some counties, the records are available only to the police. In others, all records are open. And for almost all cases, juvenile registration becomes public on the offender’s eighteenth birthday.
Now, I do not mean to paint a picture of angelic innocence in juvenile sexual offenders.
Some are dangerous, just as dangerous as adults. According to the Center For Sex Offender
Management brief of 1999, “Understanding Juvenile Sexual Offending Behavior: Emerging
Research, Treatment Approaches Management and Practices,” by Dr. John Hunter, who has written over 50 publications on juvenile sex offending and related matters, “Currently, it is estimated that juveniles account for up to onefifth of all rapes and almost onehalf of all cases of child molestation committed each year” (1). However, take this into consideration: How many rapes remain unreported each year? For the victim, speaking to an adult about rape committed by a juvenile is much easier than speaking to an adult about another adult committing the rape. In addition, does it not seem that onehalf of child molestations are committed by juveniles because of the closeness in both age and proximity that juveniles tend to be to children? By United States law, “children” are considered to be under fourteen years of age. So if a fifteenyearold molested a thirteenyearold, it is considered child molestation. However, clearly that case is not remotely similar in magnitude to a fortyyearold molesting a thirteenyearold. Even consensual sex in the first case would be considered “molestation.” These socalled “RomeoandJuliet” cases, as nicknamed by Nicole Pittman, leading national expert on the application of sex offender registration and notification laws to children, and author of the extensive Human Rights Watch report titled “Raised on the Registry,” are harmless and feel as though abuses of power by legislation (29). Furthermore, according to the US Legal website’s definition for “Aggravated
Sexual Assault,” any act of contact or penetration of sexual organs with a minor under 14 years of age is considered “aggravated sexual assault” (US Legal, 1). So, while aggravated sexual assault can mean violent sexual assault as the name implies, RomeoandJuliet cases may also fit
the bill. Then, many juveniles are brought up on much more serious charges than they actually committed. This unfortunately later translates to problems within the