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10-Year-Old Boy Required to Register as a Sex Offender

10-Year-Old Boy Required to Register as a Sex Offender

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of justice prosecuted a 10-year-old boy for aggravated sexual assault on five boys, ages 5-7. The assaults happened on an Army base in Arizona, which is why the DOJ was involved. After winning a delinquency judgment (the equivalent of guilty in juvenile court), the boy was sentenced to five years probation and required to participate in mandatory psychological treatment.

He must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life

In 1994, Congress passed a law that required all states to set up a system to track convicted sexual offenders. The Wetterling Act mandated states track sexual offenders’ residency for ten years, or for life in the case of violent offenders. In the aftermath of the rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka by her neighbor, a registered sex offender, Megan’s Law was passed in 1996 requiring every state to make relevant information about registered sex offenders publicly available if deemed crucial to the safety of the community. This led to states establishing notification laws and databases that could be accessed online.

Now the efficacy of these laws has come into question.

Aside from the fact that almost 90 percent of the sexual crimes against children are by someone they know and trust, these laws assume that the biggest danger comes from strangers. Designed initially to track the most serious offenders, many states have cast a wider net of sexual offenses that require registration.  Many believe that when they browse their state’s sex offender registry, they are coming face to face with violent rapists and pedophiles when, in fact, the registries also include those convicted of public urination or indecent exposure.

Many of them are children.

In May of this year, Human Rights Watched issued a report called Raised on the Registry in which they examine the long term effects of requiring children and teens to be on the sex offender registry. They tell the story of an 11-year-old boy in Michigan who inappropriately touched his sister on her genitals (without penetration) and ended up being bounced around foster care. His sex offender registration followed him through high school, university (where he dropped out), and eventually to losing custody of his daughter at 26 because he could not find work.

After ten years, he was able to have his name removed from the registry – but the damage to his life had been done.  All for something he did at 11 years old.

Children as young as 9 are being required to register for offenses that in some cases amount to what was once called “playing doctor.”  Many teenagers are being charged for teenage behavior, like sending naked photos of themselves, or having sex – with other teenagers. In a case in Colorado, a boy was put on the registry for repeatedly trying to hug a girl when he was 13. Of the cases they reviewed for the report, less than 6 percent of the charges were for violent offenses.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 included a provision that required juvenile offenders 14 years of age or older, who had engaged in genital or anal contact (including orally) with a child under the age of twelve to be required to register as a sex offender. Prior to this, many states excluded juveniles from their registries. This act also expanded the definition of sexual offenses to include any criminal offense involving a “sexual element” with a minor. Like hugging.

The question is, what if everyone involved is under the age of twelve?

The case of the 10-year-old boy came to light due to an appeal by the boy’s public defender, Keith Hilzendeger, which was heard last month at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California. Hilzendeger feels it is unconscionable that a child under the age of 12 should have to register as a sex offender. The case documents are sealed due to the defendant’s age, however his attorney argued that the 2006 statute was not clear when the offender, as well as the victim, are under the age of 12.

The assistant U.S. Attorney disagrees.

The DOJ pursued the case due to the severity of the conduct which, according to the prosecutor, included allegations of anal penetration, repetitive behavior and threats. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Ferg counters the defense’s argument saying, “It is not vague to say, ‘if you do this kind of activity, we don’t care what age you are, you are liable for prosecution.’” Ferg claims that they are helping the child by getting him the therapy he needs. Furthermore, by requiring him to be on the registry, they are making sure it doesn’t happen again.

But can a 10-year-old be liable for behavior that is so obviously aberrant?

Aside from the numerous studies that show children’s brains are not fully formed (and aren’t until the mid twenties), it doesn’t take much to realize that any child participating in such disturbing behavior is in need of help, not prosecution. According to David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, children under 12 who engage in exploitative sexual behavior do so because of abuse or exposure to sex acts, either directly or through pornography. The National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth further states that adolescent offenders normally do not have “deviant sexual arousal” or display predatory behavior that would qualify them as pedophiles.

In other words, they are children who are acting out or acting impulsively in an inappropriate manner.

Even in the more severe cases, studies have shown that children and teens are much more responsive to intensive treatment and are much less likely to reoffend than adult offenders or those who commit other crimes, such as burglary. Those that are not are usually older (16 years or older) and have a long history of deviant behavior that had not been addressed.

We don’t know the details of the now 12-year-old boy’s short life, or what circumstances led him to committing these horrible acts against young children. Yet requiring him to register as a sex offender punishes him for the rest of his life for something he did at 10. Biology, sociology and common sense tell us that he is also a victim.

It would seem that real justice would be about healing not only for the five little boys he hurt, but also for him.

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277 comments

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9:39AM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

Then I ask why so many rapists are let go with a slap on the wrist and not put on the sex offender registry for whatever reason.
It seems there is little to no serious investigation in cases of alleged sexual assault. "Playing doctor" is one thing; wilful sexual assault is something altogether different.
Teens (and pre-teens) are being prosecuted as sex offenders for sexting, but a man using a photo of a topless teen as his social media avatar gets away with it.
What's wrong with this picture?

6:55AM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

My question is what were the parents of this boy doing? Obviously they did not educate him in any positive way. I cannot believe that a boy with caring parents would do this.

5:42AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

A foul or a bliss?

5:51AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

strange

3:29PM PST on Nov 18, 2013

for life is a bit much.. he needs serious help though. I would want to know before allowing MY sons to be with this kid alone

12:25PM PDT on Oct 31, 2013

Robynne,
I am glad that you are not saying abuse is ever justified and you agree it should not be tolerated.

While the origin is important, information on the origin will help ONLY if it’s true and accurate. How can we ever take the perpetrators’ word on this issue, when it benefits them to lie?

“Just because the numbers didn't decrease, does not make the sentence false. Many perpetrators have zero abuse or neglect in their past.”

That was exactly my point. Considering that most perpetrators have NOT been abused in the past; and most victims DON’T end up being perpetrators; there are no grounds for the conclusion that “Abusive behavior is a direct result of childhood abuse”.

And there are no definitive numbers to support said conclusion. If all you rely on is anecdotal evidence, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the opposite conclusion too, i.e. “Childhood abuse does not lead to future abusive behavior”

Now, perpetrators have a specific interest in promoting the FIRST conclusion (to get sympathy & reduce their culpability), so they might make up stories childhood abuse. Anecdotal evidence is reliable only if it has been verified.

All I can see is the unfounded conclusion “Abusive behavior is a result of being abused” being promoted, which only helps the perpetrators but not victims.

10:10AM PDT on Oct 31, 2013

Suba, there are no "definites" to these numbers and I'm not attempting to cite numbers or verify them. I am using strictly anecdotal evidence and yes, that is subjective.

Just because the numbers didn't decrease, does not make the sentence false. Many perpetrators have zero abuse or neglect in their past. So they would not have been 'counted' in the original numbers, they would just add to them. There are "new" abusers who were not past victims.

And we are NOT saying this is an 'excuse' to further abuse - we are saying this is a problem and needs to be fixed. By arresting, imprisoning and adding their name to a list does nothing to solve the problem and end this nasty, horrible cycle. We are definitely NOT saying abuse is ever justified and we agree it should not be tolerated. The origin is important because it will inform the treatment, that is all, but it IS important.

So I understand your points...do you now understand mine?

10:06PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Robynne,
If this sentence were true: “The majority of 'victims' do not become perpetrators...but the majority of those who do abuse children, have some abuse in their past.”

Then with every generation the number of abusers should DECREASE. But it doesn’t. If anything it increases. Therefore this sentence cannot be true.

Another thing is, having some abuse in the past is usually just the word of the perpetrator. How many of these cases were actually verified?

Kevin,
If the crime is severe enough, allowing excuses such as age or prior abuse would only enable more abuse to happen in the future.

How many serial killers have got their opportunity at crime just because their many acts of cruelty to animals were excused? (Not just due to age but because in our society animals just don’t matter.)

5:35PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

I don't believe that attempting to understand the causes of behavior in any way tolerates or justifies the behavior in question. Attempting to understand the nature of crime is not a justification for criminal acts, it is merely attempting to understand causes, which is always a good thing.

The bottom line is, making a 10 year old register as a sex offender FOR LIFE is definately over reaching and hardly represents justice.

4:05PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

Once again, debating whether abusive behavior is learned or not is redundant. So what if it is learned? Regardless of the origin, abusive behavior should not be tolerated.

-Unless some people seriously think abusive behavior is justified “as long as it was learned in childhood”, what is even the point of investigating whether it is learned?

-And if you do justify abuse from abused people, doesn’t it automatically lead to a cycle of abuse, AND promote other abusers to lie & say they were abused just to get out of punishment? (As is happening quite a bit today).

Where does it lead, except enabling more abuse?

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