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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The New Yorker: The List, When Juveniles are Found Guilty of Sexual Misconduct, the Sex-Offender Registry Can be a Life Sentence By Sarah Stillman


The List
When juveniles are found guilty of sexual misconduct, the sex-offender registry can be a life sentence.
By Sarah Stillman
March 14, 2016 Issue
 

One morning in 2007, Leah DuBuc, a twenty-two-year-old college student in Kalamazoo, began writing an essay for English class that she hoped would save her life. She knew that people like her had been beaten, bombed, shot at, killed.  

The essay aired details about her past that she’d long tried to suppress; by posting it on her class’s server, where anyone who Googled her name could find it, she thought she might be able to quiet the whispers, the threats, and possibly make it easier to find a job. Her story, she warned, “is not a nice one, but hopefully it will have a happy ending.” 

DuBuc had grown up in Howell, Michigan, a small town of berry and melon farmers. In high school, she had thrived. She had earned straight A’s, written for the school newspaper, led Students Against Driving Drunk (she voted to change the name to Students Against Destructive Decisions, she says, to stress that “there are lots of bad decisions that can get you killed”), and performed in “Grease” and “Once Upon a Mattress,” while working part time as a cashier at Mary’s Fabulous Chicken & Fish. “High school was bliss for me,” DuBuc said recently. “I tried not to dwell on the stuff that wasn’t good.”  

But, as she was about to start her freshman year at Western Michigan University, she got a call from a close childhood friend, Victoria, who asked, “Did you know you’re on the public sex-offender registry?” 

Her friend, who had just given birth to a baby girl, had logged on to the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry Web site to search for local predators. She had entered her Zip Code, and there was Leah’s face—her copper bangs, her wide cheeks, her brown eyes staring blankly from the photograph. Her name, weight, and height were listed; so was the address where she’d grown up, playing beneath tall pines and selling five-cent rocks that she’d painted with nail polish. Something DuBuc had done at the age of ten had caught up with her. Victoria knew the story, which DuBuc described as “play-acting sex,” in elementary school, with her younger step-siblings. Online browsers would see only the words on the page: “CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT.”