Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Nicole Pittman: The Stain on Young Lives That Never Goes Away

The Stain on Young Lives That Never Goes Away, April 14, 2016
By Nicole Pittman

Brandon was 11 years old when Texas authorities charged him for indecent exposure. According to one account, he pulled his pants down; according to another, he urinated in public. 

Yet the state, in finding Brandon guilty, proclaimed the preteen a “sex offender.”  As it has for hundreds of thousands of others, that label sealed his fate.  After spending most of his teenage years in a juvenile facility, Brandon—whose full name has been omitted to protect his privacy—would still have to register as a sex offender when he came home.

Except he couldn’t actually go home. 

That’s because his parents’ house was located in a “child safety zone,” which can cover hundreds of yards around any place that kids congregate, from schools to parks to movie theaters. 

He, like 44 percent of all registered youth who are listed as “sex offenders,”  soon became homeless. And because he was homeless, he couldn’t provide authorities with a permanent address, which is a registration requirement; so he soon ended up behind bars again. 

Similar anecdotes of young lives ruined by this country’s sex crime registration laws—which are unparalleled in most of the world—abound. 

Roughly 200,000 of the 835,000 individuals currently on registries were minors when they were placed on the list.   This legal practice routinely brands kids— some as young as eight years old—as sex offenders. They are there for a spectrum of offenses that can include serious crime, but also for actions like playing “doctor,” streaking and consensual underage sex.