The irreparable harm of placing children on sex offender registries in the US

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Jacob C. was 11 years old and living in Michigan when he was tried in juvenile court for touching, without penetrating, his sister's genitals. Found guilty of one count of criminal sexual conduct, Jacob was placed on Michigan's sex offender registry and prevented by residency restriction laws from living near other children. This posed a problem for his family - Jacob's parents were separated, his father lived in Florida, and Jacob could not live in the same house as his little sister. As a result, he was placed in a juvenile home. When Jacob was 14 - and still unable to return home - he became the foster child of a pastor and his wife. According to Jacob, the couple helped him to "deal with the trauma" of growing up on the registry.

Since his offense fell under juvenile court jurisdiction, Jacob was placed on a non-public registry. But that changed when he turned 18 during his senior year in high school, and his status as a sex offender became public. Parents of his schoolmates tried to get him expelled and he had to "fight to walk across the stage" at graduation. Jacob attended a local university in Big Rapids, Michigan, but ended up dropping out. "{I was} harassed for being on the registry," he said. "The campus police followed me everywhere." [...]

At one point, for example, Jacob's home was too close to a school and he had to move. Another time, he failed to register a new address after a period of homelessness and was arrested and convicted of the felony of failure to register. [...] [W]hen the court in that case learned of Jacob's felony conviction for failure to register, the judge denied him custody of his daughter, citing Florida's Keeping Children Safe Act and the fact that Jacob had a criminal felony conviction for failure to register. Jacob continues to fight for custody and visitation but cannot afford a lawyer because he has been unable to find a job. Now age 26, Jacob was removed from the registry in Michigan in 2011, but remains on the registry in Florida, and his life continues to be defined by an offense he committed at age 11.

Jacob's story is not unique. Throughout the United States, people who commit sex offenses as children (also referred to in this report as "youth sex offenders") must comply with a complex array of legal requirements that apply to all sex offenders, regardless of age. Upon release from juvenile detention or prison, youth sex offenders are subject to registration laws that require them to disclose continually updated information including a current photograph, height, weight, age, current address, school attendance, and place of employment. Registrants must periodically update this information so that it remains current in each jurisdiction in which they reside, work, or attend school. Often, the requirement to register lasts for decades and even a lifetime. Although the details about some youth offenders prosecuted in juvenile courts are disclosed only to law enforcement, most states provide these details to the public, often over the Internet, because of community notification laws. Residency restriction laws impose another layer of control, subjecting people convicted of sexual offenses as children to a range of rules about where they may live. Failure to adhere to registration, community notification, or residency restriction laws can lead to a felony conviction for failure to register, with lasting consequences for a young person's life.

source: Article 'Raised on the Registry - The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US'; www.hrw.org/report/2013/05/01/raised-registry/irreparable-harm-placing-children-sex-offender-registries-us; Human Rights Watch; 1 May 2013