Currently in Texas, there are about 4,000 people on the permanent sex offender registry for crimes they committed as juveniles–in some cases, when they were as young as 10 years-old. The case of a 12-year-old Texan girl who was recently arrested for sexual assault has raised the question of whether it’s ethical to register juveniles as sex offenders.
The girl was playing with four other children–two girls who are 5 and 7, and two boys who are 4 and 5–at her apartment. The kids, who frequently play together, were in the care of the boyfriend of the older girl’s mother. He told them they were being too noisy and asked them to play in another room. All four younger children later reported that the 12-year-old had forced the girls to perform oral sex on the boys. She was subsequently arrested and remains in custody, awaiting a hearing.
The mother of two of the victims–who is also the accused girl’s aunt–has spoken out against the possibility that her niece could be registered as a sex offender. “I think being registered as a child [sex] offender for the rest of her life is going to hinder her from ever doing anything in her life,” she said. “At 12, I think therapy is where they need to be.”
The aunt also pointed out the (not surprising) likelihood that the 12-year-old was molested herself by one of her mother’s ex-boyfriend’s, who has since landed in jail for molesting an 11 year-old.
Experts agree with the aunt’s compassionate stance. According to the Dallas Morning News, experts in juvenile justice “say public registration of juveniles contradicts the purpose of juvenile justice: to give kids a second chance.” I absolutely agree, particularly given that numerous studies have found that the vast majority of juvenile sexual offenders were themselves abused as children. Rather than being punished for life–which only encourages youth to continue the cycle of abuse, since they are already known as sexual offenders in the eyes of the world–these children need intense therapy and loving relationships with adults.
I applaud the 12-year-old’s aunt for her willingness to forgive her children’s abuser, and help her get the treatment she needs. With that attitude, I have no doubt that she is getting her own children the appropriate counseling and treatment they need to process what happened to them, in order to break the chain of abuse.
Would you be equally forgiving if you were in the aunt’s place?