The Conundrum Of Prosecuting Children For Child Sex Crimes

Not all sex offenders are adults who prey on children. In fact, some sex offenders are children themselves. In a recent post on the American Civil Liberties Union’s blog, the authors discuss a case involving a boy charged with sex crimes for acts he committed when he was just 10 years old. The heavy-handed punishments often given to sex offenders may actually do more harm than good in situations like this.

The U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted the boy in federal court for engaging in sex acts with other young boys who were between five and seven years old. The crimes allegedly occurred on a U.S. Army base in Arizona.

The young defendant was convicted and sentenced to five years of probation and mandatory psychological treatment. While both of these sentence provisions may actually be beneficial in helping the defendant to reform, an additional provision could very well ruin the rest of his life. As part of his sentence, the boy will have to register as a sex offender in some states.

Those forced to register as a sex offender often find it very difficult or even impossible to find a job, find a place to live and/or reintegrate into a community. The label often marks offenders as outcasts for life.

Is this an appropriate sentence for a child? Children who commit sex crimes often do so because they were first victims of abuse. Moreover, statistics show that adolescent sex offenders who receive treatment are very likely to reform and very unlikely to reoffend. In light of this, is there any public safety benefit to be gained by forcing someone so young to register as a sex offender?

The case is currently being reviewed by an appellate court. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and the young defendant will receive a sentence more appropriate to his age and circumstances. 

Source: American Civil Liberties Union, “Prosecution Is Not the Way to Save a 10-Year-Old Child,” Allison Frankel and Sarah Solon, Oct. 10, 2013