Juvenile Sex Offenders and the Law

This NY Times Magazine article (registration may be necessary) raises the issue of juvenile sex offenders. Treating them the same as adult sex offenders has some disturbing implications. Though a lot of these kids (mostly males, but one female is mentioned in the article) have done some seriously bad things, treating them as adults may worsen things. Publishing their names/addresses on the Internet, for example, is par for the course with adult sex offenders per Megan’s Law, but what about in the cases of younger sex offenders?

In the case of one fourteen year old girl who fondled a seven year old (when she was eleven), her identification on the Internet registry led to:

Bad things have happened to these kids who were identified. But wouldn’t most parents want to know if their children are going to school with a child who’s committed that sort of crime? There’s obviously got to be a better way of sorting out the kids who are dangerous to their peers with the ones who just made stupid mistakes.

Mark Chaffin of the University of Oklahoma suggests that children who offend are qualitatively different than adult sex offenders. Considering what a dangerous crime child molestation is, how we view children who may or may not grow up to become dangerous important. That is, are young kids committing sex crimes broadcasting huge warning signs of danger to come? Or are they just exercising poorer impulse control, something that has a much better chance of being corrected as they develop?

Some of the cases, such as this one:

the action is ambiguous. No penetration or force was involved–is this a case of abuse or a case of childhood experimentation between siblings? Obviously, no way of knowing from the article. But with children who have no real idea of sex and its implications, how do we decide what’s dangerous? and does the law always need to be brought in? (Apparently not in this case.)

Basically, my questions are: if juvenile sex offenders should be treated differently than adults, then how? How do we draw the line between giving them the chance to have a somewhat normal childhood/adolescence and keeping kids around them safe? And how do we decide what’s in the range of experimentation/playing doctor with someone who happens to be younger and a sex offender/abuser?

I dunno, but innocent sexual exploration among young kids is pretty common, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Intent must be taken into account. Kids 12 and under for the most part are innocent and by simply questioning them any social worker or prosecutor can determine what the intent of the persons involved in a particular incident were. Also, there would be the possiblility of recording a history of certain aggressive youths and using that to assist with a decision.
We cannot have a blanket law that involves sexual awareness/experimentation with younger people.
Most of us did something similar to this when we were younger. There’d be a lot of Dopers on such a list, I’d bet.

That makes sense. Plus, considering that when a younger child experiments with an (even younger) sibling/friend, it’s often because that’s who they’re around. An adult who goes out of their way to seek out children for sex–that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

The danger seems to be when is it just “playing doctor” versus when is it a sign that a child has been abused/is going to abuse others?