22 May 2006
Experts differ on how to handle kids who commit sex crimes
Experts have differing opinions on whether it's appropriate to force juveniles to register as sex offenders. The number of cases involving juvenile sexual offenders seems to be increasing, but some officials say it's wrong to treat kids the same way as adult sexual predators, The Journal Gazette reported Sunday. Sex offender registries can enhance public awareness, but they also can inflame public response if people don't understand the nature of the offenses, said Charles Onley, a research associate at the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the U.S. Department of Justice. "To expose someone to the registry, you want to heighten public safety, but you may also be labeling someone that hasn't really been defined as a sex offender," he said.
Young people who commit sex crimes may have problems understanding boundaries, but often are not driven by the same impulses that drive pedophiles, said therapist Rick Morris, who has spent more than 10 years working with teens and children involved with sexual abuse. Federal statistics from the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth show that adolescent sex offenders generally have fewer numbers of victims than adult offenders, and, on average, engage in less aggressive behavior. The government also said that most do not meet the accepted criteria for pedophilia � sexual attraction to prepubescent children. But Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Carolyn Foley, who heads the division that investigates juvenile crime, said adolescent sex crimes still are serious. "I don't file charges against kids who are sexually experimenting appropriately," Foley said. "This is not kids playing 'doctor.' This is sexually inappropriate behavior among two kids who are under 15."
Morris said evidence shows that children and adolescents who sexually offend respond to treatment better than adults. Charging a child with child molesting is a difficult decision, Foley said, and it's impossible to predict who will re-offend and who will not. "No one has a crystal ball and can predict the future 100 percent of the time," she said. "When you're making the decision to label the child as a child molester, you have to understand that that is a label that kid is going to be carrying for the rest of their life. You have to be comfortable ethically and morally with the decision."
21 May 2006
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