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Should Juveniles Be on the Sex Offender List?

In 2006, the federal government passed the Adam Walsh Child Safety and Protection Act, which made funds available to states that adopted its recommendations. In 2012, Pennsylvania qualified with the Sex Offender Registration Notification Act (SORNA). Under SORNA, any sex offender over the age of 14 must submit to registration requirements for at least 25 years. Many people — especially parents — support the idea of publicly available sex offender lists, since many of these criminals are repeat offenders. Others are questioning whether this penalty should be applied to juveniles.

Three Pennsylvania judges have declared it unconstitutional to treat juvenile sex offenders so harshly, especially since their recidivism rates are much lower than adult offenders. Teenagers may commit sexual offenses because of a lack of impulse control or poor judgment, not because they have predatory inclinations. Others may be acting out because they experienced sexual abuse themselves. Sexual offenses do need to be addressed, no matter the age of the perpetrator, but stigmatizing young teens as dangerous sex offenders may do more harm than good.

Those on the SORNA registry must confirm their personal identification information, including residence and employment, every 90 days. Inclusion on a sex offender registry can negatively affect many opportunities for a young person, including:

  • College
  • Employment
  • Housing

Juvenile sex offenders may also be harassed or shunned by members of their community instead of getting effective treatment and support.

It is highly likely that the issue of mandatory registration for juvenile sex offenders will go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In the meantime, if your child is arrested on a criminal sex charge, your best course of action is to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney who can protect the legal rights of your child and fight to get a sensible and appropriate outcome.

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