December 05, 2018 Practice Points

Five Facts About Juvenile Sex Offender Registration

By Riya Saha Shah

Sex offender registries were established to keep children and communities safer. But, research shows that registration incorrectly presumes that children who commit sexual offenses are a risk to their communities. Here are five facts, based in research, that lawyers need to know.

  1. Youth who commit sexual offenses in childhood are unlikely to commit a subsequent sex offense. Studies universally confirm that sex offense recidivism among youth is exceptionally low—between 3–5 percent.
  2. Youths’ already low recidivism rates drop off dramatically after a very short period of time. When rare sexual recidivism does occur among young offenders, it is nearly always within the first few years following the original offense.
  3. The severity of a youth’s offense is not predictive of re-offense. Laws that create lengthier terms of registration or no ability to remove youth from registries based on type of offense are inconsistent with research.
  4. Youth who commit sex offenses are similar to youth who engage in non-sexual delinquent behavior. Multiple studies confirm that children who commit sexual offenses are motivated by impulsivity and sexual curiosity, not predatory, paraphilic, or psychopathic characteristics. With maturation, a better understanding of sexuality, and decreased impulsivity, these behaviors stop.
  5. Registering youth who have committed sex offenses does not reduce their already low recidivism rates. A 2008 study found no measurable difference in recidivism rates for registered and unregistered children who committed sexual offenses. In fact, recidivism rates among youth who have committed a sexual offense are lower in states that do not register youth.

If you would like to read more about this topic, our research and sources are available upon request.

Riya Saha Shah is the managing director at Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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