December 10, 2018 Practice Points

Ten Ways Youth Sex Offender Registration Harms Kids

Registering youth does not make children and communities safer—it perpetuates the cycle of child sexual abuse and causes irreparable harm.

By Riya Saha Shah

Research shows that sex offender registries do not make children and communities safer; instead they perpetuate the cycle of child sexual abuse and cause irreparable harm to registered children and their families. Here are 10 ways that sex offender registration harms children.

  1. Registration renders youth vulnerable to sexual predation. A 2017 study reveals that registered children are nearly twice as likely to have experienced an unwanted sexual assault that involved contact or penetration in the past year, when compared to nonregistered children who have also engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behaviors. They are also five times more likely to report having been approached by an adult for sex in the past year.
  2. Registration increases the likelihood of youth suicide. Children on sex offender registries are four times more likely to report a recent suicide attempt compared to non-registered children who have engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior.
  3. Registered youth and their families face the danger of vigilante justice. More than fifty percent of registered youth report experiencing violence or threats of violence against themselves or family members that they directly attribute to their registration. Instead of protecting communities, registering youth puts children’s safety at risk.
  4. Registration exposes youth to unnecessary stigma. Registration labels youth as “sex offenders,” falsely communicating to the world that the youth is untrustworthy, possesses other negative character traits, merits punishment, or is likely to commit crimes in the future.
  5. The stigma of registration as a sex offender affects youths’ relationships. Stigmatization from sex offender labeling frequently translates to real and concrete harm to young offenders, including social isolation and ostracism by peers. This deprives youth of sources of psychological support at the precise time they most need community acceptance.
  6. Registration interferes with positive psychological development. Long-term sex offender labeling, like that imposed by youth registration, is likely to interrupt the natural process of developing a positive, healthy self-identity and undermine the goals of rehabilitation. Once a society labels youth as “deviant,” they begin to act as “deviants” act. In other words, labeling a child as a sex offender is “a negative self-fulfilling prophecy,” and children “tend to live up, or rather down, to those expectations.”
  7. Registration interrupts educational progress. Youth report being denied access to or experiencing severe interruptions in their education due to registration.
  8. Registered youth have difficulty finding and keeping employment. Youth report losing their jobs or not being hired when an employer learns of their sex offender status—and of being categorically barred from certain professions altogether.
  9. Registration can lead to housing insecurity and homelessness. Youth may lose their housing: lifetime registrants are ineligible for public housing, and some private landlords refuse to rent to registered individuals.
  10. Registration disproportionately affects marginalized youth. Youth of color and youth who identify as LGBTQ are overrepresented on sex offender registries.

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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