“I didn’t know that what I was doing was a crime — that’s not to minimize it — I just didn’t know,” Tyler, now 23, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about his performing oral sex on a younger boy when he was 13. who agreed to talk with the Seattle P-I if identified only by his middle name. He is a registered sex offender for life. Since 1997, more than 3,500 children in Washington state — some as young as 10, though on average about 14 — have been charged and convicted as felony sex offenders, a mark that remains on their records forever, barring them from many professions. It also frightens many into under-the-radar housing arrangements to avoid landlords who require background checks.
“Juvenile sex offenses cannot be sealed — ever — and that’s huge,” said Kim Ambrose, a former public defender who runs the Child and Youth Advocacy Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law. “It messes you up with any public housing or any job that allows you access to children — teaching, coaching, shoot, even cosmetology. The only thing that’s available, basically, is to get a pardon from the governor.” Washington is among the few states to include juveniles in its sex offender management plan, assessing youths with tools designed for adults and funneling them through the courts with adult-sized punishments.