Texas is one of about 40 states that put children on sex offender registries; half make those registries public. NPR describes the case of one man who went through an adolescent sex offender therapy program, and, by the time he was 18, was ready to start fresh. He says being registered made that impossible. As a registered sex offender he struggled to find a landlord or a boss who would accept him. He went to community college for a while, but when other kids were baring their souls over late night conversations on campus, he stayed silent. Courts and legislatures in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming, have started to question the practice of registering juveniles.
Nicole Pittman, a director at the advocacy group Impact Justice, says, “We are criminalizing normative child sexual behavior in large fashion,” she says. The practice of registering juveniles developed in the ’90s, when a series of federal and state laws establishing registries ran head-on into the child super predator scare. In 2006, a federal law started to hold back funding to states that didn’t register kids for certain sex crimes. Pittman says the result is that kids are labelled as sex offenders for acting like kids. “We have kids that are on the registry for streaking at a football game, peeing at a park,” she says, “Romeo-and-Juliet-type offenses where you have a 17-year-old dating a 14-year-old. That person goes on the registry.” Pittman has interviewed hundreds of kids on sex offender registries, and she says at least 20 percent of them had attempted suicide.