When he was a young boy, he was sexually abused. At age 16, his parents learned, he’d molested a young girl himself, reports The Tennessean. He was criminally charged and convicted, and because of that, got treatment. But his name was never part of a public registry. Had that happened, his mother said, the boy might have forgone treatment and headed down a much darker path of abuse.
This year, Tennessee legislators will be asked to add juveniles convicted of sex crimes to public sex offender registries. That would represent the last piece of a broad set of sex crime laws ordered up by the federal government to better shield children from sexual and violent crimes. The state has asked for a one-year extension to get the last pieces of the law in place; without it, federal funding for law enforcement could be lost. Though the federal government has pushed for the law, adding young offenders to public databases has been controversial. A state prosecutors group says offenders under age 18 convicted of sex crimes should show up on registries. “They are as much of a threat to the people of this state as an adult,” said Wally Kirby of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference. “Most of the kids who commit crimes like this [are] 16, 17, 18 years old.” Others say making young offenders’ names public can impair treatment that could keep them from committing more serious crimes as adults, especially when the accused were once victims of abuse themselves.