When juveniles are found guilty of sexual misconduct
Please read this intense article by Sarah Stillman, staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
The following is truncated and an excerpt of her post, due to the length and explicitness of the full article. link: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/14/when-kids-are-accused-of-sex-crimes
[first four paragraphs in disassociate order]
One afternoon, after watching movies with her new step-siblings, ten-year-old Leah mimicked having sex with them—“like we’d seen in the movies,” she says—and then, by her account, exposed herself to the younger kids. It happened several more times, she said.
Later that year, DuBuc recounts, a law-enforcement officer visited her elementary-school class and told the students to inform a trusted adult if they had been subject to abuse. DuBuc remembers complaining to him about mistreatment at home; when authorities arrived to investigate, she says, they learned of her sexual misbehavior. According to another family member, however, one of DuBuc’s step-siblings talked about her actions to a therapist, who then alerted the authorities. (As is often true in such cases, the details may be impossible to establish definitively.)
Amid extensive therapeutic interventions, DuBuc was charged with eight counts of criminal sexual conduct, in the first and second degree. The prosecutor, Marilyn Bradford, insists, “There were a lot of scary things that happened to the victims in the case—ongoing things that happened to the little siblings.” But DuBuc’s court-appointed clinical social worker, Wendy Kunce, noted that at the time “there was a history of ‘charging large.’ ”
At the age of twelve, DuBuc arrived in juvenile court for a series of hearings. Her father, a mechanic, drove her to the courthouse, but he didn’t fully grasp the implication of the charges. (DuBuc’s interviews with authorities often occurred without the presence of a parent or a guardian.) Moments before stepping in front of a judge, DuBuc met with her court-appointed attorney, alone. She remembers giggling when she had to say the words “penis” and “vagina,” and when her fingerprints were taken, she told me, “I felt like I was in a movie.”
When I visited DuBuc in Howell last summer, I had already spoken to a number of people who had been accused of sex offenses as juveniles and ended up on a public registry. Some, like DuBuc, had been placed on the registry for things they’d done before they reached their teens.
In Charla Roberts’s living room, not far from Paris, Texas, I learned how, at the age of ten, Roberts had pulled down the pants of a male classmate at her public elementary school. She was prosecuted for “indecency with a child,” and added to the state’s online offender database for the next ten years. The terms of her probation barred her from leaving her mother’s house after six in the evening, leaving the county, or living in proximity to “minor children,” which ruled out most apartments. When I spoke to the victim, he was shocked to learn of Roberts’s fate. He described the playground offense as an act of “public humiliation, instead of a sexual act”—a hurtful prank, but hardly a sex crime. Roberts can still be found on a commercial database online, her photo featured below a banner that reads, “PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM SEX OFFENDERS.”
Most juveniles on the sex-offender registry pose a more daunting public-policy challenge: they have caused sexual harm to other children, through non-consensual touch and other abusive behaviors. Childhood sexual abuse is troublingly widespread. According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of eighteen, and in a third of such cases, the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth says, the offenses were committed by other juveniles. “The single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14,” a study sponsored by the Department of Justice notes.
Often, these incidents go unreported. But the devastation that may result from childhood sexual assault can last a lifetime, fuelling depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts, and other signs of post-traumatic stress. Compounding the original trauma is the fact that victims’ voices are often silenced, sometimes by those in positions of trust or power.
Kids who sexually harm other kids seldom target strangers. A very small number have committed violent rapes. More typical is the crime for which Josh Gravens, of Abilene, Texas, was sent away, more than a decade ago, at the age of thirteen. Gravens was twelve when his mother learned that he had inappropriately touched his eight-year-old sister on two occasions; she sought help from a Christian counselling center, and a staffer there was legally obliged to inform the police. Gravens was arrested, placed on the public registry, and sent to juvenile detention for nearly four years. Now, at twenty-nine, he’s become a leading figure in the movement to strike juveniles from the registry and to challenge broader restrictions that he believes are ineffectual. He has counselled more than a hundred youths who are on public registries, some as young as nine. He says that their experiences routinely mirror his own: “Homelessness; getting fired from jobs; taking jobs below minimum wage, with predatory employers; not being able to provide for your kids; losing your kids; relationship problems; deep inner problems connecting with people; deep depression and hopelessness; this fear of your own name; the terror of being Googled.”
The video of this girl’s legal proceedings can be summarized through this video: http://video.newyorker.com/watch/lifting-a-life-sentence
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