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Editorial Board

Sex offender list shouldn’t include juveniles

On March 30, ABC News reported that a high school student was barred from his classes when he turned 18 and was registered as a sex offender. The registration came five years after Shawn Murphy of eastern Iowa forced his 11-year-old cousin to have sex with him when he was 13.

While his crime was indeed awful and though he will still receive his degree, Murphy should not have been denied the right to attend classes because he should not have been required to register as a sex offender.

In Ohio, not every juvenile sex offender is required to register when they turn 18, said Andrea Kruse, public information officer for the Department of Youth Services of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Whether they are, depends heavily on a judge’s discretion and on when they committed their crime(s). If an offense is committed while a person is 16 or 17, for example, that individual will automatically be registered as a sex offender when he/she turns 18.

While many victims’ advocates feel justice is served through such registration, in the cases of juvenile offenders, this editorial board does not agree. In the specific case of Murphy, it seems drastic to take him from a school he’s been attending because he turns a year older. (Once Murphy turned 18, his name was registered, resulting in his expulsion. Thus, before then, his attending school was acceptable, while days later, he was left to fight — unsuccessfully — to remain in class.)

Juvenile sex offenders should be prosecuted differently than adult sex offenders. Sex can be vaguely outlined for many juveniles, especially in school districts where the discussion of it is limited in order to encourage abstinence. Not all juveniles realize that certain sexual acts are wrong. As Gail Ryan of the National Adolescent Perpetrator Network’s Kempe Children’s Center told ABC, most juvenile sex offenders commit their crimes the way other kids shoplift — they are “pushing the limits.”

Yes, a juvenile sex offender should serve a sentence, but that juvenile should not live the rest of his or her life tagged with a scarlet letter. It doesn’t solve anything. Research demonstrates that labeling juveniles as offenders teaches them to think of themselves as offenders and subsequently to continue committing crimes.

In deciding a juvenile’s punishment, one must also look at a juvenile’s entire history. Just pointing to a crime without taking time to see what counseling an individual underwent and what other things he or she accomplished borders on ignorance.

In this specific situation, after he was convicted of third-degree sexual assault, Murphy did what he was court-ordered to do and continued to attend school with students in kindergarten through 12th grade. No additional problems involving Murphy were reported during this time. But now that he’s 18, he must register, and as a sex offender, he is not permitted to be near those students he’s been walking the halls with. The idea seems absurd.

Murphy has admitted he was wrong. He’s done his time. He was ignorant, as many are at the age of 13. It is not fair or appropriate to make him pay for something like this for the rest of his life.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.