Before anyone gets all over me, yes, I acknowledge that there are some children who commit particularly heinous, purposeful crimes - sexual or not - and they need to be TREATED (treated, not punished) differently than others. But the majority of "juvenile sex offenders" we hear about in the news are not violent or dangerous kids. Troubled, perhaps - in certain circumstances. The truth is, the majority of us over the age of 18 have probably committed acts as teens that would have us labeled "sex offenders" - especially if our entire adolescence was probed and analyzed by people looking for problems.
Calling adolescence the period of life that most of us associate with angst, awkwardness and confusion - where parents lament the skimpy outfits of their daughters and sons lock themselves in their bedrooms with Sears catalogs - approaches unbearably cliche. "High school" has provided us with the plot for thousands of movies over the years involving the intricacies of hooking up, sneaking out and losing one's virginity; and even more recently, TV shows on cable television that glamorize teenage pregnancy have gained following with not just teenagers, but their parents too! Just how is it that for the most part, our society accepts and even embraces this attitude when it comes to kids and sex - but when someone mentions the term "sex offender", out come the pitchforks and utter inability to even consider anything other than terrifying monsters?
It is funny how the media and lawmakers use children to their advantage. When justifying the public sex offender registry, "child safety" is the go-to excuse. We get images of angelic little children in our heads, dressed in adorable outfits, out on picnics or at the beach or hugging their parents. The idea of someone doing harm to such helpless, innocent creatures makes us sad and angry, and since the registry and sex offenders are portrayed as the most likely source of this horror, suddenly we turn into spiteful, hateful, vengeful people willing to latch on to anything that sounds like it represents our emotions. But too often, we are fooled into projecting those emotions onto people who have not, and will not, commit those acts. Often, those people are children themselves - the very "angels" that are the source of our emotion.
KOIN Local 6 news in Washington State reported a story earlier this week about a "sex offender coming to Woodland High". Sounds scary - was it a maintenance man, a substitute teacher, or a school administrator? No. It was a 15-year-old child, convicted of an unspecified "sex crime" committed when he was 13. He had completed his sentence and was now attempting to return to school. Apparently, it was a slow week for KOIN, and they decided to cause an uproar among parents by exploiting a child himself for the supposed reasons of "child safety".
A 13-year-old child cannot legally buy cigarettes, alcohol, firearms or pornography. A 13-year-old child cannot vote, drive a car, or hold a job. In most states, a 13-year-old child who engages in sexual behavior with someone just one year older than them is considered a "victim". Who in their right mind believes that a 13-year-old can understand and plan for the moral and legal consequences of sexual activity - but not for smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer? At one point does a child go from innocent, precious and worthy of protection by any means necessary - to a dangerous, predatory "sex offender" worthy of local news-level humiliation and judgment?
How can we possibly claim to care about children when we are so willing to destroy them when they make mistakes?