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The Most Likely Age of Sex Offenders: They Aren't Old People—They're 14.

Why so young? Because people tend to have sex with other people their own age.

OffenderDreamstimeMy piece in today's New York Post will probably surprise folks who think the sex offender registry is filled with middle-aged men arrested for luring kids into white vans with the promise of puppies—or even, in a new twist, Pokemon.

But in fact, the most common age that people are charged with a sex offense is 14. That's according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. Why so young? I explain:

Because people tend to have sex with people around their own age, which means young people tend to have sex with other young people. And much under-age sex is illegal.

So we keep throwing kids on the registry and labeling them sex offenders, as if they're incorrigible monsters. But in Britain, a study recently commissioned by Parliament has recommended a totally different course: Trying to understand, treat and refrain from labeling the kids, since children often "make mistakes as they start to understand their sexuality and experiment with it."

Of course, recognizing that young people experiment would require politicians and law enforcement to also recognize that people can do dumb things, even sexual things, and not be irredeemable monsters. Right now, that's not a big political talking point. 

So instead, over one fourth of the people we label "sex offenders" get that name when they themselves are juveniles. Considering the registry has over 800,000 people on it, we're talking about more than 200,000 people who get put on the list while they are in middle school or high school.

What happens when we turn teens and even tweens into sex offenders?

The punishment and stigma can follow them for years, even decades. A study by Human Rights Watch gave the example of Jacob, a boy found guilty of inappropriately touching his sister when he was 11

Because this got him placed on the sex offender registry, he was not allowed to live near other children, including siblings. So he was sent to live in a juvenile home, and eventually placed with foster parents.

Now 26, Jacob is still on the sex-offender registry, still unable to live near a school, playground or park. (Even though study after study has shown these residency restrictions do not make the public any safer.) Meantime, he has had a hard time finding work, because who wants to hire a sex offender?

And so, concluded Human Rights Watch, "his life continues to be defined by an offense he committed at age 11" — an offense that most likely didn't indicate anything other than a young man in need of guidance.

In my piece, I also describe an incident that happened in New Jersey: Two 14-year-olds pulled down their pants and, disgustingly, sat on two 12-year-olds' faces. Gross. Reprehensible. But the punishment was even moreso.

Under Megan's Law, they are now sex offenders, on the registry…for life. 

An appellate court upheld the sentence in 2011, so both young men will be on the sex-offender registry until they die. As 40-year-olds, heck, as 80-year-olds, they'll be treated as perennial perverts for something they did in junior high.

This is not only horrifying, it flies in the face of what we have learned about sex offenders (and not just the young ones), which is that contrary to public perception, the vast majority of people on the registry never offend again.

In short: Not only is the age that people get on the registry appalling, but so is the registry itself, which has been shown over and over again not to make our kids any safer.

The sex offender laws keep getting more extreme and over-reaching, because pointless excess is an easy way for politicians to act as if they care about kids and safety…while actually ruining people's lives. Including a lot of 14-year-olds.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

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  • Ted S.||

    Why does Lenore Skenazy hate the children?

  • Brochettaward||

    Only thing I'm reading here is that Reason wants all of our children to be raped by perverts. Why does Reason hate children so much?

  • usuallyrite||

    I have to agree that while parents think they are protecting their children from the monsters on the registry - they are not protecting them from the insidious monsters in their own lives that they trust such as baby sitters, uncles, cousins, neighbors, step dads, coaches . . .

  • Brochettaward||

    Without these common sense pedophile regulations, who is going to protect my daughter from rapey young boys like the two future frat bros in the stock photo?

  • Pay up, Palin's Buttplug!||

    They're playing video games not football. They're not frat boy material unless it's a frat for nerds.

  • usuallyrite||

    That is the point, the regulations don't protect anyone. Most of the people arrested are not on the registry because nobody is looking at "good" people. There isn't an epidemic of sex crimes. We've made sex criminal and are starting to "witch hunt" people who have sex.

  • R C Dean||

    Because people tend to have sex with other people their own age.

    Well, maybe the poor people do.

  • Lee Genes||

    And the reason we have sex offender registries like this?

    Because of "people" like Sarah who write on Lenore's blog:

    Normally I totally agree with FRK, but not in this case. 14 is way too old to be pulling pranks like that. And Dennis the Menace–are you kidding? Sitting naked on someone's face is not a mischievous, slap-on-the-wrist kind of thing.
  • Lee Genes||

    Good lord, the stupid, it burns...

    Okay let me rephrase it Uly: it would be sexual if they did it and either of the parties were homosexual. Then there would be something sexual about it. But if none of the boys are homosexual then it would not be a sexual thing to me. I guess if they did it to two lesbian girls and they were two homosexual guys then it would not be sexual either. Basically if anyone's privates are being forced on someone that may be attracted to them or that they are attracted to that makes it sexual in my opinion. That is just my opinion though, I don't know the law about that.
  • SugarFree||

    I just don't know what to say.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Sitting naked on someone's face is not a mischievous, slap-on-the-wrist kind of thing.

    It usually costs extra.

  • Brochettaward||

    Without knowing all the details, it sounds like something a kid would have gotten their asses kicked for in the past (either by a parent or a sibling of the mark). But we live in a society where everything needs to be punished to the max.

  • Lee Genes||

    It's stupid and worthy of punishment but in no way qualifies for the modern version of a scarlet letter.

    As a society we've lost our fucking minds.

  • SugarFree||

    Or just call it assault. Mens rea, FFS.

  • Brochettaward||

    I don't know, call me crazy, but most dumb shit kids do in no way requires law enforcement or state intervention of any kind. And I'll stick to that. Unless someone was seriously injured or died or large amounts of property damage were done.

    People have ways of dealing with these sorts of things throughout all of human history that didn't involve the state.

  • thrakkorzog||

    Meh I could see it may be worth a day or two in juvie or maybe school suspension if it happened on school grounds. It's a little bit past just boys being boys, so there should be a large enough punishment to know that they fucked up, but it's not worth ruining their lives over.

  • usuallyrite||

    If someone touched me as a child, my dad wouldn't call the police. He'd ask the perp to step outside. I have to admit though, when I was 15 I spent about six months with a teacher. Being a victim is the last thing I would call the best year of my adolescent life.

  • Ymmarta||

    Is it considered abuse if the teacher looks like Edward Cullen?

  • ||

    Sitting naked on someone's face is not a mischievous, slap-on-the-wrist kind of thing.

    My kingdom for a rail gun!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Of course, recognizing that young people experiment would require politicians and law enforcement to also recognize that people can do dumb things...

    Not charging them with crimes means they don't get to pore over photographic and video evidence.

  • WTF||

    A study by Human Rights Watch gave the example of Jacob, a boy found guilty of inappropriately touching his sister when he was 11

    How the fuck does this even become a police matter in the first place?

  • kinnath||

    The sister told someone (most likely a mandatory reporter).

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I am appalled that Skenazy used a photo of a young Soave for this story. He has to deal with the hair jokes, the Milo comparisons, fruit sushi comments, and now this? Poor fella.

  • Ymmarta||

    14-year-olds can't even drive in most jurisdictions. Why are today's parents so inept at monitoring their children's behavior?

  • Ken Shultz||

    You must be kidding.

    Where to start? That you can't watch your kids every minute of every day, or that today's parents are far too prone to monitoring their children's behavior?

  • Ymmarta||

    As long as parents are legally responsible for their minor children's food, shelter and clothing, they have every right to monitor their behavior.

  • IndyEleven||

    " the vast majority of people on the registry never offend again."

    Clearly proof that it works! Why should we abandon this vital tool?

  • usuallyrite||

    I cheated on a test and got caught. I never did it again. Punishment and the shame of getting caught is a deterrent. Not living at 263 Prinsengracht Street.

  • jwharm||

    States with higher rates of air conditioning have higher rates of crime. Air conditioning increases crime.

    The professor of criminology who taught research methods when I was in college often declared that "lots of things cause lots of things." It's actually the weather that affects crime rates. Beware of spurious relationships.

    There are so many other factors in play here regarding recidivism among sex offenders. You cannot assume that the low recidivism rate is a result of the registries.

  • Brochettaward||

    It is better that ten innocent persons suffer than that one guilty escapes.

    Or something like that.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Protect some children by putting other children on a list and ruining their lives? Needing to persuade politicians not to mistreat kids is a great reason not to give them power over our children in the first place.

    I'm becoming more of a fallibilist all the time--not just in science but in everything.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallibilism

    The things that are mostly like to be true or work are the things that have survived the most rigorous scrutiny.

    If a law hasn't survived a hundred years of rigorous scrutiny, chances are it's a bad law.

    If a new law violates some old principle that has survived centuries of scrutiny--maybe since Roman times? Chances are it's a bad law.

    There's this thing called "evolution"; it's when nature subjects life to rigorous scrutiny over long periods of time (see the implications of fallibilism again). Evolution has taught us nothing if not that parents are pretty good at raising their children.

    And if 6,000 years of recorded history aren't enough to convince us of that, look to physical anthropology or primatology to tell us how well parents did before then. If governments interfered with the way bonobos raise their children as much as they do homo sapiens children now, the pygmy chimpanzee might already be extinct.

  • Ken Shultz||

    At the very least, children should only be put on a sex offender list at the discretion of a judge during sentencing.

    Even then, if they stay on the list indefinitely for something they did when they were 14, that's cruel and unusual punishment as far as I'm concerned.

  • usuallyrite||

    Every kid with a cell phone is probably guilty of creating, distributing and receiving child pornography. The logic is that this is a deviant behavior and when they become adults they will continue it as such. There is no cure for being human so the registry is the only thing we can think of though, it doesn't protect us from the people not on it.

  • Brian||

    This is government trying to help.

    You've got a kid doing inappropriate things. What do you do?

    Why, with the blunt instrument of the state, you lock him up and put him on an undesirables' list. That's what. Then, we sit back and wait a few decades, pondering tweaks through the democratic process.

    I look forward to the government solving more social justice issues, with its sensical, science-driven approach to iterative problem-solving.

  • Pay up, Palin's Buttplug!||

    Two 14-year-olds pulled down their pants and, disgustingly, sat on two 12-year-olds' faces. […] Under Megan's Law, they are now sex offenders, on the registry…for life.

    So… would a teenager taping another teen's butt cheeks together with athletic tape also get them on the sex offender registry?

  • Brian||

    +1 Breakfast Club

  • IceTrey||

    Thank god the cops never caught me and the girl down the street playing "show me yours" when we were 5.

  • Jimbo||

    OMWC hardest hit

  • Henry Baker||

    I'm amazed at how many of you idiots support this draconian shit that's totally devoid of reason or common sense.

    Will this shithole country NEVER get out of its goddamned Puritanism?

  • EscherEnigma||

    I blame the baby boomers.

  • Robert||

    That's the pain of being the subject of a stock photo: You never know the context.

  • Robert||

    children often "make mistakes as they start to understand their sexuality and experiment with it."


    What mistakes? Sex is good!

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