December 2, 2019

BUT IT’S DONE TO PROTECT THE CHILDREN! The Absurdity Of Charging 10-Year-Olds As Sex Offenders.

A ten-year boy has just been charged as a sex offender as a result of a schoolyard game of tag that got out of control. As reported by the local CBS news affiliate: “the fourth-grade students were playing a game of tag that escalated when a boy began making inappropriate comments and movements toward the girls. One of the boys also wrapped his arms around one of the girls.”

Obviously, this incident should not be dismissed as a “boys will be boys” prank. The comments were very sexually aggressive. The boys should be disciplined, and, even more importantly, taught the error of their ways. But charging a 10-year-old as a sex offender is a devastating, merciless response. The boy has been charged with a fourth-degree sexual offense. Even if he avoids prison time, under Maryland law someone convicted with a fourth-degree sexual offense will be put on a sexual offender registry for fifteen years. This casts serious doubt on whether he will ever go to college or find gainful employment.

This sort of devastatingly punitive treatment of children is not an anomaly and it destroys the lives of girls and boys alike. Writing in The New Yorker, Sarah Stillman tells the story of 10-year-old Charla Roberts: “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.”

This is monstrous, and the people doing it are monsters. In a just world, they would be horsewhipped out of town and shunned by all decent people. But we don’t live in a just world. We live in a world in which there is zero tolerance for every infraction, except misbehavior by public officials.

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