Every child deserves a childhood. When we label kids as sex offenders, though, we deny them that most basic human right, while doing nothing to benefit society. We punish youthful indiscretions not unpack them, marginalize rather than prevent. Our children deserve better, which is why our mission at the Center for Youth Registration Reform is to eliminate the practice of placing youth on registries.
Child sexual abuse is a grave reality — and must be confronted. So let’s confront it. An effort of this magnitude will, of course, be multifaceted. For our part we are working with state and federal lawmakers to undo misguided youth registration and notification laws and, at the same time, pushing the country to face the fears and misconceptions that drove us to label kids as sex offenders in the first place. Through media and grassroots, the Center is working hard to change the narrative around child sexuality.
The voices of those affected by registration, including survivors and families, are our most essential tool in this undertaking. There are more than 200,000 registrants who went on as minors, some for serious crimes and others for normative behavior, such as playing doctor, streaking or Romeo and Juliet teenage romances. Regardless the offense, though, decades of research show that registration is not an effective response. Not only does it cost the country $3 billion a year, registration does nothing to prevent sexual abuse or reduce recidivism. Instead it drives kids from their homes, prevents them from finding steady work or housing, and for a heartbreaking many ends in suicide.
But amid the suffering is resilience. Armed with this unwavering hope, we are fighting to get youth off registries and giving our children what they’ve always deserved. A childhood. A future.