Righting a horrible wrong: children registered as sex offenders
Reprinted in full with permission; first published in the Delaware Daily State News Oc. 26, 2023
By Margaret . . . Kudos to our legislators for passing House Bill 186 during Delaware’s 2023 legislative session and to Gov. John Carney for signing the bill into law. HB 186 will provide pathways off the Delaware Sex Offender Central Registry for our children. It is important for Delawareans to know that the multitude of sexual offense laws in our state apply to every single person, regardless of age or gender. No one is exempt.
The most recent publicly available statistics, from 2011, show 639 children on the registry, 55 of whom were under age 12. Sadly, the growing body of overreaching, all-inclusive sexual offense laws meant to protect our children can potentially cause them great harm. A child of almost any age may be adjudicated as a sexual offender. Once on the registry, the anonymity of a child is often compromised, resulting in their being bullied, physically attacked by their peers, or worse. In some cases, the entire family may be harassed.
For some offenses, Delaware children are sent out of state to juvenile detention facilities, exposing them to “hardened” juveniles who often prey upon them. These children, often now traumatized themselves, are returned to Delaware at age 18 and placed on the publicly accessible registry as an adult and assigned as a Tier II registered sexual offender (for 25 years) or Tier III (for life) — this, for a “crime” committed as a child.
Delaware’s sexual offender registry is publicly available. In addition, registrants’ employers, landlords, neighbors and schools are notified by law enforcement. The ostracism toward those who “wear” the label “sexual offender” creates high levels of joblessness, homelessness, and exclusion from educational opportunities. It negates opportunities for rehabilitation, restoration, and redemption. Registrants’ families suffer collateral damage, as well, by being threatened, harassed, and having their property vandalized.
It is incumbent for everyone, especially parents, to acquaint themselves with the many sexual offense laws in our state. An act that may seem innocent, such as consensual touching, may be punishable as a sexual offense. Protect your children from the laws that are meant to protect them, as they may become victims of those very laws.
Margaret is executive director of DARSOL, NARSOL’s affiliated orgainzation in Delaware.