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In Texas, Juvenile Sex Offenders Get Virtual Life Sentence

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“Juveniles need to be held accountable, but the punishment needs to be appropriate,” said Pittman. The HRW report recommends that all juveniles be exempted from public registration laws, citing research that shows juvenile sex offenders are both the least likely to re-offend and the most likely to respond to treatment.

Unlike with minors charged with assault or even murder, “When you put a child who commits a sex offense on a public registry, that’s a virtual life sentence,” Pittman said.

Child protection workers visited Dominic’s San Antonio home when he was 15, following a domestic dispute between his mother and her partner. That’s when they first heard of allegations Dominic had molested his sister when he was 13 and she was 11. (Dominic’s family asked that the Current not use his real name).

Dominic spent much of the following year in and out of psychiatric treatment, diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder, his grandmother said in a recent interview. Dominic denied the allegations, but was eventually convicted and taken to a TYC facility convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child.

Dominic’s mother died in a car crash while he was in juvi.

Dominic was released from TYC, put on strict parole, and moved into an apartment by himself on San Antonio’s East Side when he was 19. He couldn’t live with his grandmother, who had custody of his sister, the victim.

Last month, Dominic’s sister signed an affidavit claiming he never molested her, saying she was coerced into making the allegations. Dominic was arrested last month and remains in jail for violating his parole by failing to participate in his treatment program, which requires that he discuss the assault in explicit detail, his grandmother says.

In the past year, Dominic has twice slit his wrists.

“He doesn’t see any way out,” his grandmother said in a tearful interview last week. “He says, ‘I don’t have a life anymore, grandma. Everybody treats me like I’m a beast, like I’m an animal. They wish I was dead. I wish I was dead, too.’”

HRW’s report includes the stories of other juvenile offenders who attempted suicide — including three who succeeded. One, a 17 year old from Michigan, took his life months after the state passed a law to remove offenders from the registry who were under 14 at the time of the offense. “Everyone in the community knew he was on the sex offender registry, it didn’t matter to them that he was removed,” his mother told HRW. “[T]he damage was already done. You can’t un-ring the bell.”

Pittman insists registration laws, which require placing offenders’ photographs and personal information on online registries, also make juvenile offenders, and their families, targets for harassment and violence.

Josh Gravens was 12 when he had sexual contact with his 8-year-old sister. When his worried mother sought help from a Christian counseling center near the family’s home in Abilene, the center reported Gravens to authorities for sexual assault of a child — by law, it was required to do so. Gravens spent three years in a TYC facility. When he got out, he was allowed back into his parents’ home, with his sister, but authorities required his parents put alarms on his windows and a lock outside his door.

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