The purpose of the national sex offender registry is to inform the public of potentially dangerous individuals who have previously committed sex crimes. Due to the nature of pedophilia and high recidivism rates of dangerous sex offenders, it is important to keep track of these individuals, however, the registry may be doing more harm than good. Information available on the NSOPW (National Sex Offender Public Website) includes the offenders' home address, registered vehicles and photographs, all of which must be kept up to date. Because this information is public and accessible to anyone, offenders have trouble finding housing and/or jobs and stigmas follow them around for life. While some may be deserving of this punishment due to their violent crimes, others are not, specifically those who commit sex crimes at a young age.
Human Rights Watch published a report regarding children who are forced to register as sex offenders despite the especially low recidivism rate of those who offend as children. They cite Jacob in their report, a resident of Michigan who was tried for touching, without penetrating, his sister's genitals when he was 11-years-old. He was placed on the sex offender registry and when he was 18, the report was made public. Since then, his life has been riddled with hardships as a result of the registry such as struggling to find employment and fighting for custody of his daughter.
In her article for the Boston Review titled "When Kids are Sex Offenders", Sally Mairs cites others who have faced similar struggles with the registry: a 15-year-old girl was charged with manufacturing and disseminating child pornography after taking and posting nude photos of herself and is now facing registration for life, a now 28-year-old woman was charged with criminal sexual contact when she was 10 years old for "flashing" and simulating sex with her 8 and 5-year-old stepbrothers and is required to register until she is 35, and a 13-year old girl was arrested for rape after having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend, her boyfriend was also charged.
Passing legislation that makes punishment for sex crimes more lenient is controversial, but there has been some success. For example, many states have a version of what are known as Romeo and Juliet laws which can potentially lessen a statutory rape conviction. The argument is that a 17-year-old boy who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl should not face the same punishment as a 45-year-old man who has sex with a 15-year-old girl, again, provided that it is consensual. Many states, however, failed to pass laws protecting homosexual relationships in the same way.
Some argue that passing more lenient legislation allowing offenders to keep their names off the registry is irresponsible and could result in more sex crimes and the inability to track repeat offenders. Although those are valid concerns, Romeo and Juliet laws do not prevent serial rapists and pedophiles from having to register, they only prevent minors from being excessively punished for minor age differences.
No law is perfect and compromise is necessary, but lives should not be ruined by being required to register as a sex offender for a trivial offense committed while still a minor. Sexual abuse and child molestation are real problems that need real solutions, but consensual sex between minors and acts committed by young children should not affect an individual for a lifetime.