Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sex-offender Label on Boys Ruins Family's Lives : Sex-offender label on boys unravels family's lives.

In 1998, 7-year-old Mary was sexually assaulted. That's enough sorrow for a lifetime. It gets worse: Her assailants were her brothers, Billy, 12, and Mark, 10.

Their mother, Carol, says watching her adolescent sons shuffle into court – in handcuffs and oversized orange jail jumpsuits rolled up to fit their scrawny frames – for assaulting their sister "just tore my heart out." But the horror was only beginning.

Following the juvenile justice philosophy that children deserve a second chance, the boys received probation, and their delinquency records remained private. But ostensibly to protect the public, their names were added to the sex offender registry.

The Smith sons, now in their 20s, are due to be removed from the registry next year after the 10-year juvenile registration limitation expires. But Carol says the family will never recover from the boys being branded as sex offenders.

"Even though they were 10 and 12 when this happened ... they'll be sex offenders when they die," she says.

The Smith family – whose names have been changed to protect Mary's privacy – is not unique. According to a Dallas Morning News analysis, about 4,000 people are on the Texas sex offender registry for crimes committed as juveniles. About a thousand of them were younger than 14 at the time of their crimes.

"They see the word 'sex offender' and they automatically see it as some horrible monster that took some little girl out somewhere and raped her," she says. "Nobody really cares what the story is."