The Justice Department Prosecuted A 10-Year-Old As A 'Sex Offender'
Lawyers for the unnamed boy are appealing a court's ruling that found him "delinquent" - the juvenile equivalent of guilty - for having sex with other young boys on an Arizona Army base.
That boy was sentenced to five years of probation, and he's being forced to register as a sex offender. A federal prosecutor told the Journal that the government decided to prosecute the boy because of the "severity of the conduct" involving five boys between the ages of 5 and 7.
The boy's public defender, Keith Hilzendeger, told the Journal he'd never heard of a federal case involving a 10-year-old. "I think this is really overreaching on the part of the government," he said.
Perhaps the worst part of the case involving Hilzendeger's client is his placement on the sex offender registry. In 2007, The New York Times Magazine had a moving story about the stigma and trauma inflicted on young people who were officially registered as "sex offenders."
One boy profiled in that story, Johnnie, had molested his half-sister when he was 11 and she was 4. Four years later, he started the eighth grade at his Delaware middle school and noticed the other kids pointing at him and laughing.
"Hey, aren't you a sex offender?" one boy asked.
The latest case involving the Arizona Army base being heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit could force the government to justify putting kids on sex offender registries. In the end, the benefit to public safety may not outweigh the harm to the young children on that list, many of whom may be victims of sexual abuse themselves.