Should Kids Be Listed as Sex Offenders?

Shawn Murphy, who is hoping to go to college, talked like somebody who had been rehabilitated at the meeting last week to decide whether he would be thrown out of high school just months before he was to graduate. In the end, school officials decided to allow him to receive his degree, though he was barred from attending classes for the rest of the year.

"It was a situation where we had to make a decision about his education, and he's entitled to it," said Bob McCurdy, superintendent of the Russell School District. "It is a relief to parents who had anxieties, and the diploma takes care of the young man. It was in everyone's best interests that he do that, and the board was happy to grant that."

For others who were juvenile sex offenders, being treated the same way as an adult would mean not being able to fully participate in their own children's lives, according to the founding director of Save Our TexSons, a Texas-based group that is trying to get the state to be more flexible in how it deals with youthful offenders, depending on the nature of their crime.

Save Our TexSons is focused on the kinds of cases when a teenager of 17, 18 or 19 has consensual sex with a younger teen, either in ignorance of his or her partner's real age or during an ongoing relationship, and when no force or coercion is involved.

Among the stories posted on the group's Web site are tales in which the sex offender is now married to his or her victim, and they have children, but the sex offender is barred from taking their children to day care, attending school meetings and in some cases visiting other family members because of where they live.

The group was started by three longtime friends after the teenage son of one was labeled a sex offender because, the group says, he had sex with a 14-year-old who told him she was 17.

State laws vary on how juvenile sex offenders are dealt with, and if or when their names are added to the sex offender registries.

In Iowa, for example, not every juvenile sex offender is placed on the sex offender registry Web site, and most do not wind up with their names on the list. The law says a judge can decide whether a minor must register.

Robert Blink, a former Iowa juvenile court judge, said several factors such as the age of the offender, the relationship to the victim, and the nature and severity of the offense weigh into a judge's decision. If a sex offender is under the age of 20 at the time of the offense and the victim is 14 or 15 years of age, the offender cannot be placed on the registry's Web site.

But perhaps the most important consideration, Blink said, is whether the juvenile is likely to commit another sex crime.

ABC News affiliate WOI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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