To Lena Dunham: From A Person Placed on the Sex Offender Registry as a Child


This post comes from CSJ contributor Josh Gravens.

Dear Lena Dunham,

You have been taking some heat for a passage from your book outlining what most psychological and developmental experts would call childhood sexual curiosity, if not just plain curiosity.

I am glad you have defended your actions as a child as just that—childhood exploration.  While the behavior might be considered by a puritanical society as taboo, it should not be a criminalized behavior.

Ms. Dunham, many children around the country did the same thing you did. For example, a 9-year-old in South Carolina is now on the sex offender registry for life, and he also must wear a GPS monitor everywhere he goes. In fact, many states have no minimum age to be placed on the sex offender registry.

I myself was placed on the Texas Sex Offender Registry for a choice made when I was 12 years old. I touched my 8-year-old sister twice.

While my behavior was inappropriate, I believe that three and a half years in prison, four years of parole, intensive and intrusive sex offender treatment, and spending most of my life on the registry were punishments that went far overboard.

In the state of Texas almost 5,000 people on the registry were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense. With lower recidivism rates than any other youth who commits a crime, the lasting implications of sex offender registration have devastating effects.

Many like me have become parents, and our children pay the price for choices made when we were their age. While on the registry I struggled to provide housing, healthcare, and basic necessities to my family. Last year Congress cut food stamp assistance to registrants, making it even more difficult for me to provide for my kids.

Lena, I can say from personal experience that no child should be placed on the sex offender registry. I am glad you were able to live your childhood without being labeled a sex offender. Unfortunately, many people live on the registry today for doing the same type of thing you describe in your book.

I hope that you, too, can agree that children like you should not be labeled as sex offenders. I urge you to look into this further and learn more about the harmful effects of sex offender registries on children and families.

Thank you,
Josh Gravens

Josh Gravens is a Soros Justice Fellow and Chair of Texas Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). He is a father, community organizer, and ardent advocate against placing children on the sex offender registry. @JoshGravensTX

Salon posted an interview with Josh Gravens as a follow-up to this letter.

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  • g4change

    This is an awesome letter. Unfortunately, it is written to a woman who recently opened her large PIE HOLE and stated that computer hackers who stumble across and release nude selfies found on other peoples’ computers, phones, cloud storage, etc. should have to register as sex offenders.
    While I don’t defend anyone hacking into other peoples’ private devices, really, Lena?!?! Register them as sex offenders?!?! Really?!?!
    Personally, based on that statement and with the recent admission that Ms. Dunham revealed in her book, I think it would be pure irony if she ended up on the registry. This is yet another example of how when you point a finger at someone you have 3 pointing back at you. It often seems that the biggest advocates for the registry are those with their own sh*t to hide from their past. It’s as if somehow their past sh*t is easier to deal with if they are demonizing someone else.
    This was a nice letter. Unfortunately, he may as well have written it to Nancy Grace!

    • Ham Rove’s Ghost

      Hackers don’t ‘stumble across’ other people’s private photographs any more than creeps ‘accidentally’ take up-skirt photos of strangers on the subway.

      • YoungUrbanAmateur

        Private photo hackers are sex offenders in the same way that people who put secret cameras in changing rooms are sex offenders.

        • Ethan L.

          Are you serious? How is the unauthorized acquisition of a picture a sexual thing? Sounds to me like a privacy offense!

  • ShellyStow

    Thank you, Josh, for an indeed awesome letter. If our nation could ever bring itself to insist on a system of laws that are based on facts and empirical evidence, the sex crimes registry will be only for law enforcement, and children and youth who offend sexually, whether from play, curiosity, inappropriate behavior, or acts that qualify as criminal, will not be subject to policies and procedures that most likely will destroy the rest of their lives. Research clearly shows what is most effective in treatment of youth who commit sexual offenses, and prison and public exposure are clearly not indicated, appropriate, or useful. Policies based on facts and truth will work toward increased public safety; shouldn’t that be our bottom line?

  • SaintJohnAngel

    Lena Dunham openly wrote with self-aggrandizement, about bribing her little sister, seven years her junior, for kisses on the lips and bribed the child to get her to “relax” on top of Lena, and wrote about pleasuring herself next to the child up until Lena was 17 years old.

    Lena Dunham, posted a photo on Instagram about a year ago of her then five year-old sister wearing make-up, fake breasts, and “bad girl motorcycle chick” written on her tee-shirt. Lena posted the photo with
    the caption,”that time I dressed my 5 year old sister as a Hell’s Angel’s sex property”

    I reported that photo to Federal Authorities as child pornography.

    …and now, Lena Dunham has won a literary award for publishing a book in which she writes as if she is still fantasizing about the child’s anatomy, and that when she fooled around with the child’s vagina, the
    child “didn’t resist…”

    It is also likely that Lena put those pebbles in her little sister’s vagina, not the one year old girl.

    Lena Dunham herself admits in her book, Not That Kind Of Girl, that she did to her little sister, “basically anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl.”

    You should be asking why a grown woman is writing about her sister’s vagina, her obsession with it, and that she used to bribe her little sister to get the child to kiss her on the lips and to lay on her.

    You should be asking why she is writing about masturbating -until age 17- with the child in bed next to her…and why is she writing about it, using words that are titillating and using words that describe what might be found in the mind of any sexual predator of children.

    “I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open
    her vagina [to examine it] She didn’t resist…”…”Her sticky, muscly
    little body thrashed beside me every night.” (while Lena masturbated)

    What took place, was not “mutual sexual play” or two children “exploring themselves.” It was Lena, exploring HERSELF, by pushing herself on a child -seven years younger than she is, and by exploring herself as she masturbated next to an innocent child, “trying to figure things out.”

    Trying to figure out if she has tendencies towards pedophilia?

    Your letter shows a total lack of awareness to sibling sexual abuse -especially same-sex sibling abuse- and sibling sexual abuse by an older sister on a much younger sister…which is common, and can do serious harm, including creating the feeling in the younger child that she is lesbian, when she may not otherwise have been,.

    • Ethan L.

      “I reported that photo to Federal Authorities as child pornography.”
      You haven’t a clue what child pornography is, do you? Don’t you know that making false claims diminishes legitimate claims and takes away resources which should be used to help people in genuine need? Your long judgmental rant seems to objectify the little sister, making her “the child” instead of a person with an independent will and the ability to make her own choices, even perhaps to do something you disagree with. Does it matter to you what the younger sister thinks about all this? Has she made any complaint?

      • disqus_R0klAf0TQo

        Grace WAS a child, it’s silly to ignore that. When this started, she was an infant. “They made their own choices” “They were old enough to understand and consent” is definitely something people use to justify the abuse of children allll the time. Lena describes manipulative tactics that, yeah, actually a lot of adult sexual abusers do use. Do victims of sexual abuse by adults also “have the ability to make their own choices” and this suddenly be okay?

        Look, I do in some ways agree that we should leave this specific incident alone. If Grace ever wants to talk about it, I would absolutely support that, but she clearly doesn’t. So yes, it should be left alone.

        But similar people doing similar things to what Lena did… that traumatizes people. Child on child sexual abuse can be immensely traumatizing. So I am rather disturbed by defenses of her behavior. Do I think children should be immensely punished for things they do not fully understand? No, I don’t. I think children who do harmful things to other people are not inherently bad, and definitely are not irreparably damaged. But they deserve guidance. They deserve to be told, “The things that you are doing, they hurt people, and they are not okay.” The same as I don’t believe a child who repeatedly hits a younger child is terrible, I also don’t believe children who repeatedly are hitting people should be told “Oh no, that’s fine, you’re just exploring.” I don’t believe it is right for parents to allow the behavior to keep occurring. This behavior is not merely “inappropriate,” it is harmful. It has the ability to harm people immensely in their developmental stages, something that can affect people for life. People can support the child being hurt *and* not unfairly vilify the child doing the hurting for life. But denying that there is damage there is not doing anyone any good.

    • Virginia Hall

      you should be charged with libel for the statements you made in your response. You are of course entitled to your opinion about the events Durham described. You are not entitled to fabricate and embroider facts such as “She put the pebbles in her sister’s vagina”…your letter shows a complete ignorance of prepubescent sexual behavior and worse, an absolutely evil willingness to twist facts and inject your own perverted innuendo to make sexual exploration a crime. Shame on you! Lena’s sister confirms she was not victimized. What kind of weird professional victim by proxy are you trying to be, anyway?

  • James

    Wow seems everybody wants to either make money writing a sex book to explain why people do these things or police want to make money doing fictitious undercover stings when the issue of sex is very simple.
    Immorality is the key. Sure the bible says we have all gone astray. We all seek after our own lust, desire’s, and everything else … even money. If any of this was God based we wouldn’t even be talking about it. Those people on the registry, like me and some others wouldn’t even be on it but the reality is we are.
    People like to rub the sex offender in the face, like there’ a bit better than others. Not so.
    I am not better than anybody else on here but I don’t need to write a book about my past sins or your past sins or others past sins. Its like we are all trying to downgrade the other person because they didn’t get caught with their hand in the cookie jar or whatever you want to call it. I feel sorry for everyone on here that has had a sexual encounter and has been publically disgraced. I just wonder if the “Woman that was caught in adultery was publically disgraced” I wonder if the rulers forgave her or was it Jesus. Can you say Forgive!

  • Jennifer

    Maybe the punishment was overboard and I don’t know the details, but you should have known better at 12 yrs old. Way better. And some kids, though far more rare, are horrible, malicious abusers of other kids. They should be marked for it.

  • Jennifer

    I’m very sorry you were abused, I wasn’t aware of that at first. But I’m afraid Dunham has given nothing but a dirty picture of herself with someone of no boundaries, proper respect or belief in honesty.

  • skwills

    I wonder why Lena gets by with it and is seen as a victim but the media keeps attackign Josh DUggar?