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,
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.
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.