Why I Hate My Birthday: Reflections From a Former Juvenile Sex Offender
July 2nd is my birthday. For many people, it’s a joyous occasion; for others it’s a day of reflection and planning. For others still, it’s a day that marks very clearly that you’ve lived and have more life to go. For me, my birthday has always been something vastly different. Since I was a child, it’s been a day filled with police, shame, and great longing for the day to pass and never come back again.
You see, growing up a registered sex offender in the state of Texas means children as young as 10 years of age could, at any given time, be spending their birthdays at the local police station or sheriff’s office. Chapter 62 of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedure mandates that a registered sex offender report annually around the time of their birthdays.
While many have this stereotypical picture of a man in a trench coat with a horrible comb over and patchy goatee, the real face of the registry is far younger than we as a society should be comfortable with. The face of the registry imprinted on every person’s minds should be that of a child.
With very little question, registries popped up all over the United States and almost immediately they begin to include the demographic they claimed to protect—children. Lawmakers knew this, and police definitely knew this, as they are the ones charged with the regulation of sex offenders. The folks left in the dark are the public at large, who are dependent on the safety blanket that is the sex offender registry.
You see, there was a big giant flaw. In an effort to find a solution to harming children, people created a massive, troublesome net that leaves children entangled in a mire of downright harmful policies. And then, those children grow up. They in-turn have children and now multiple kids are directly impacted by a policy proclaiming to have their safety in mind. They may be homeless and hungry, but by god they will know where all the registered sex offenders are nearby, including their dad. Me.
When I was 13, I was placed on the Texas sex offender registry. This forever changed the significance of birthdays; gone were the parties and gone were the cakes. Fingerprinting, mug shots, and cops who thought I was an absolute monster replaced them. One Dallas cop told me that kids were the very worst sex offenders.
Why? Because kids have kid victims, usually a sibling or someone closely related. Offenses range from, most commonly, playing doctor to, less commonly, serious sexual abuse. Regardless, youth who commit sexual offenses seldom ever commit another sexual crime. In fact, recidivism for all registrants is extremely low. The US Department of Justice says it’s around 3.5 percent over 3 years.
Texas is not alone in placing kids on the registry. I have confirmed at least one case where South Carolina placed a 9-year-old on the registry for life, with lifetime GPS monitoring as well. South Carolina went above and beyond what was necessary to come into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act passed federally and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2006.
Do registries protect children? With all the research and stats, it’s rather clear the registry was never about protecting children. If it was, no child would have been harmed by it. And the birthday parties would continue.
Josh Gravens was placed on the Texas Sex offender registry when he was 13 years old for touching his younger sister. Growing up on the registry, then subsequently his children growing up under the stigma of his registration, drove him to look for better outcomes for youth who commit sexual offenses. He now advocates for the removal of youth from all registries. In 2013 Josh received a prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Foundation to raise awareness of youth on registries.