Thu, May 31, at 2: He and his sister, who was 8, had sexual contact, twice. She called a Christian counseling center near their home in Abilene and described what happened. She was informed that, by law, the center had to report Josh to the police for sexual assault of a child. The three-bedroom house is neat but crowded, full of happy kids, two big dogs and a couple of turtles in terrariums.
Today he is He and his family are living with his older sister and her husband while Josh looks for work. He stays upbeat, though finding work is harder for him than for other people. Because of what he did when he was 12, Josh is a registered sex offender. Unlike some states, Texas lists juveniles, and adults who committed their crimes as juveniles, on its public sex offender registry, a searchable website run by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The website keeps an up-to-date color photo of each offender. The day before I first met Josh, two officers from the Plano Police Department had dropped by unannounced to make sure Josh really lives where his registration says he does. They also wanted to see his blue card, an ID card registered offenders are required to carry at all times.
I asked Josh if he felt harassed by that. Right now, Texas lists a year-old. He has brown hair and blue eyes, is 5 feet 2 inches and pounds. His photograph shows flushed cheeks and a worried brow. No school is listed, perhaps because he is prohibited from attending school, as many sex offenders are.
Josh admitted what had happened with his younger sister from the beginning and was adjudicated for one count of aggravated sexual assault. Any sexual assault against a child under 14 is considered aggravated.
In error, though, his DPS page also lists his youngest sister, age 6, as a second victim. Josh and his mother say Child Protective Services listed the second child on its original complaint, but the judge found the allegation lacked merit and struck it out. Despite all the public information about Josh available on the Internet, his court records, being those of a juvenile, are sealed.
Major points have been corroborated by family members. Josh says he never considered denying the abuse. I never wanted that to happen to my sister. Between the ages of 6 and 8, Josh says he was repeatedly raped by three neighborhood high schoolers—a babysitter and her two male friends.
Every Saturday they were out shooting. I went on with my life and kept that in the back of my head, but obviously it messed me up. You could hear it. In , the U. Department of Justice published a comprehensive bulletin about child-on-child sex abuse that analyzed multiple studies. It found that about half of juvenile sex offenders are between 15 and 17, the age people might expect offenders to be. But many are much younger. More than a third are between 12 and 14, like Josh was, and one in 20 is younger than 9.
These children are also not generally being convicted of the crimes people associate with sex offenders, like rape. Almost two-thirds of offenses were for fondling or non-forcible offenses like sharing pornography. But they all are sex offenders under the law. Paul Andrews is a forensic psychologist who works with juvenile sex offenders in Smith County. He said labeling children sex offenders is becoming more frequent—and the offenders are getting younger.
But he speculates that this is because of increased prosecution of young children, rather than increased misbehavior. The Clayton unit housed younger offenders and had a specialized sex offender treatment program. It found that less than 3 percent of victims were strangers to their assailants, while a quarter were family members.
But statistically, sex offenders are less likely to re-offend than other kinds of criminals, and juvenile recidivism is even lower. A study of registered sex offenders in Texas who were juveniles at the time of their first offense found that just 4.
Yet youths like Josh, with a very low chance of re-offense, are listed publicly alongside dangerous predators. As of March, Texas listed 4, offenders who were 16 or younger at the time of their offense. Twenty-eight of those on the sex offender registry are still children. Josh was 16 when he got out of TYC. He joined the math and science University Interscholastic League teams, the Academic Challenge, and the prom committee.
At the house in Plano, he leads me to the kitchen table and opens a folder fat with certificates and commendations. There are awards for calculus and desktop publishing, a contest-winning speech for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and notifications of scholarships from a local power company and Southwestern Bell. The local paper ran a story about sex offenders. Out of the blue, people started asking what my middle name was.
He lost friends; people started ignoring or avoiding him, including teachers. But the last two weeks were horrible. He also worked for the National Ranching Heritage Center, taking care of old buildings, and served on the residence hall senate. But his peace was short-lived. A local TV station broadcast a story on sex offenders and included a picture of Josh. He was still hoping few people knew. But the word was out. I had to run inside. I wish I could kill you! In , Lawrence Trant of New Hampshire tried to kill several registered sex offenders, stabbing one and setting fire to two apartment buildings where seven offenders lived.
After being chased by the truck, Josh was so afraid that he stopped leaving his dorm except for classes. Finally, he dropped out. Sex offender registries are a fairly new law enforcement tool. In , a 7-year-old girl in New Jersey, Megan Kanka, was raped and murdered by a neighbor who had previously been convicted of child molesting. Only a month after the murder, the state Legislature rushed to pass a set of bills to register and track offenders, and notify the community when one moves in nearby.
Many people want to know when a sex offender moves in nearby. In that case, critics argue the registry should be reserved for only the very dangerous, those who are likely to re-offend. Critics contend that the sheer size of the list is counter-productive, because it shields the truly dangerous sex offenders in a crowd of people who will likely never commit another crime.
I would say that includes juveniles. I would even argue that there are many adult sex offenders that, having them on the list just scares people in a community.
Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, mandating that each state keep a registry of violent sex offenders against children accessible by police. In , another bill created a federal sex offender registry that comprises all 50 state listings. The law broadens which crimes deserve registry and extends registration to children as young as Sexual crimes against children are an automatic lifetime registry, so most juvenile offenders convicted under SORNA would be sentenced to the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives.
Many states balked at its implications for juveniles, and Texas was one of them. In an August letter to the Justice Department, Gov. Texas does none of this.
Rather than rejecting SORNA out of concern for juvenile welfare, Perry probably objected to the federal mandate and to the price. And juvenile offenders get caught up in that, even though I have not met a legislator yet who believes that a child should go on there. He got a job working at a construction company, but not for long. He then got a job in the wind industry, traveling around the country putting up turbines.
He was arrested and charged with a felony failure to register. He also lost his job. And then I had a felony conviction on my record. Josh moved back to Abilene and worked on a ranch, at a chemical company, and as a mover to make ends meet. Then he met his wife, Nicole, through mutual acquaintances. Josh had never really dated because, after TYC, he was afraid of being considered a predator.
They went for a walk and talked for hours. But I know that I need to go ahead and tell you. That was her answer. But they fell in love with him. He had started working at a pizza place in Wichita Falls, almost three hours from Abilene, commuting back and forth to see Nicole and keep his registration in Abilene.
Nicole talked to me in her car as we waited for her second oldest to be released from kindergarten. As researcher Nicole Pittman had predicted, I could not find that person. Again, research says no.