By Rachel Belle
When Kevin was 12 years old he was slapped with a felony. His school’s principal caught him and his 10 year old friend sexually experimenting in the boy’s bathroom. He says it was consensual, that he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but Kevin was branded as a Level Two sex offender. His name and photo went up on Lewis County’s sex offender website and his life became a living hell.
“When I go to school they would harass me, I got assaulted. They call me chi-mo [child molester], they would call me a baby raper, they would call me horrific names. ‘I don’t deserve to be alive,’ I got told that so many times and that’s pretty hard.”
Kevin is now 18 years old and in his last year of high school. But during the last 6 years he’s been spit on, beat up and harassed.
“I thought I had friends and most of them turned on me because I tell them, because you’re required by law to tell the parents. You’re supposed to disclose what you did. That’s the law. I’ve had parents run me off their lawn, I’ve had parents threaten to call the cops, I had one parent saying that if I don’t get off the lawn that I was going to get seriously hurt.”
Brad Meryhew is a Seattle lawyer who focuses on defending juvenile sex offenders. He understands why parents react so strongly when they see a sex offender attending school with their child. But the term sex offender isn’t so black and white. He says there is a difference between a 12 year old experimenting with a friend and rape.
“The research tells us that kids 12 years old, who act out sexually, except in rare circumstance, are unlikely to repeat that offense. They’re responsive to treatment. These kids don’t pose a future risk so long as they’re not amongst that very rare population.”
Kevin is now classified as a Level One offender, which means he’s no longer on the website, but he thinks having his photo up in the first place was questionable.
“Kids at such a young age, if it’s their first offence and if they’re trying, I think they should be given another chance and not have the felony on them, not have to register online. We’re trying to move on with our lives and it makes it really hard when people know about this. There should be a little bit more confidentiality when it comes to kids under the age of 18 unless they re-offend multiple times.”
“There’s a growing awareness that the collateral consequences of listing a kids that age as a Level Two, and putting them on the website, are so detrimental to the kid that it’s just not worth it,” Meryhew says. “It doesn’t increase community safety and it destroys the kid’s life. Barring some pretty exceptional circumstances, it’s outrageous that a 12 year old was made a Level Two.”
Besides the emotional damage and bullying kids in Kevin’s situation are put through, what he did at 12 years old will affect his entire future. Kevin says he’s given up his dream of being a law enforcement officer.
“They can’t work in health care, they might have trouble becoming an attorney, they can’t be a physician,” Meryhew says. “They also can’t do things like be a fireperson, EMT, go into the military, be in law enforcement. The doors are closed to them.”
Brad says Washington is one of only two states in the country with no set guidelines on how to punish juvenile sex offenders. It’s decided county by county, and they can choose to punish however they see fit. He would like to see this regulated, but he’s happy to see that one law was changed.
“Washington law was changed recently to allow those convicted as juvenile sex offenders to seal their records in certain circumstances,” Meryhew says.
Kevin was finally able to switch schools, so life is easier for him. But he can’t forget the way he’s been treated all of this time.
“People should be a little bit more forgiving and try to find out what really happened before they assume. That’s all I want.”