Should Teens be Prosecuted for Having Sex?

The purpose of sex offender registration is to keep children are safer from dangerous pedophiles. According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 700,000 registered sex offenders reside in the United States, with more than 63,000 living in the state of Texas. Because of the rigid registration requirements, many teenagers are forced to register even though they do not fit the profile of serial offenders.

In Texas, more than 4,500 teens are registered as sex offenders. As a matter of law, they are considered a threat to society; but in reality, they may be just as vulnerable as the children the laws are geared to protect. After all, many of these cases stem from "Romeo and Juliet" romances where teenagers fall in love and have consensual sex despite their age differences. (In Texas, the legal age of consent is 17, so a child cannot "legally" consent to having sex.) As such, these cases commonly do not involve the exploitation or danger associated with sex crimes, but when someone (usually a young boy) is convicted of such a crime, the label "sex offender" makes the public believe that he is a serial rapist or pedophile.

All of which raises the question: should teens be criminally prosecuted for having sex?

A number of advocacy groups say no. One group, Texas Voices, has lobbied to change sex offender laws that can have a permanent effect on a young person’s life. Texas has more than 20 crimes that can lead to registration on a sex offender list for a minimum of 10 years.

The "sex offender" label can deprive a young person of meaningful opportunities to advance in society. He or she may be ineligible for college scholarships, denied a number of employment opportunities and be prohibited from living in certain areas.

Even more troubling, a growing body of research suggests that widespread registration (and monitoring) is not particularly helpful in maintaining public safety. It is viewed as an expensive solution and a drain on public resources. In fact, the Texas legislature has been embroiled in a long dispute over the implementation of the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law intended to create a uniform system of nationwide sex offender registration, and to account for transient offenders who could become "lost" in between state registries.

In the meantime, many teens unwittingly face harsh consequences for sex crimes, especially considering how sexting (sending elicit photos through text messages) is prosecuted in Texas.

Criminal defense attorneys understand the lifelong consequences of being labeled as a sex offender. If you have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced lawyer.

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