Juvenile sex offenders escaping justice?

Juvenile sex offenders escaping justice? »Play Video

CANBY, Ore. - Kaitlyn Williams was just a little girl when the teenage boy assigned to be her reading tutor began sexually abusing her at school.

"It would be, 'Let's go in the lunchroom where no one is and you can sit on my lap,' " she said. "And I was thinking, 'I'm little. I sit on my parents' laps,' and it just went from there."

She was 9, he was 16.

Over the course of a year at their private Christian school in Canby, First Baptist Church School, and later at a church function, the boy repeatedly fondled the girl.

According to a police report, the family's pastor said the young offender admitted to the pastor to inappropriately touching Williams at a school gym used by their church. But that did not lead to a police investigation.

Instead, when Williams finally had the courage to speak up in 2000, police arrested the boy on suspicion of first-degree sex abuse.

Williams' mom, Becki, said prosecutors approached them with a plea agreement. In exchange for allowing the boy to plead guilty to a lesser charge, the girl would be able to avoid testifying in court, describing in detail what had happened incident by incident.

The mother said she was told he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

"And that is the biggest reason we chose to go with the plea deal," said Becki Williams pictured at right.

They wanted the state keeping tabs on him so no other kids would fall victim.

Six years passed in which the girl underwent extensive therapy to cope with what happened to her.

And then a few months ago, the phone rang and the family got word that the girl's abuser had applied for relief from registering as a sex offender.

An Oregon law allows juvenile sex offenders to go before a judge and say they'd like to be let out of registering with the state.

Before this law, they were treated just like adult sex offenders, having to register every year and every time they moved.

But under the law, Kaitlyn Williams would have to appear in court and testify against him -someone she never wanted to see again – if she wanted to try to keep him registered as a sex offender.

"Everything you thought came out of it, every bit of justice is now suddenly taken away from you," said Becki Williams.

Data from 2004 shows there are some 1,600 juvenile sex offender cases in Oregon. Some judges, prosecutors and victim advocates say the vast majority of these requests are being granted.

The conviction is not wiped off their record, but if an employer looks up their criminal history it will only show they had a conviction when they were a juvenile. It won't show what it was for since juvenile records are sealed.

Clackamas County Judge Deanne Darling, who sat on the committee that wrote the law, said there's no proof that sex offender registration serves any other purpose "than the perception we are safer because we know who the offender is and where they are."

Making juvenile sex offenders register may do more harm than good, she said, especially if they have been rehabilitated.

"We're talking kids 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 years old who did behaviors that were wrong and harmful and shouldn't have occurred," said Darling, pictured at left. "But then what? They're still people. Do we destroy them, shame them, judge them by that behavior for the rest of their lives?"

We talked with two juvenile offenders who agreed to interviews as long as we did not identify them. They are both in their early 20s. They were 11 and 13 when they offended, and both had male and female victims between the ages of 5 and 9.

"Registering itself is kind of a reminder in the back of your head that you did this horrible thing," one said.

Both want to apply for relief from registering as sex offenders. They said they learned about the option early on as an incentive for them to complete sex offender treatment.

"That gives you something to work for. That gives you something to change for, to strive for," one said.

That treatment involved polygraph testing and what is called a penile plesmograph. It measures arousal level as they're shown provocative images of children.

Their therapist, Dr. Richard King, believes the Oregon law should require both of these tests and the completion of treatment. Right now it doesn't.

The offenders were asked whether freeing them from registering as sex offenders was fair to their victims.

"The person I victimized is a member of my family," one said. "And my entire family, including this person, wants to see me be successful."

"Fairness in the world, you know, comes in different ways, you know," the other said.

To read more about Oregon's sex offender registration laws, click here.