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Ethical Treatment for All Youth

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Children as young as 8 can be arrested, mandated to treatment, and placed on sex offender registries--even for non-aggressive behavior. Don't let this happen to your child. Know the facts.


Due to a nation-wide crack-down on child sexual abuse, all 50 states have enacted laws that can treat young children and teenagers as "juvenile sex  offenders" or "sexual predators" for uncoerced sexual behavior with each other.1

Extensive sexual behavior seen as abuse

There are no scientifically established standards of normal sexual behavior among children. Behavior varies widely depending on individual differences, social class, culture, and parental values, and research shows some children engage in more extensive sexual behaviors than most people realize.2 However, society sets standards of sexual behavior according to its moral values. In the U.S., police and therapists often enforce standards by labeling socially inappropriate sexual behavior as "assault"--even in the absence of violence or coercion.3

Sibling sex play

Research shows that play among siblings often becomes sexual.4 In many states, this is considered "incest" and is illegal. Police and therapists may make no distinction between coerced and willing behavior.5

Sex play among friends

Any parent knows that children have friends who differ in age, size, or mental ability from themselves. But what you may not know is that play among these children may become sexual without any coercion or manipulation.6 If your child is older, bigger, or brighter, he or she can be arrested and treated as a sex offender, regardless of the willingness of the other participants. Laws vary from place to place, but the age difference can be less than two years.7

Underage romantic relationships

Adolescents are sometimes arrested and classified as sex offenders for consensual romantic sexual relationships with each other. Usually this happens when there is an age difference (which varies from state to state), but in some states it is a felony for same-age underage couples to have consensual sex, and they are arrested for "assaulting" each other. What was once called "underage sex" is now called "child sex abuse." 8


Children and teens labeled as sex offenders can be treated the same way adult sex offenders are:
  • Isolated from other children
  • Imprisoned
  • Placed on public sex offender registries for decades or for life
  • Monitored and subjected to community notification
  • Banned from future colleges, occupations, and neighborhoods
  • Mandated to treatment intended for violent sex offenders

Youth who violate sex laws are often mandated to treatment programs using methods never used on violent non-sexual offenders.
  • Cognitive restructuring, used by 81% of programs, requires youths to admit to violent behavior, to identify themselves as permanently dangerous and mentally defective, and to detail their sexual feelings and behaviors to peers in a castigating atmosphere.9
  • Arousal reconditioning, used by 77% of programs, attempts to change sexual feelings. These methods may include covert sensitization (repeated descriptions of sexual fantasies with harmful consequences), satiation (prolonged masturbation or recounting of fantasies), and aversion therapy (exposure to ammonia or electric shock in conjunction with deviant fantasies).10
  • Medications are used by 44% of programs, sometimes to reduce sex drive ("chemical castration"). Some of them are not FDA-approved for this purpose and have dangerous side effects, such as liver injury or a delay in puberty.11
  • Plethysmographs connected to boys' penises are used by 13% of programs for teenagers to measure their response to sexually arousing photographs or audiotapes involving adults and children. The scientific validity of the plethysmograph has not been established.12
  • Educate yourself by reading the information at Ethical Treatment for All Youth (www.ethicaltreatment.org).
  • Talk to your children about the disastrous consequences of underage sexual behavior.
  • Join with parents from around the U.S. and/or in your local area who wish to advocate for rational laws and humane treatment of children who violate sex laws. See www.ethicaltreatment.org or email etay@ethicaltreatment.org.
  • If your child is accused of a sex crime, find a lawyer who specializes in this type of case. Miscarriages of justice are common in sex crime cases because of overzealous police, prosecutors, and treatment providers.
  • If your child is mandated to sex-offender treatment (SOT), find another therapist who can work with your child to counteract the harmful effects of SOT.


1The media have reported children being arrested and convicted for such behavior in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,Texas, Virginia, Washington,Wisconsin, and other states. See www.ethicaltreatment.org/criminalization.htm and www.ethicaltreatment.org/media.htm
2Haroian, L., "Child Sexual Development," monograph prepared for student use at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, 1985; Martinson, F., The Sexual Life of Children, Bergin & Garvey, 1994; Martinson, F., "Children and Sex, Part II: Childhood Sexuality," in Bullough, V. & Bullough, B. (eds.), Human Sexuality: An encyclopedia, New York: Garland Publishing, 1994, p. 111-116; Weis, D., "Childhood Sexuality," in Francoeur, R. (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, New York: Continuum, 1997.
3Okami, P., "Child perpetrators of sexual abuse: The emergence of a problematic deviant category", Journal of Sex Research, 29(1):109-130, 1992; Robinson, G., "Juvenile Sex Offenders", The Advocate: Journal of Criminal Justice Education & Research, Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, Nov. 2002:61-63; Underwager, R. & Wakefield, H., "Antisexuality and Child Sexual Abuse," Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 5(2), 1993.
4Martinson, The Sexual Life of Children, op. cit.; Weis, op. cit.
5Anonymous, "Molested," Salon, February, 1997; Okami, P., op. cit.; Young, A. "Sex Therapy Nightmare or Cure?", Arizona Republic, July 26, 1992, p. A1.
6Martinson, The Sexual Life of Children, op. cit
7Johnson, T.C. & Gill, E., Sexualized Children: Assessment and Treatment of Sexualized Children and Children Who Molest, Launch Press, 1993; Okami, op. cit.
8"Boy, girl referred for sex assault," Lake Country Reporter, April 14, 2003; Dickerson, B., "On Michigan's unfair digital scarlet letter," Detroit Free Press, March 1, 2004; McGraw, S., "The Unforgiven," Spin, Sept. 2001; Stancil, B.C., "Branded for Life," Texas Examiner, three-part series: Feb. 24 2005 (pp. 6, 14), March 3 2005 (pp. 8, 13), March 10 2005 (pp. 7,8); Twohey, M., "Teens who have sex charged with abuse," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 7, 2004; "What Teenagers Need to Know about Sex Offenses", Bismarck, ND: North Dakota Office of Attorney General, no date.
9Anonymous, "Molested," Salon, February, 1997; Burton, D. & Smith-Darden, J., North American Survey of Sexual Abuser Treatment and Models 2000, Brandon, VT: Safer Society Foundation, 2001; Levine, J., "A Question of Abuse" and "Drastic Steps," Mother Jones, July/August 1996; Righthand, S. & Welch, C., "Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended," U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, March 2001; Shaw, J., "Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents Who Are Sexually Abusive of Others," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(12 Suppl):55S-76S, 1999.
10Burton & Smith-Darden, op. cit.; Righthand & Welch, op. cit.; Shaw, J., op. cit.
11Burton & Smith-Darden, op. cit.; Shaw, op. cit.
12Burton & Smith-Darden, op. cit.; Center for Sex Offender Management, "Understanding Juvenile Sexual Offending Behavior," December 1999; Righthand & Welch, op. cit.; Shaw, op. cit.

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