After years of anxiety, Tim has finally gained the security of an anonymous future. The young man from Antioch committed a sex crime at age 14 and was put on a registry open only to police, but he worried that a federal law might cause his identity to be made public.
That threat has passed. With the help of Northwestern University law students and a raft of good recommendations, Tim persuaded a judge in early November to remove him from the registry. He no longer needs to tell police when he moves to a new home, and a world of career options is now available to him.
“It’s opened so many doors,” said Tim, 21. “It’s the biggest weight off my back ever.”
For others, though, the apprehension remains. The federal law remains in effect, and while Illinois officials say juvenile identities will remain protected for the foreseeable future, some advocates are concerned that that could change, harming young people they say are at very low risk of committing more sex offenses.
“Children do not go out and hide in the bushes and attack strangers,” said Nicole Pittman ofHuman Rights Watch, who is tracking the effects of the federal law. “It’s usually inappropriate behavior, and longitudinal studies that tracked children from the time of their offense to well into their 30s found that less than 2 percent committed another sex crime.”
People who know Tim, who was profiled in a 2009 Tribune story, say he is a good example of why juvenile sex offenders should have the chance to regain their privacy.
He endured a terrible childhood of neglect and all manner of abuse as he shuttled between foster homes on the West Side of Chicago. He got involved with a gang and was twice locked up for minor crimes.
When he was 14, he had sexual contact with an 8-year-old girl who lived in one of his former foster homes. He quickly confessed to what he had done and, contrary to his lawyer’s advice, didn’t fight the case in Cook County Juvenile Court, where he was found to have committed felony criminal sexual abuse.
He spent time in a Department of Corrections facility that treats young sex offenders, then went to Alternative Behavior Treatment Centers in Mundelein. Founder Robin McGinnis said Tim responded well to his therapy there and continued on the right path after he left.
“I’m very proud of him,” McGinnis said. “He’s pulled it together. It’s really very impressive.”
Tim’s offense required him to be put on the state’s juvenile sex offender registry. He had to tell the local police when he moved into their town, and they informed nearby schools and day care centers. Otherwise, his identity and crime remained private.
But under the provisions of a federal law passed in 2006, many juvenile sex offenders’ names, photos and addresses can be revealed online.
At least 32 states have listed some juvenile sex offenders online, according to Pittman. She said that can have a profoundly harmful effect on people who pose little risk for re-offending, costing them jobs and educational opportunities.
Other states, including Illinois, have not done that. Illinois State Police officials said federal authorities backed off that mandate earlier in 2011, giving states the discretion to keep young people off the website. There is disagreement, though, about whether that has ended the matter for good.
Whatever happens, Tim won’t be affected. He took advantage of an Illinois law that allows people to get off the juvenile registry if they complete their treatment, stay out of trouble for five years and pass a screening showing that they pose a low risk for committing another sex crime.
Assisted by Northwestern law students John Doyle and Alberta Yan, he went before a Juvenile Court judge Nov. 3 to ask to be removed. Alison Flaum of Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center said it was an emotionally powerful moment.
“I couldn’t help but remember that the last time he was in that courtroom, he was filled with shame and fear,” she said. “I was just so happy for him to hear people say nice things about him in the very same room.”
The judge granted Tim’s request and, with that, set his life on a new course. He said he wants to enlist in the military, something his place on the registry had prevented. After that, he said, his plans are simple.
“My long-term goals are working a career, owning a house,” he said. “Just trying to live the American dream, I guess.”