"Those of us doing the research know this is not accurate."
The utility of the registry is becoming increasingly questionable because statistics show that most sex offenses are committed by relatives or people known to victims. Plus, research has shown that adolescents commit sex offenses for different reasons than adults, said Elizabeth Letourneau with the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Mental Health, who has written several reports on juvenile sexual offenders.
Adolescence can be a volatile stage in which teens are sexually curious, prone to risk-taking and susceptible to peer influence, which can lead to impulsive and inappropriate behavior, she said. The fact that teens learn the consequences of harmful behavior as they age is part of why recidivism rates are low among youth offenders, including those who have committed sex crimes, especially as more time passes since the offense, she said.
"A lot of youth who we see engage in awful crimes mature out of those behaviors thanks to cognitive development," she said.
Also, contrary to common public perceptions, other studies cited in the report suggest that putting youth offenders on registries does not advance community safety, because it overburdens law enforcement with large numbers of people to monitor, undifferentiated by their dangerousness, and fails to target resources where they are needed.
The report reveals insight into offenders' struggles to become productive members of society while bearing the sex offender label. At a point in their lives when stability and family support is crucial to their rehabilitation, some youth offenders said they could not attend school or live with their families because their victims were siblings or relatives. As Gravens and others can attest, the stigma remains and even worsens into adulthood.
As soon as Gravens was released on parole in 2003 as a registered sex offender, it was clear his life wouldn't be the same. He returned to the home of his family, also the home of his sister -- his victim -- which meant a lot of stipulations.
His parents had to lock him in his room each night and place locks on his windows that would set off an alarm if he tried to open them during the night. If he had to go to the bathroom he would have to bang on the door until someone let him out.
The family's struggle to lead a normal life took a toll on his sister, who felt she deserved some of the blame for the upheaval, he said.
He was allowed to go to high school, where no one knew about his status until two weeks before prom, when a list of sex offenders in his ZIP code went out to neighbors. Soon, everyone knew and almost no one would talk to him, he said. College brought a similar experience: He was doing well until a local radio station broadcast his name and address in a recurring segment alerting the public to sex offenders in the area.
He dropped out of college and began navigating a winding path of jobs and homes that took constant, unexpected turns with each new dictate about where he could live. A bright spot arose when he met his wife through church. When he told her his story, she responded with a kiss. They married a few months later.
They tried to start fresh by opening their own restaurant in 2009 in Wichita Falls, Texas, about two hours from his home in Abilene. A few months later, police came by his restaurant and informed him he was not allowed to spend more than 40 hours in another jurisdiction without notifying law enforcement. He was charged with felony failure to register and sentenced to lifetime parole, according to court records. He lost his restaurant in the process.
There have been other ups and downs, but Gravens doesn't want to focus on the past. Last year he found a sex offender support group, Texas Voices, and began reassembling his life. His family moved to Dallas last year, where he found a job in a coffee shop and a place to live that, so far, has been OK with his status.
He decided to go public with his story to put a face on an issue, using his first and last name and offering to provide a family picture to accompany this story.
"I think there is no other way to illustrate that it affects everyone without showing everyone."