Senate Bill 838 vs. Juvenile Offenders

As a social liberal, I long ago signed up to receive by e-mail various petitions through Change.org. I considered this a route in enabling small voices to collectively stand up against powerful corporations, and to elicit social change when merited.

One most recent petition was related to California State Senate Bill (SB) 838, and a high-profile juvenile criminal case here in the Bay Area, specifically Santa Clara County. A fifteen year-old high school student, Audrie Pott, attended what her parents thought was an innocent sleepover, which turned out to be an adolescents-only drinking party. To make a long, cruel story short, Audrie, while under the influence and passed out cold, was sexually assaulted by three male classmates. Proof of the assault was filmed by cell phone, and distributed to peers. Eight days after the incident, Audrie Pott committed suicide, presumably unable to face the fallout of being labeled a social pariah.

This event is deeply disturbing in so many ways. First, because a girl who was obviously physically incapacitated and vulnerable was sexually compromised by boys she must have known and trusted. Secondly, these boys, afflicted with the resulting fever of pack mentality, committed an egregious assault upon a person they would have been less likely have perpetrated as individuals, without the influence of the juvenile dog pack.

Some questions enter into the fray—where were the owners of the house where the party took place? Why was Audrie allowed at stay where there was no apparent adult supervision? And why, in the end, did no one stand up for Audrie, to mitigate the bullying that took place after the assault? The complexity of this case sends the mind reeling in many directions.

The criminal penalties for the perpetrators of this act, and subsequent distribution of photos considered to be underaged pornography, aren’t a very steep price to pay as they currently stand. Although I don’t agree that the boys are fundamentally responsible for Audrie’s death, and hence, should not be tried for murder, I do believe their photo sharing and virtual bullying directly compelled Audrie’s choice to take her own life.

These boys displayed behaviors that are not likely to change after the magic age of eighteen, or in the case of the California Youth Authority, twenty-one. In fact, the crime demonstrates a deviant pattern of sexual acting out that would categorize them as lifetime sex offenders had they been of legal age. The choice these juveniles made to assault a helpless girl portends a foreshadowing of crimes to come.

I am also troubled by a lack of documented outrage through the media by the parents of the juvenile male perpetrators, though this may have to do with pending civil litigation by Audrie Pott’s parents.

The kneejerk reaction of any parent is to protect one’s child. Our society has become more open to female empowerment, and less tolerant to juvenile sexual hijinks, but the attitude that “boys will be boys,” seems to downplay the seriousness of the crime due to their supposed tender young age. The callousness of the assault reveals that no tenderness existed in these juveniles whatsoever.

When a petition request arrived in my inbox, imploring me to consider increasing the criminal penalties against this type of juvenile offense, I didn’t hesitate to sign it. After all, my gut instinct suggests that these boys may have a proclivity to reoffend in college, perhaps finding an inert drunken female in a frat house, easily separated by a closed, locked door from the raucous drinking party.

While immediately adding my signature to this petition, I also feel very strongly that we, as parents, and society as a whole, must teach our daughters—as well as our sons—to avoid placing themselves in compromising situations. I’m not saying that Audrie asked for these three juveniles to sexually assault her. But empowerment, knowing the limits and the effects of alcohol, and loss of judgment could have been key to Audrie saving herself from this attack.

I am appalled that the parents of the juvenile sex offenders didn’t teach their male offspring to respect all people. What does this say about their parenting? What does this say about each boy’s character in terms of how he views his grandmother, mother, sister, and perhaps in the future, his own daughter? Would he want his own grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter to be a victim of the dog pack mentality, and the attack distributed by electronic device and social media? Or does each individual perpetrator compartmentalize certain girls they deem as “loose,” deserving of horrendous brutality and exploitation?

This is the archaic double standard our society clings to, where the sex act for males can be construed as a coming-of-age triumph, while the female, whether consenting or a victim of crime, is portrayed as less than desirable.

So, let’s understand why Senate Bill 838 was introduced. A tragic crime was allowed to occur. While in a defenseless state at an unsupervised high school party, Audrie Pott was raped by three underaged boys. The boys filmed the assault, and shared the pictures with their peers. The sharing has been described as an “attempt to shame and bully” Audrie. In my harsh opinion—because let’s face it, these boys acted in a manner far harsher than my opinion—they shared because they wanted to behave like sexual deviants. They were proud of their “boys will be boys” achievement.

Some would say the offenders have been duly punished, if you can call concealed identities, and 30 to 45 days of incarceration “punishment.” I don’t agree that it is sufficient punishment to fit the crime.

SB 838 intends to legislate the following penalties against future juvenile sexual deviants in the state of California:

  • A minimum sentence of 2 years of incarceration at a juvenile facility, if the victim of the crime is unconscious, and thereby unprotected and non-consenting.
  • Instead of juvenile sex criminals hiding behind privacy laws and closed court proceedings designed to protect disclosure of their names, the court proceedings would be open to the public, with the names available to be published by the media. After all, the public should know what to expect in the future from young sex offenders like these.
  • Taking pictures of the crime, and distribution of said photos will be a criminal enhancement (such as in a hate crime—because in its own way, rape is a hate crime). The enhancement adds another year to a potential sentence, plus additional fines up to ten thousand dollars.

If I had my way, I’d add one other choice item to SB 838:

  • Any juvenile convicted of engaging in such a crime will not have their juvenile record automatically expunged at age 21, but will have the crime attached to a criminal record for perpetuity. In addition, any juvenile convicted of engaging in such a crime will be required to register as a sex offender for life.

I’m certain there would be an outcry of protest if this stipulation were added to SB 838. Most naïve individuals carry the incorrect supposition that a crime like this is simply a youthful dalliance, and because “boys will be boys,” the offenders should have no permanent culpability for their brutal acts. They do things as children they wouldn’t dream of committing as men. The juvenile justice system is designed to offer youthful offenders a “second chance.”

As for rehabilitation, one should keep in mind that the notorious Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, began his carnage as a juvenile, by stabbing a young child with the intent to kill. To paraphrase Ridgeway’s statement as he walked away from the scene of his crime, “So that’s how it feels like to kill someone.”

We must ask ourselves if juveniles who have engaged in rape, murder and other “adult” crimes can be cured of their criminal propensity. Statistics indicate that an uncontrollable compulsion drives the high rate of recidivism among adult sex offenders, and wipes any chance for rehabilitation completely off the board. Why isn’t this statistic considered as true for those under that magic age of 18?

We all know that legislating severe penalties, such currently proposed through SB 838 won’t prevent juveniles engaged either alone or through pack mentality from victimizing young women in compromising situations. The adherence to capital punishment has failed the litmus test for criminal deterrence of murder. At the very least, registering juvenile sex offenders on the Megan’s Law database will keep the public aware of the dangerous dogs set loose in our midst.

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About karenkennedysamoranos

I am an author based in Northern California, and co-manage a small music education business specializing in jazz performance for students ages 5 through 18.
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