The juvenile justice system forgives troubled minors who break the law by sealing their records. But because Washington committed a *** crime, he must register annually as a *** offender – something that will follow him for the rest of his life.
“He just made a mistake. He made a bad choice, in a bad situation, in a bad environment,” said Sartain, who understands that Washington must live with the consequences but doesn’t believe he should have to be humiliated for something he did at a young age.
He added that because of Washington’s troubled life at home, he was forced to make a “quick sprint into adulthood.”
“I don’t want to cry ‘victim’ and he never has, per se, but I really believe that he was a 16-year-old victim of his own environment,” Sartain said. “It’s unfortunate that the counsel that he got at the time led him to have this label on him the rest of his life.”
It’s a label he couldn’t escape in his hometown of New Orleans, where as a high school student, he bagged groceries at Save-a-Lot until 5 a.m., went directly to school, then practice, then back to work. He couldn’t escape it when he came to Athens, Texas, and had his name printed in the local newspaper as part of the required community notification of his status.
But if he truly wanted to run from his past, he would have given up long ago. Instead, he’s choosing to face it, something Sartain hopes people will appreciate.
“I find it hard to believe that people cannot realize the resolve, the perseverance, the character and determination that this young man has had to get where he is,” Sartain said.
Thomsen points to the fact that his former player has had no run-ins with the law since his offense seven years ago.
“I have no fear in my mind of anything like that happening with Tony again,” Thomsen said. “I wouldn’t have brought him here if I had that fear. And I have no reservations about anything like that happening again in his future.”
The fact that the offense was committed as a juvenile means the odds are in his favor. According to a report published by the National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth, adolescent *** offenders have a 5 percent to 14 percent chance of sexual re-offenses.
Dr. Fred Berlin, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic, believes that unlike adult offenders, juveniles are “highly treatable” and “rarely go on to become adult offenders.”
According to Berlin, who has treated juvenile *** offenders, in some cases a young offender must simply accept the consequences of his mistakes and learn how to behave differently in order to move on. Other times, more intensive treatment, such as medication, is needed to ensure they are not a threat to others, or even to themselves.
Berlin has been an advocate for shielding juvenile *** offenders from the harsh stigma and even humiliation that accompanies placement on local and national registries.
“We want adolescent *** offenders to go on and become productive members of society, but they can’t do that if we’re constantly throwing barricades in front of them,” Berlin said.
Berlin cautions that each individual must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But he says the fact that Washington’s wasn’t a forced act, that there was just a one-year age difference, and that he has not had any reported run-ins with the law since, suggests that as long as Washington has had the appropriate counseling, “the likelihood is very high that he’s going to go on and live a good, responsible life.”