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Sex crimes committed by youths increasing

Higher percentage of area kids sent to Youth Services per capita than in any other county in Ohio

Kimberly Dicks, Probate-Juvenile Division of Licking County Common Pleas Court annual reports, published November 12, 2006

NEWARK -- With a significant increase of juvenile sex cases, Licking County is taking steps to resolve the greater problems arising from sexually aggressive children.

Four times more juveniles have been convicted of rape in 2006 in Licking County than four years ago.

"Undoubtedly, sex offenders are a problem in Licking County," said Brad Hedges, Ph.D., a psychologist for Mid-Ohio Psychological Services in Lancaster.

In order to determine the severity of the problem and address solutions, the county's Mental Health and Recovery Board hired Hedges, a researcher who has been consulting on sexual deviancy for more than 20 years.

"It's been a common ongoing awareness in Licking County for a couple years," he said. "It takes the courage of the community to look at those issues."

Licking County has committed a higher percentage of juvenile sex offenders to the Ohio Department of Youth Services per capita than almost any other county in the state, Hedges said.

In July, more than half of the county's youth institutionalized in the Ohio Department of Youth Services were adjudicated on sex crimes. Forty-two percent of those juveniles were charged with rape.

"It could be just a streak, or it could just be people being committed that shouldn't be," Hedges said. "There may not be a reason for it, but I'm being asked to look at these issues."

More Awareness

Forty-five rape and 18 gross sexual imposition cases have been filed this year. Twenty-six of the rape cases and 11 sexual imposition cases were disposed of by Nov. 1.

This isn't an indication of more sexual crimes being committed by juveniles but more filings of juvenile sex crimes, Assistant Licking County Prosecutor Melinda Seeds said. By her count, 35 rape cases were filed in 2006 through the end of October. That equals the total juvenile rape cases filed in 2005.

"That's not necessarily a reflection of more crimes, but more awareness of what is a juvenile sex crime," said Seeds, head of the juvenile division.

Hedges, a consultant who helped communities such as Delaware and Fairfield counties address sex offender issues, is contracted through next July to focus on sexually aggressive juveniles in the county, since these crimes are of great concern to people and affect the entire community.

Less Supervision

Lack of parental supervision plays a huge factor in the number of juvenile sex crimes.

"We have clear research that the younger offenders, especially those under 13, commit offenses between 3 and 5 p.m.," Hedges said. "It all goes back to healthy supervision and active parenting."

This contrasts with adult offenders, who typically commit sex crimes from 9 to 11 p.m., he said.

Seeds said a majority of the sex cases she sees are intra-familial, and a lot of families previously dealt with these situations internally. But better education on the difference between a "good" and "bad" touch has helped to inflate the number of cases reported to authorities, she said.

A number of the county's juvenile sex cases are reported because of school sex education, Seeds said.

"Schools have responded efficiently," Seeds said. "There's appropriate education at appropriate ages."

Being sexually educated outside of school also has led to more juvenile sex crimes. Seeds said Internet porn has played a part in the deviant education of these juveniles.

Newark police Detective Robert Huffman agreed access to pornography is more often than not a common denominator.

"Porn is so readily accessible that I guess it's not surprising," Huffman said.

In most cases, Seeds said a sexually educated child abuses a less experienced victim.

"I do not file charges on two kids in the same peer group playing doctor," she said.

The only similarity between some of the county's juvenile sex cases is the child had been deviantly educated somewhere -- either by pornography or by being molested, Seeds said.

The Juvenile Offender

No typical sex offender profile exists, but Seeds said she has seen common traits sexually aggressive juveniles in the county share. Many themselves have been molested, she said.

Most juvenile sex crimes are committed by boys, and juvenile sex offenders typically target younger children, she said. A lot of the juvenile offenders have juvenile victims, but not all.

These children sometimes are socially inept and often are out of their peer element, Seeds said. They tend to isolate themselves and don't have a lot of friends.

She said a lot of sexually aggressive children have behavioral problems and impulse control issues. Most are manipulative and can control children for a while before being caught.

Hedges said research shows sexually aggressive children are a diverse population.

"When you start characterizing offenders in simplicity groupings, you get simplistic solutions that don't work," he said.

A 15-year-old boy molesting his younger stepsister is more typical, but Hedges said a 15-year-old girl molesting the children she baby-sits is more challenging.

Addressing Solutions

These sex cases are huge financial liabilities for the court system, and Hedges said his job is to help to refine the process.

Licking County is doing a fine job in handling most sex cases, but there is room for improvement, Hedges said, and his role is to find ways to improve upon the juvenile system.

Hedges has started surveying the county's population of sexually aggressive children, and his first task is to get all the key players together.

In December, he plans to meet with representatives from children's services, schools, the mental health board, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and courts to create a system map on how the cases are managed.

Juveniles accused of committing a sexual crime are not charged differently than adults. Seeds said she looks at the victim's statement and what statements were made by the accused and charge on the parts that overlap or they agree on.

A problem with addressing juveniles the same as adults in terms of regulations arises in sex offender registration.

In Licking County, communities are moving more toward zoning regulations for adult offenders, Hedges said. But it's difficult to apply those to juveniles.

"You can tell an adult they committed the crime and are responsible for their actions and therefore must move, but when you have a 13-year-old child and you say you have to move from the community, you're not just punishing the kid, you're causing problems for the parent," Hedges said.

Punishment and treatment

There is a higher commitment rate for first-time offenders charged with rape than of other felonies, but Seeds said it's not frequent they get committed.

"It takes an egregious set of circumstances to get (Department of Youth Services) right out of disposition," she said. "Normally, the agencies try to handle them in the community first."

Before committing a juvenile delinquent to the Department of Youth Services, Juvenile Court Judge Robert Hoover said he considers several factors. They include age of the delinquent, prior offenses, mental and physical health, circumstances of the crime and if the child is remorseful.

In determining the sentence for most sex crimes, Hoover said he follows the same steps but includes a mental evaluation before the child is detained or treated.

Commitments and probation periods typically are longer for sex crimes than other felonies because offenders have to complete sex offender treatment programs.

Juvenile sex offenses are no more a problem here than anywhere else, Huffman said.

"We aggressively deal with sexual and child abuse in the city," he said. "For almost 15 years, Newark has had two full time detectives dedicated to these crimes."

According to the police department's arrest log, Newark police arrested four juveniles on rape and gross sexual imposition charges in 2006. The children ranged from age 12 to 17. The youngest was sentenced this week in Licking County Juvenile Court by Magistrate Jeffrey Plunkett.

The 12-year-old was arrested in June on charges of raping an 8-year-old boy. Plunkett placed him on indefinite sex offender probation and house arrest. This boy cannot have contact with children younger than 12 or access computers without adult supervision, and he also will not be able to get a driver's license until he's 18.

Hedges said these children and teens charged with sex crimes are less likely to commit the same offense again.

"Sound research shows that no more than about 20 percent of kids convicted as a juvenile become adult offenders," Hedges said. "Other research shows it's as low as about 7 percent."

A vast majority of these children grow up and function in a reasonable way in society.

"We have to do the right intervention for the right kid," Hedges said. "It's a developmental process. They are not done growing up."

By the numbers

Number of adjudications for sexually related juvenile crimes in Licking County

2003, 6
2004, 14
2005, 17
2006, 26
Sexual imposition
2003, 9
2004, 13
2005, 8
2006, 11

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