Offender story: James

Editor's Note: In Oregon, information pertaining to juveniles is not disclosed to the public, unless that juvenile, 15 or older, is prosecuted as an adult for a Measure 11 crime. James is identified by his middle name only, in an effort to maintain his employment, a condition of his probation, and in hopes that he'll be granted relief from the registry when he is eligible in one year. The newspaper granted his request in an effort to tell a story that would otherwise never be told. This is James' story.

James was 14 years old when he was adjudicated on a sexual abuse charge and was sent to a residential treatment facility for 18 months. Because he was younger than 15, he did not have to serve the Measure 11-mandated six years in Oregon Youth Authority.

"Although I missed the Measure 11 requirements, I still feel like I got the book thrown at me," James said. "They sent me to treatment, which was strenuous. They preached a religious cure for everything, with groups like (Alcoholics Anonymous) and those types of groups coming in. None of that is evidence based, it's not helpful."

James' upbringing was unlike most others his age. James said he was homeschooled by his parents, who were members of a fundamentalist religious group with which he did not identify.

Growing up, he did not interact with other people his age and says he was not aware of the "rules set in society." Their particular brand of religion, he added, was not favorable to women.

"At that time in my childhood, I did not understand or interact with women as equals. And I was going through puberty," he said. "I was curious about sex, what women's bodies looked like because I didn't know. So I manipulated a relative into taking off her clothes and allowing me to touch her private parts and masturbate while looking at her."

The victim did not tell anyone what happened. But months later, when James said he began to realize "that wasn't how people were supposed to treat each other," he confessed his “sin” to his parents, something his religion had taught him to do. Their reaction surprised him.

"I told my parents what I had done and they went straight to the police," he said.

When James was released from treatment, he went into a foster home and attended a public high school for the first time. It was then, he said, he learned to interact with his peers and how to respect other people's boundaries, "which is not a baffling concept," he said. "I didn't know humanism, I didn't know there were people in this world that believed in feminism, that believed that anyone can do anything. Our job is to treat each other as humans, as equals."

He expressed his support of more education, rather than punishment, for juveniles who are in similar situations. "I came from a very regressive culture," he said. "These children in these situations often come from backgrounds where they didn't have an opportunity to learn. It's really important to be allowed to learn. If you don't learn the rules but are then judged by the rules, like it's your responsibility to be aware of them, it's really disappointing."

As for his family, he could not reconcile their beliefs with his newfound world and hasn't spoken with them in years. In an effort not to further harm the victim, he has not reached out to her but said he is open to talking about it with her when she is ready.

In one year, he is eligible to apply for relief from the registry. Until then, he said he is working hard to maintain employment and follow every rule set out for him so he can one day be freed. "It's legal to discriminate against people with criminal backgrounds in Oregon," he said.