Opinion: Nicole Young, associate lawyer at HHG Legal, on why juvenille offenders can’t be named and shamed

Opinion: Nicole Young, associate lawyer at HHG Legal, on why juvenille offenders can’t be named and shamed

WHY Aren’t Juvenile Offenders Named and Shamed?

The recent leaked news that a 12-year-old boy was accused of sexually assaulting a 9-year-boy left parents at the affected school angry they had not been advised about what was going and they said it felt like a ‘cover-up’.

The reality is that in WA publication of juveniles’ names in relation to criminal proceedings as offenders, victims or witnesses is prohibited by law.

The rationale for protecting the identity of juvenile offenders is primarily about the impact ‘naming and shaming’ has on young offenders’ rehabilitation prospects.

Other reasons for maintaining privacy include the detrimental effects that publication would have on a young offender’s siblings and extended family, and the potential to identify child victims.

In an age of prolific social media the stigma associated with criminal charges or even allegations of criminal behaviour will be intense and very long lasting, if not permanent.

It is scientifically recognised that juveniles have underdeveloped brains, which causes impulsivity and reduces their ability to foresee the consequences of their actions.

This means that publicly shaming children convicted of crimes is unlikely to act as a significant deterrent to either the named offender or would-be juvenile offenders.

The stigma of being widely known to be a criminal is also believed to increase recidivism among juveniles.

Where young offenders accept as part of their self identity they are ‘criminal’, ‘deviant’ or ‘delinquent’ it increases their bonds with criminal subcultures, which in turn increases the likelihood of re-offending.

It is of course important that children accept responsibility for their criminal actions and the harm they have caused, and it is right they should experience shame.

However, studies show that shame should be directed at promoting rehabilitation and assisting the child to make a positive contribution to society over the rest of their lives.

A practice known as ‘re-integrative shaming’ is part of many juvenile rehabilitation programs.

While parents at the affected school are right to seek to protect their children from harm shunning or shaming the offender or the victim will not achieve that aim.

Naming and shaming children is unlawful because it is harmful to society as a whole when juveniles are denied the opportunity to rehabilitate and recover from their involvement as either offenders or victims of crime.