I never like using the names of teenagers accused of sexually abusing young children because they are children themselves. Most likely, they were also abused. But the compassion and protectiveness one feels for such teens shouldn’t outweigh the safety of those around them — particularly before they are tried and sentenced, if they are found guilty.

This issue comes up every time I see teens charged with sexual abuse, and today it came up again. The story is pasted below because the online link has messed up in The Gazette’s database, but you can still see the firestorm of comments it generated:

The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — Two Cedar Rapids teens have been charged in separate instances of second-degree sexual abuse, accused of committing sexual acts on children under the age of 12.
Hannah L. Hall, 15, of 1443 E. Bertram Rd. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5 year-old child between Oct. 23, 2007, and July 24, according to court documents. She is also charged with indecent exposure, accused of exposing her genitals to the child.
Patrick W. Conlon III, 14, of 820 15th St. SE, is accused of performing a sex act on a 5year-old boy between Jan. 1, 2008 and Aug. 28, according to court documents.
Hall is set to go to trial on her charges Feb. 20 in Juvenile Court. Conlon’s Juvenile Court trial is set for March 19.

It is my job as public safety reporter to make sure my community has the information it needs to make informed decisions. We only publicize serious (mostly felony) charges against juveniles. It’s a common misconception that juvenile court records are confidential — once a petition has been filed against a juvenile in Iowa, the charges contained on it become public record unless it is sealed by a judge. Unlike “adult” court, very few petitions are dismissed from juvenile court after they are made public record because most of the work is done BEFORE charges are ever filed. That mechanism is there to protect children, and I keep that in mind every time I get access to these records.

I’m also aware that it is human nature to automatically demonize anyone who sexually abuses a child. In some instances the people who do it truly deserve to be scorned, but reserving judgment has never done me wrong. It affects me greatly to think some of these teens I write about may be hurting inside because of abuse that happened to them and are merely acting out those scenes on others. I was a victim of emotional abuse as a child, and from my own experience I can tell you patterns of unacceptable behavior carry through generations of family members. I ache for kids in much worse situations than mine.

Perhaps identifying these patterns of abuse will eventually lead to a better society through the treatment of these teens who are caught in the middle.