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Teen pushes change in youth sex offender laws

Amie Zyla prepares to testify before Congress, Thursday.
Should the criminal records of juvenile sex offenders be made public?
Crime, Law and Justice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A teenage girl who was abused as a child and convinced Wisconsin lawmakers to make public the records of juvenile sex offenders, urged Congress Thursday to create similar federal regulation.

"We cannot sit back and allow kids to continue to be hurt, said 17-year-old Amie Zyla, who became a sexual assault victim at 8.

"The simple truth is that juvenile sex offenders turn into adult predators. Kids all over the country need the same kind of protection as in Wisconsin," she told the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

The Waukesha girl recommended listing convicted juvenile sex offenders on registries similar to those states and counties compile for adults.

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed Amie's law last month. Critics say opening the records of juvenile offenders would scar them and diminish chances for rehabilitation.

Wisconsin's law requires police chiefs and sheriffs to assess the public risk of each person on the registry whose offenses occurred as juveniles and notify the community about those considered likely to re-offend.

Rep. Mark Green, R-Wisconsin, plans to introduce federal legislation similar to Wisconsin's law.

Origin of law

Amie, her father Mark Zyla and supporters, took their fight to the state Legislature in January after seeing 23-year-old Joshua Wade, the man convicted of assaulting her nine years ago, on local news as a suspect in a similar crime.

At 14, Wade was convicted in juvenile court of assaulting and threatening Amie. The conviction required Wade's registration with the police department as a sex offender.

In January, Wade was accused of assaulting and enticing children to his apartment, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He admitted videotaping dozens of them in his shower, the paper said, and he is to be sentenced in August. He faces up to 70 years in prison.

Amie, reading from a written statement, told the subcommittee she "keeps reliving the nightmare" of her abuse.

"At this very moment, somewhere in this country, a child's heart is being stolen. He or she is young, afraid, confused and feeling dirty," Amie said. "That child is being terrorized by the most horrible kind of criminal. It happens every day. And it still hurts me deeply to hear that another kid is experiencing the same kind of pain that I did at 8 years old."

In an aside to child victims, she advised, "stand up to your abusers. Abuse does not have to affect your whole life. If I can overcome the hurt and trauma, then so can you."

This year's deaths of several young girls who had been sexually assaulted have prompted some members of Congress to introduce bills aimed at tightening regulations for sex offenders.

A bill introduced in the House and Senate on Wednesday would require offenders to register with authorities before their release from prison and force two-time convicts to wear a monitoring device for life.

CNN's Kimberly Osias contributed to this report.

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