Sex Offender Laws Failing Teens In The Age Of Online Dating

Sex Offender Laws Failing Teens In The Age Of Online Dating

At age 19, Indiana teen Zach Anderson has a rough future ahead of him. His plight is due to unknowingly sleeping with a 14 year old Michigan girl he met online. Anderson’s troubles began when he visited the popular dating website, “Hot or Not.” In December, he began flirting with a girl and asked how old she was. She told Anderson that she was 17. The age of consent in Michigan is 16. However, in reality, the girl was 14.

After meeting online, Anderson suggested that the girl take revealing pictures of herself to send to him. After two days, Anderson drove 20 miles, just across the Michigan-Indiana border, and picked the girl up near her home. They bought condoms and drove to a nearby church playground where they had sex. Meanwhile, the girl’s mother panicked because the girl was late and had not yet taken her evening epilepsy medicine. While the girl did not have a phone, she did tell her older sister that she was meeting Anderson for a tryst. The mother called 911; a sheriff’s deputy arrived; and the girl arrived soon thereafter.

While the ordeal almost ended right there and then, the deputy spotted the username, “Zach Guy,” on the girl’s computer. As the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office was looking into several cases where someone named Zach was inappropriately contacting underage girls, the deputy probed further. The investigation determined that Anderson was completely unrelated to the other cases, but the damage was done. He was charged with a misdemeanor charge of criminal sexual conduct.

The fact that the girl lied about her age is not a defense under current sex offender laws. Despite the pleas of the girl and her mother to be lenient of Anderson, Judge Dennis Wiley rejected their arguments and handed Anderson a 90-day jail sentence, five years probation and he was placed on the sex offenders registry lists in both Indiana and Michigan for the next 25 years. His probation imposed 61 restrictions upon Anderson, including but not limited to an 8:00 P.M. curfew, no Internet access for five years and he cannot go to restaurants that serve alcohol.

While Anderson’s lawyers claimed that Anderson was a victim of the current culture and that the dating websites made it hard to determine the true age of someone, the judge refuted the lawyer’s argument and stated that the same culture allows for unacceptable behavior. In his decision, he stated that “[Anderson] went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women to meet and have sex with . . . That seems to be part of our culture now – meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is excuse for this whatsoever.”

Despite Anderson’s actions, he has drawn support from people across the nation that do not feel his actions constitute his inclusion on a sex offender registry. They claim that the registry is supposed to focus on true sex offenders who must be watched vigilantly and not supposed to be used to label teenagers who have made the mistake of having sex with younger girls. They propose that the one-size-fits-all structure of the registry should be abolished. An online petition requesting that Anderson’s judge reconsider his order has received over 156,000 signatures and several newspapers have published editorials that support Anderson.

Despite the pleas of Anderson’s supporters, it is unlikely that sex offender registries will change anytime soon. Even though Former Michigan Judge William Buhl believes that “If we caught every teenager that violated our current law, we’d lock up 30 or 40 percent of the high school. We’re kidding ourselves,” he predicts that changes to state sex offender registries will not soon occur because few lawmakers would be willing to support a provision that lessens the seriousness and severity of sex crime laws.

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