Jailing Teens for Being Sex Offenders

An interesting story from the NY Times came out recently.  It’s about a young man, Zachary Anderson, 19, who, through social media, found a young woman to have sex with.  The young woman told Anderson that she was 17.  In truth, she was 14.  This took place in Michigan and in Michigan, the age of consent is 16.  Mr. Anderson landed in jail and is now facing a legal battle because he could be considered a sex offender for life.  He was later arrested and charged to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct after pleading guilty, and was sentenced in 90 days in jail and probation.

He was arrested and charged and, after pleading guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and probation.  Since he’d have to register as a sex offender for life, this means that he’d have to have his residence searched every 90 days, and he cannot live near schools, parks, or other public places.  He also cannot use the Internet, which is basically near impossible in today’s world, and Mr. Anderson wants to study computer science, which he would need to use the Internet.

Some questions and comments come up:

  1. The punishment that Mr. Anderson is receiving seems to be extreme.  The point of having laws regarding sex with children is to protect the children.  The young woman that Mr. Anderson had sex with doesn’t seem to be harmed by the process.  If the young woman and the young woman’s mother is protecting Mr. Anderson, it seems that we should account for this.
  2. The punishment seems to be thus: register as a sex offender and being banned from the internet.  But what people don’t think about is the consequences of this punishment.  Being registered as a sex offender means that one has to be within a distance from schools, parks, etc. and depending on where one is, it is really tough to find a place to live.  One essentially has to move out and live in a new place.  However, when landlords do a background check, the landlords usually won’t rent the place out.  Thus, most sex offenders end up being homeless.  Moreover, the Internet is so ubiquitous that it is almost considered a necessity just to live a good life.  With the Internet being used as a constant basis to gain knowledge, make and keep friends, to find new places, or simply to learn about what’s going on in the world, it seems that the Internet is becoming more and more of a necessity.  Imagine being banned from the Internet, even as a punishment, for life.  Worse yet, imagine that your whole means of production, living, or as a means of surviving was based on the Internet.  It would feel you’d have to start over if the Internet was banned.
  3. If one breaks the law, there should be some punishment.  Mr. Anderson broke the law, but not intentionally.  He was under the assumption that the young woman was of age.  Does he deserve to get off?  Perhaps not, but the punishment described above seems extreme.  Based on the article, Mr. Anderson does not seem like the type of person that wants to have sex with minors.  As the judge mentioned in the article, Mr. Anderson is not a pedophile:

the nearly 800,000 people on registries in the United States go beyond adults who have sexually assaulted other adults or minors. Also listed are people found guilty of lesser offenses that run the gamut from urinating publicly to swapping lewd texts.

The problems from this make it so that it will be harder for Mr. Anderson to get it a job, and he has to move to meet the requirements of staying 1000 feet from certain places.  The laws were meant to protect young people, but now it seems these same laws are prosecuting them.  We need smarter laws and smarter ways of punishing people and make distinctions between actions like Mr. Anderson and those who are real pedophiles.  I don’t know where to start, but the current status is not helpful.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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