By now virtually everyone in the “sex offender laws reform” camp knows the story of Zack Anderson, the 19 year old Indiana youth who faces imprisonment and sex offender registration for a sexual liaison with a 14 year old who pretended to be 17. His parents have pushed and pushed for publicity on this—good for them!—and they have it. The story made the New York Times, quoting RSOL’s executive director Brenda Jones saying that the public registry was “a conviction on steroids.” Lenore Skenazy wrote a wonderful piece for reason.com about the case, with her own this-says-it-all quote: “That’s because the public Sex Offender Registry is not about public safety. It’s about public shame.”
And the "Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio on July 7, 2015, featured Zack’s story as a segue into the topic of the registry in general and juveniles in particular and the need for reform. Brenda Jones was one of the four panelists, and excellent points were made, with all panelists, even one in the “opposition” camp, agreeing that reform was definitely needed, especially when it comes to juveniles.
There is probably not a reformer among us who could not tell his or her own story of teenage sex resulting in a conviction, either jail time or probation, and placement on the appropriate state’s sex offender registry, often for life. Even states that had or now have passed “Romeo and Juliet” laws have hundreds, often thousands, of young men, and a few young women, on registries because the age difference was one year too many or because, once the exception law was passed, there was no retroactive removal.
Texas’ own most prominent case also made headlines and even went to national television. The story, as briefly as possible, is this: dating high school couple, boy a senior, girl a freshman; he was convicted of “sexual abuse of a child” and registered for life. They married; they have four children; they have been married now for over 15 years; he remains on the registry and will be there, unless something changes, until he dies. A generation before, this was called pre-marital sex; now it is sexual abuse of a child.
If this were the end of the story, it would be bad enough. However….
The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization that works to advance reproductive health, has published a report verifying that over half of our states allow all minors twelve years old and above to receive contraceptive services, many of them without the permission of a parent, which, in this situation, is actually immaterial. Almost all of the remaining states make them available to some, sometimes dependent on an arbitrary decision that the individual is “more mature.” In some states the adolescents learn of this availability and their rights in their middle schools.
Does anyone see a problem here? However they find out about them, wherever they can go to receive them, 12 and 13 and 14 year olds are being fitted with contraceptive devices in programs sanctioned and sometimes promoted by our government. With whom is it legal for these 12 and 13 and 14 year olds to engage in sex? The way the sexual penal code reads in virtually every state, no one. Not too many years ago, the state of Utah prosecuted both a 13-year-old girl and her 12-year-old boyfriend for “sexual assault of a child under 14.” They were each named as the victim in the other’s case. Both of these sexual criminals were placed on the Utah sex offender registry.
And heaven help the 17 year old who engages in sex with a fully compliant 14 year old in a state where the age of consent is 16 or 17. Her contraceptive device may protect her from pregnancy, but it will not protect him from the horrors of a prosecution for sexual assault of a child or a minor, and it certainly won’t protect him from many, many years, quite possibly a lifetime, of sex offender registration.
Our penal codes and many government practices are full of contradictions and hypocrisies. A 14 year old is unable to consent to sexual activity and, if her partner is older, will be considered a victim incapable of being responsible for the act of having sex, no matter how willing she was. However, if she decides to kill him rather than sleep with him, in many states she will be tried as an adult and held fully responsible for her decision and her action.
When an adult man is duped by a 15-year-old girl into believing she is 18, he will be prosecuted for the reality, not for what he believed. But if that same man is duped by an undercover agent into believing he is chatting with a 15 year old, he will be prosecuted for what he believed, not for the reality.
However, when we—we in the universal sense—hand out sexual contraception to those who, when it becomes known that they have put it to its intended use, may well have put into motion what will destroy either their own lives or that of their partners--depending almost always on who is the elder, and if they are the same age, the male--are not we the instigators of that destruction?
Are not we who should be on the registry?