last America is realizing how Taliban-esque our sex offender laws can be. First came the story of Elkhart, Indiana’s Zach Anderson, which hit the front page of the New York Times on Sunday (you read it here first): Zach, 19, had sex with a girl who told him she was 17 but turned out to be 14, which a judge decided makes Zach a sex offender for life. Watching a TV segment about his case, another family in Elkhart couldn’t believe their eyes.
Their son was living the exact same story.
As Fox28 reports, Darian Yoder, also a 19 year old, also met a girl on the same app Zach used, “Hot or Not.” The girl said she was 17 but turned out to be 13 – a fact Darian learned months after the encounter, when he was arrested for sexual misconduct.
Judge Dennis Wiley — the same judge who sneered at Zach’s trial, “That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior” — presided over Darian’s case and sentenced him to the same draconian fate: He is now officially a sex offender, for life. As such, he cannot be around anyone under age 18. This includes his younger brother and sister, whom he has not seen since he was sentenced.
His devastated family has been torn apart, as if Darian is an insatiable child molester. Even though we all can see what he was – and is: a teen who had sex with a willing partner he thought was his age.
But there is indeed someone insatiable in this story. Judge Wiley. He has a taste for young men. He can’t wait to ruin their lives.
That is the power we give judges and prosecutors with our over-encompassing definition of what constitutes a sex offender. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the Sex Offender Registry who bear no resemblance to the predators we fear – or that the registry was created to track. Of the 800,000 registered sex offenders, roughly one quarter got on AS minors, because young people have sex with other young people.
As for the rest, this Economist article quotes a study by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board that determined of the 17,000 people on that state’s registry, about 30% were potentially threatening, but only 100 could be classified as “predators.”
That’s 100 out of 17,000.
The Sex Offender list is a dungeon we can throw people in on the slightest pretext. The Taliban would be proud. Politicians and grandstanders exhort us to fear those on the registry. But it’s a lot scarier to think about how easily our sons could end up on it themselves.