Nineteen year-old, Zach Anderson, is now listed among the most violent registered sex offenders after having sex with a young woman who admits to lying about her age.
Perhaps “Hot or Not” wasn’t the best choice for nineteen year-old Zach Anderson of Indiana to find a potential hook up. And, according to the Michigan judge who handled Zach’s case, Zach’s behavior of meeting someone on the Internet, then soon after having sex, was unacceptable. Perhaps his behavior was ill-advised, even potentially dangerous, but was it illegal? Moreover, was justice served in this case?
This is a story riddled with numbers.
Zach Anderson is a nineteen year-old young man from Elkhart, Indiana. He used the “Hot or Not” app to connect with a young woman in Michigan who told Anderson she was seventeen, when in reality she was fourteen.
The two arranged a meeting, around the Indiana-Michigan border, just twenty miles away from Anderson’s home. They engaged in consensual sex, but after several hours of the fourteen year-old away from home and a missed dosage of epilepsy medicine, the young woman’s mother became concerned and phoned the police. When the young woman returned home, she was pressed by the police to explain what occurred. Anderson was subsequently arrested and charged with criminal sexual conduct, a misdemeanor.
After spending 73 days in prison, Anderson now faces 61 probation restrictions including no Internet use for five years, an 8:00pm curfew, and a ban from living in his own home since his younger brother is fifteen years old and therefore, a minor.
Most significant of all, Anderson will remain on the Indiana and Michigan sex offender registries for the next 25 years. This will follow him as he finds a job, purchases a home, and seeks a relationship. His behavior will, for the next quarter century, be equated with the most violent sex offenders in society, as most states’ offense-based registries do not clearly delineate risk of the offender to the public.
Without the following information, Anderson’s conviction and sentencing might seem fitting. But when you learn that the young woman’s mother begged police not to arrest Anderson, as she recognized it was her daughter who had lied. Or, when you learn the young woman’s mother also testified in court that Anderson should not be placed on the sex offender registry. When you learn that portions of journal entries and notes from the young woman to Anderson apologize for lying about her age and express that she should be serving punishment, not Anderson. Or, when you consider the judge had the opportunity to provide a lighter sentence due to Anderson’s age but chose not to. Well, with these factors, we return to the question: Was justice served in this case?
In recent years, the sex offender registry has come under scrutiny as a social justice, civil liberty, and human dignity issue. Advocates for reform like Brenda V. Jones, executive director of the Reform Sex Offender Laws advocacy group, states that sex offender convictions and sentences like Anderson’s have repercussions beyond the offender. Employers are hesitant to hire those on the registry because customers may avoid their establishment.
A 2010 report issue by the Council of State Governments also suggests that enforcement of current policies for residency and reporting require significant time and manpower from law enforcement agencies when not all individuals on the registry are of equal risk or threat of recidivism.
While Zach Anderson was 19 at the time of his conviction, his story sheds light on a concern about young men under 18 who are currently on the sex offender registry. While some have been convicted of violent and egregious sex offenses, others have been placed on the list for participating in sexual acts common among teenagers. As one author puts it, “People are on the registry for the sex they had as teens with teens.”
To our GMP readers, what are your thoughts on this issue? Was Zach Anderson fairly charged? Should sex offender laws be reformed? Can society strike a balance between protecting the public and victims while also differentiating between risk and threat of recidivism?
Image credit: dayblakelydonaldson/flickr