Zachery Anderson’s punishment for using a dating app to meet a girl and having sex is ludicrous. The crime is in the girl’s false reporting of her age, 17, not 14. The mother of the girl – that is all we know about her, not a name or anything else except that she lived in Michigan, across the border from the “defendant,” who is resident in Indiana -- called the matter into the police when the girl went missing from whatever time limits were rules of the house. For this indiscretion, Zachery Anderson spent time in prison, is on parole, and is on a national database for sex offenders. A computer science student, he is not allowed to use the Internet for five years. I repeat: His punishment is ludicrous.
All I know about this case is what I have read about it. If more comes out later to invalidate my thoughts, so be it. But assuming the facts before us, let’s review: Zachery and “the girl” used an app to meet. They met. They had sex. The mother called the police concerned about her daughter’s whereabouts. The police were at the girl’s house when she returned. What was said at that point is information not provided. Police later turn up at Zachery’s parent’s house. Indicted. Convicted. Sentenced. His life unreasonably altered. Even the girl testified at his sentencing that he did not deserve it. What’s next?
Reform of sex offender laws written before the Internet. Why, you ask, should the Internet make any difference? Not because of anything inherent in the Internet, but in the recognition that the Internet has brought into bold relief how laws about the minor and majority age for statutory rape are outdated. I will boil it down even more: the sentence does not fit the crime. Statutory rape signals the irrelevance of extenuating facts. Did the girl misrepresent her age? In this case, she did, saying she was 17, not 14. Is that hard to believe? NO! Not with the fashion and advertising industry such as it is that sexualize young women from even earlier ages. Medical science suggests that menstruation starts as early as nine now, for whatever that is worth, which I do not suggest is dispositive but an indication that young women are maturing physically as well as socially at an early age in our culture. Should the law still protect girls who are 15 and younger? Yes. Should Zachery been more discriminating and deserve some form of legal redress? Yes, I will accept that judgment. But on the sex offender list such as it exists to protect young children against full-blown adult, repeated predators? No. The punishment does not fit the crime.
Statutory rape laws as they current exist are not good for adolescent girls or boys. Lying about one's age should be a crime. As a feminist, I insist that girls suffer the consequences of that deceit. As a traditionalist, I don’t think that hook ups at that age are a good idea in the least. As the mother of two boys, now 18 and 23, I sympathize with Zachery’s parents.
The judge is the one who gets my goat. You don’t like teen-age sex? Dating Apps? The Internet? That’s your individual right to belief. But as a judge do you really think it fair to brand this young man for the rest of his life? That’s called scapegoating. Hoisting massive social change onto a single individual or case. The district attorney sounds like a good old boy to boot. Something is bothering you, or else you would not have pointed out to the judge that in previous cases the local court did not react thus. But did you really go to bat not just for this one young man but also for the very ludicrous nature of this young man’s sentence? No? Well in this case, you have the New York Times and its readership now to take you to task. Good luck, buddy, you’ll need it.
And the lesson about the intersection of law and the Internet from this case? That the Internet sometimes acts as a magnifier of other cultural anomalies, even though in some people’s eyes it is cause rather than the prism through which we see light. And it matters to discuss this issue because these ages in particular are relevant to readership who care about young people in these age groups, including in our colleges and universities. Please, your comments?
Read more by
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading