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Monday, July 20, 2015

Lenore Skenazy: “The sex offender list is a dungeon we can throw people in on the slightest pretext. Politicians and grandstanders exhort us to fear those on it”


When a Teen Had Sex With Another Teen, a Judge Tore His Family Apart, June 20, 2015
By Lenore Skenazy

At 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 recently (you read it on Reason.com first). 

Anderson, 19, had sex with a girl who told him she was 17 but turned out to be 14, and a judge decided that makes Anderson a sex offender for life. Learning about his case, another family in Elkhart couldn’t believe it. 

Their son was living out the same story.
 


As Fox28 reports, Darian Yoder, also a 19-year-old, met a girl on the same app Anderson used, "Hot or Not." The girl said she was 17 but turned out to be 13—a fact Yoder learned months after the encounter, when he was arrested for sexual misconduct. 

Judge Dennis Wiley, the same judge who sneeringly told Anderson, "That seems to be part of our culture now: meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior,” presided over Yoder’s trial and sentenced him to the same draconian fate. 

Yoder, like Anderson, is now officially a sex offender, for life. As such, he cannot be around anyone under the age 18, as if he were some insatiable child molester. That includes his younger brother and sister, whom he has not seen since he was sentenced. His devastated family has been torn apart. 

According to Fox28: "I know I'm not a sex offender," said Yoder. "Had I known her age, I never would have even talked to her." 

The young man can't go to church, a park or even a mall. "It's just far too much," said Yoder.  "I have no life. I can't do anything."

"It's not a family anymore," said Yoder's mother Vanissa Messick. "And it just doesn't feel like it ever will be." 

Yoder says he can't be near anyone under age 18, including his younger brother and sister, whom he hasn't seen since his arrest. "I mean we can't have Christmas," said Messick. "He can’t see them on his birthday, he can't…anything"

Yoder was a teen who had sex with another teen—one he thought was his own age. If there’s a predator in this story, it’s the judge who keeps ruining the lives of these young men. 

That is the power we give judges and prosecutors with our all-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 monsters we fear.  

Of the 800,000 registered sex offenders, roughly a quarter of them were added as minors, because young people have sex with other young people. 

The sex offender list is a dungeon we can throw people in on the slightest pretext. Politicians and grandstanders exhort us to fear those on it. But it’s a lot scarier to think about how easy it is for our sons to end up on that list themselves.