Winding up in the position of being charged with a sex crime is now easier than ever. With the expansion of the internet to something that can provide instant access to virtually everything, often with little thought or introspection, and the growth of social media platforms that have become the proxies for much face-to-face interaction, poor choices are easier and faster than ever.
The New York Times tells the story of a 19-year-old from Elkhart, Indiana, but it could just as easily be about a boy from Minneapolis, Bloomington or Woodbury. He met a girl from Michigan on a dating site and agreed to meet her. She claimed she was age 17, but was actually only 14-years-old.
They met at a park and had sex. Her mother wondered where she was and contacted the police, who were at her home when the couple returned. He was later arrested and pled guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carried a 90-day sentence of jail and probation, reflecting the lack of seriousness of the crime of consensual underage sex.
But his sentence also included a prohibition on email and internet use. Given the fact that he was studying computer science, that provision is particularly problematic.
Moreover, he also faces the lifetime reporting requirements of the sex offender registry, which could destroy his chances for educational opportunities or a job.
The elimination of the sex offender register could be warranted simply from the grounds that they are destructive to the lives of those who become enmeshed within them for minor sex crimes.
But there is a more compelling reason. They do nothing to enhance public safety.
They were enacted by state legislatures and the U.S. Congress out of fear and the need to be seen as "doing something" when faced with tragic crimes, like the abduction of Jacob Wetterling and Adam Walsh, whose names are now affixed to federal laws.
If legislatures want to make all sex crimes subject to life in prison without parole, they may do so. However, they should not create laws that create a false sense of security, prevent no crime, while unfairly stigmatizing thousands.
Source: newyorktimes.com, "Teenager’s Jailing Brings a Call to Fix Sex Offender Registries," Julie Bosman, July 4, 2015