Anderson’s story reverberated around the country if not the world as one more cautionary tale involving the sexual activity of teenagers when he was forced to plead guilty to 4th degree criminal sexual conduct after sex with a girl from the dating app Hot or Not. Different than the usual dubious case talking about teens and sex is there was no alcohol, no drugs, no party scene, not even a question of if there was sex, if it was, willing if not consensual, by legal terms. Turns out she was just 14 and had lied about her age; still that didn’t stop police from filing a litany of charges, among them statutory rape, prosecutors from prosecuting and a judge from sentencing him to 90 days in jail, 61 restrictions during a 5 year probation and 25 years on the sex offender registry. His budding career in computer science gone since he is barred from either computer or smartphone, his longtime hobby skateboarding must now be enjoyed indoors in his basement as he isn’t allowed in a public park, the local skate park, the 8PM curfew will limit his success in medial labor work due to hours restrictions, like there are employers lining up to hire someone on the sex offender registry to begin with. All this despite statements from the victim as well as the girl’s mother in support of the young man; judge’s ruling complete with ranting diatribe disparaging the hook up culture today of “meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara.” Though, oddly enough, no words, lengthy speeches, value or legal judgments for the girl who started this.
Even by the time his story reached national ears there was a fight underway to reexamine Zach’s case; in addition to relentless advocacy by his parents, a 100,000 signature petition and untold dollars in legal fees plus the fixer-upper they purchased for Zach to live, since restrictions prevent him from living in the family home, there was honest analysis of his case, remarks a judge can’t base his ruling on personal feelings about what the culture should be versus what it is; the law is the law. And in both states Indiana where Zach lives and Michigan where he had sex with the girl, have a youth status, youth training program for first time offenders like him. Finally middle of last month he was resentenced by a new judge to 2 years probation, no requirement to be on the registry after the original judge agreed to vacate his sentencing and remove him from Michigan’s registry, where his authority ends. New judge also agreeing to and an ease in his probation restrictions for computer access related to school work; Zach Anderson finally has a future, finally has a life after the date gone wrong, the hook up gone so horribly, horribly wrong. Interesting too, his final judge was a woman, as opposed to the man who tried to put him under a different kind of lock and key. Still no charges for the girl at the center of the a year, 2 year long legal fight; still no message to young women about no preying on older guys, not instigating such situations.
Too bad that didn’t happen in the first place; too bad judge Dennis Wiley remains on his bench. Where is the petition to get him fired, see him resign; where is the public outcry to remove these cultural dinosaurs going to either extreme passing out sentences too lenient, the actual pedophile teacher who had sex with a 14 year old student who later committed suicide originally sentenced to 31 days in jail, the judge who sentenced a man guilty at 18 of raping his 13 year old neighbor to diversion, or too harsh, sentencing kids like Zach or Phillip Alpert (18), who got mad at his girlfriend (16) after a fight and sent the nude pic she had taken as well as given to him to all her e-mail friends list, charged under child pornography laws, to dead end lives on a registry that was never meant for them? Too bad up to one quarter of youth on the registry are teens like Zach who have consensual encounters with those who lie about their age, all the more important here because of the dating app involved; users knew, including the girl, exactly what the site was for, exactly what she was getting into and had no problem with the outcome. Too bad we have chosen to criminalize sex according to puritanical values, criminalize sex largely because it was between teenagers instead of targeting real predators. Too bad it took thousands of dollars of the Anderson’s personal finances, taxpayer dollars and man hours, time taken way from prosecuting more urgent cases, coupled with public pressure for a judge to do the right thing, for a judge to see the error of his ways.