Overreach of sex registration laws getting national attention

A recent NY Times article that made it in into the site’s top ten most-emailed list reported on Zachary Anderson, a 19-year-old from Indiana who used the dating App Hot or Not to hook up with a girl who said she was 17.

Anderson met up with the girl and they had consensual sex. She later confirmed that she had continued to tell Anderson that she was 17. In fact, she was 14, and, after her mother called the police, they initiated an investigation.

I wonder if District Judge Dennis M. Wiley has a teenage kid, and, if so, if he’s examined the kid’s phone lately. I’d suggest that judges and prosecutors old enough to have teenagers might want to check themselves before self-righteously ruining another teenager’s ability to be a productive member of society.

The arbitrariness of this decision is what must be most frustrating to Anderson and his parents. Casual sex resulting from phone-based dating apps is a generational phenomena, even a cultural movement. The “transaction costs” of sexual encounters is dropping precipitously, at least on the front end. You get to solicit and flirt without a face-to-face encounter, get rejected or accepted by simple visual cues on a little screen rather by an actual person. It’s all so easy. To think that a 19-year-old kid is a bad guy in partaking in sexual encounters like this is at best naive. Right or wrong, it’s now normative for a whole generation. The judge recognized this fact in his ruling, but though this warranted a harsh punishment rather than leniency. The judge wanted to make an example of Anderson so that . . . other kids would stop using the internet to have sex? So that he, Judge Wiley, could make a stand against the decaying sexual morality of the 21st century?

The better response would be to legally distinguish between a true pedophile and a person who makes a poor choice when looking for a quick and easy sexual encounter.

As the excesses of the legal system’s response to marginal “sex offenders” grows, I’m hoping that judges like Wiley will start bringing a more nuanced perspective to punishing offenders, and that the law changes to give judges more case-specific options when dealing with kids like Anderson.