By Lenore Skenazy
Les and Amanda Anderson arrived in New York from Indiana this past Thursday night and headed straight to Times Square, as many tourists do. But as they gaped at the billboards and read the news zipping by in lights—“19-Year-Old Sentenced to 25 Years as a Sex Offender”—they stopped dead in their tracks.
That 19-year-old is their son, Zach.
“It took a minute to absorb—it was 1 a.m.,” Amanda told me. I met the Andersons for lunch in Chelsea their second and final day in the city. They’d come to tape a talk show with the popular preacher, T.D. Jakes. “Nightline” had filmed them in their Elkhart home a few days earlier, and they’ve also been on CNN and in the New York Times, all because of a date their teenage son made earlier this year.
Zach had gone on the app “Hot or Not?” and met a girl who lived just over the border in Michigan, who said she was 17. They met up and had sex.
But when she didn’t get home on the dot, her worried mom called the cops, because her daughter has epilepsy. When she got home, the cops found out where she had been and also her true age: 14.
Zach was arrested for rape.
The judge at the trial knew all these facts. What’s more, the girl and her mom both came to testify on Zach’s behalf. “I don’t want him to be a sex offender because he really is not,” the girl’s mom declared.
The judge ignored them and sentenced Zach to 90 days in prison — followed by 25 years on the Sex Offender Registry.
“He just turned around and looked at me like, ‘Help,’ ” said Les, choking up as we sat in a Seventh Avenue deli.
The town rallied around the family.
“We’re praying for your son every morning,” one business associate told Les.
A mom told Amanda, “All the parents are talking about is, ‘This could happen to any of us!’ ”
The South Bend Tribune did an amazing write-up and Zach’s case became a cause celebre.
But you can be a cause celebre and still have to live under Sex Offender Registry restrictions. That means that three weeks ago, when Zach got out of jail, he could not go home. As a sex offender, he cannot reside with anyone under 17, and that includes his younger brother.
The Andersons broke into their savings and bought Zach a small house far from any school or playground (another registry requirement). Each night, he must be home by 8. The police can come at any time to do a search, and already have. What were they looking for?
Movies. Not dirty ones—clean ones. Zach can’t have any G-rated movies like “Home Alone,” on the assumption that watching kids will trigger his urge to rape them.
Zach also cannot have a smartphone.
“We got him a flip phone and we had to bust the camera with a screwdriver to break it,” said his dad. Zach can’t have any access to the Internet, either, which means he has to change his college major: Computer science.
And he’s not allowed into a library, skate park, or mall, because there are kids around. He couldn’t even accompany his parents to New York. Probation restrictions.
“I asked Zach, ‘Did they ever teach you this in high school? Did they cover the Age of Consent laws?’” said his mom, Amanda. “He said yes, which is why he asked the girl how old she was.” But there, as here, if a minor lies about her age, that doesn’t make her partner any less guilty.
So here are the laws in New York, according to criminal-defense lawyer Ron Kuby:
• Third-degree rape is defined as being 21 or older and having sex with someone under 17.
• Second-degree rape: If you are 18 or older, and have sex with someone under 15, unless the defendant is less than four years older than the victim when the act occurred.
• First-degree rape criminalizes any person who has sex with someone under 11, or someone 18 or older who has sex with someone under 13.
This week, Zach was scheduled to go back to court to request a retrial. Me, I’d like to request a re-trial of the laws that are creating “sex offenders” out of normal, horny young people.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and the author and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.