Teen forced to register as sex offender after meeting a 14 year old girl on a dating app
While dating apps have helped many people around the world find their special someone, many users are now finding themselves in hot water and even facing jail time after meeting up with people they’ve met through dating apps.
Dating apps have the same risks as meeting people online. Are they really who they say they are? How can you be sure the person you’re talking to is real? Is it safe to meet them in person? Are they being honest about their age?
In the case of Zach Anderson, the answer to the last question was no. And now sadly, he’s paying a hefty price for it, after spending 90 days in jail, and being forced to register as a sex offender for the next 25 years.
The 19 year old from Elkhart, IN, insists he’s not a monster, not a sex criminal, and believed the girl he met on a dating app and later had intercourse with was 17 years old. Turns out, she was only fourteen.
They had been flirting over a dating app for a while and decided to meet. He drove the 20 miles from his house to pick her up in Niles, MI. They then drove to a playground where they had sex.
It was only after her mother reported her missing did he find out her true age. He was arrested and charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct two months later. He pleaded guilty.
The girl in question, now aged 15 years old, had admitted she lied about her age. Along with her mother, she begged the Judge not to make him register as a sex offender; due to the fact that he was unaware he was having sex with a minor.
But sadly, the judge condemned what he believed was a culture of “meet, hook-up, have sex, sayonara, totally inappropriate behavior,” at play. Being on a sexual offenders register for 25 years means Zach will be 46 years old before his name will finally be wiped off the list in 2040.
For the next 25 years, as well as being considered a registered sex offender, Zach is forbidden to live at his parent’s house, as he has to remain at least 1000 feet from public areas where children might congregate. As his parent’s home is located 800 feet from a boat ramp, this means he has to live elsewhere.
His dream career in computer science is in tatters as he is also forbidden from owning a smartphone and using the Internet for the next five years.
Zach is beside himself with the result of the case. He told reporters, “They make me out to be a monster… I can’t even look at life regularly.” He also states if he known the girl were only fourteen years old, he would have never met up with her. “I wouldn’t even have gone to her house, like I literally wouldn’t have gone to her house at all,” he said.
Zach’s parents are campaigning to have sex offender registry laws changed. The State sex offender registries have been around since the 1990s, but they have expanded to include cases like Anderson, who had consensual sex with a minor, and, until 2011, people arrested for urinating in public.
Clearly people who have urinated in public, and who have had consensual sex with someone they believed was of legal age are not a risk to the community. Zach’s lawyers have said there was no criminal intent, no negligence and that he has been wrongfully prosecuted.
Not everyone agrees however. State Sen. Rick Jones, actually wrote Michigan’s sex offender registry law, and believes Zach should have been more careful, suggesting he should have asked the girl for a driver’s license.
His parents still have hope for their son’s future and for him to be removed from the registry. “We hope that they stop putting people on the sex offender registry like they’re passing out traffic tickets,” Amanda Anderson, Zach’s mother has said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of people that don’t deserve to be on that list, and it’s supposed to be a safeguard for the community. And instead, they’re just publicly shaming these people and our son for life.”
While there are many dangers in meeting people on dating apps, and being able to verify their age, there’s also the issue that you don’t actually know how safe this person is.
Take for example the case of Gable Tostee, a self proclaimed “Bachelor” from Surfers Paradise in Australia. Gable is facing murder charges after meeting a girl via a dating app who was visiting Australia on a holiday. After meeting for sex, an altercation ensued, and the girl fell from his 14th floor apartment balcony and sadly died.
These are not the first, nor will they be the last, cases of criminal activity (whether intentional or not) involving dating apps. Just like online dating, it’s important to stay safe and to verify who the person really is. If you are going to meet them in person, have someone close by that can help if things go wrong. Tell someone you’re going to meet him or her, and when they can expect you back home.
As for Zach’s case, we can only hope that someone can see the sense in this unfortunate event, and that his parent’s and his community can rally around him to support him. His parents continue their fight to have Michigan’s sex offender registry law loosened, not only for Zach’s sake, but also for the countless others on the list that are also undeserving of being tagged as a sex offender.
What lessons do you take away from this story? The harsh U.S. criminal system for a single mistake or the lies of online dating?
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