Parents of young men who have been busted and sent to jail for having sex with underage girlfriends are fighting anti-sex offender laws on their sons' behalf. Sex offender registry standards are unfair, they say, and enforcing statutory rape laws when the two people involved are just two kids in love is unjust. Is it?
The Daily Beast's Abigail Pesta follows the arc of the story of Ken Thornsberry, now a 26-year-old former registered sex offender who lives with his mom in Michigan. When he was an 18-year-old high school senior, he met then-14-year-old high school freshman Emily Lester at a record store, and the two hit it off and began dating, eventually having sex. Her father was displeased, there was a fistfight, and Thornsberry was sent to jail for a year. When he got out with strict orders not to contact Lester, he did the smart teenager thing and contacted Lester. The two resumed their relationship secretly, were again caught, and then Thornsberry was sent to prison. Six years later, when he got out, he was forced to register as a sex offender and now wears an ankle bracelet.
Tale as old as time!
Ken Thornsberry's mother has since made it her goal to relieve teenage sex offenders of the burden of a life of sex offender registries, ankle bracelet monitoring, and prison terms. Other parents of sons who committed sex crimes as teens are putting forth similar efforts. They note that even though their sons broke the law, the law itself is inconsistent. The age of sexual consent varies from state to state, as do the presence of "Romeo & Juliet" laws that give older teen boys a break when they get caught sleeping with younger girls, provided the distance between the two partners' ages isn't too large. Additionally, sex offender registries have ballooned to the point that they're no longer helpful to parents, even though they're well-intentioned— male teens who have sex with younger female teens are extremely unlikely to reoffend, according to a representative from Human Rights Watch. One final push for parents of male teen sex offenders? No jail time, just rehab and probation, then a clean slate.
Not everyone agrees with the idea that older teen boys who have sex with girls who are under the legal age of consent deserve a slap on the wrist. A Michigan prosecutor told Pesta, "The court isn't imposing restrictions because it's fun-it's the law. You can disagree on the age of consent, but the law says that prior to that age, a person doesn't have the ability to consent." A Wisconsin attorney agreed, noting that teen sex offenders who end up in prison often do so after ignoring a court order to stop contacting the person the law considers their victim. "When a judge orders you to do something, you do it. I wish parents would teach their kids respect for authority, the law, and other people."
While it's overkill to send teenage boys to prison for years because they had sex with their underage girlfriends, I'm wary of weakening laws designed to protect children too young to consent to sexual activity. Perhaps the solution to the Romeo & Juliet problem is to provide counseling to both the girl and boy. And keep them away from poison-peddling apothecaries.
Should Teens be Jailed for Sex Offenses? [The Daily Beast]