Teen sex offenders - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report

Teen sex offenders

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At 19-years-of-age, Amanda and Les Anderson’s son, Zach, faced 25 years as a sex offender, and a lifetime of missed opportunities.

“It was doomsday. When you threaten a member of the family with such a dismal chance of a full life at such a young age. It’s just like a hurricane,” said Amanda.

The story of Zach Anderson made national news. Zach met a girl on a mobile dating app, and decided to meet up with her.

He drove from his home in Indiana to Michigan where they had sex.

But it turned out the girl was lying about her age. She was only 14.

Even with the girl’s parents helping to clear Zach’s name, a judge wouldn’t budge, ruling Zach was guilty of a sex crime.

That meant adding him to the sex offender registry.

Zach was reluctant to speak with the I-Team, but his parents agreed to go on-camera.

“It’s almost as if there’s not a feeling that the person standing in front of this judge was an individual that has a life ahead of him,” said Les.

Zach did get a new lawyer, a new judge, and for him, that meant a new sentencing.

He is now spending two years on probation, but does not have to register as a sex offender.

But Zach’s story hits close to home for many parents who can’t help but wonder if that could be their child.

Scott Grabel was Zach’s lawyer during his second sentencing

“It’s usually a freshman-senior, freshman-junior situation. And because one parent is upset, it gets reported to law enforcement. And technically, if any person under the age of 16 engages in sexual acts, even consensual, the next thing you know there are criminal sexual charges,” said Grabel.

He works specifically with sex abuse cases, and often runs into situations with teens.

“It was not easy. These people obviously had the resources to hire our firm. But it was a dog fight to say the least.”         

Zach’s story is not un-familiar in Michigan.

The I-Team discovered Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry is the fourth largest in the country. There are more than 40,000 people registered, and about 2,000 are added a year. It’s unclear how many of those are teens.

Miriam Auckerman is an attorney for the ACLU of Michigan.

“Part of the problem is there is a really wide net. So you have people who are truly dangerous. And then you have people on the registry who were involved in making poor choices as teens.”

Auckerman filed a lawsuit against the State of Michigan in 2012, saying Michigan’s sex offender laws are too vague. She claims they lead to unfair treatment of alleged offenders, both teen and adult.

“Really the purpose of that lawsuit is to make sure the sex offender registry only really includes people that really deserve to be there. We need to be making a case-by-case judgement.”

Ironically, if Zach had stayed in Indiana with the girl, he may not have had such a long legal ordeal.

“In Indiana, if a, I’ll use the word victim, lies about their age, it’s a complete defense. It can be used as a defense, like self-defense,” said Grabel.     

In Michigan there is something called a Romeo and Juliet exception in regards to teenagers.

But the I-Team discovered it can be very difficult to prove.

“The hard part is we can talk about it, but until legislatures are willing to do something about it, nothing is going to change. Because the only thing that’s going to change is more and more consequences,” said Les.

Detective Don Koski is the student resource officer for Saginaw Township Schools. He teaches classes about this very subject. He hopes that by reaching high school students they won’t make mistakes with consequences they can’t envision.

“You’re 14, 15-years-old, and you ask your girlfriend for a nude picture of herself, and she sends it. First, you’re guilty of soliciting child pornography, and she’s guilty of distributing child pornography.

TV5 visited one of Koski’s classes and spoke with the students. They seemed to have a good grasp of the issue, but still knows it happens at their school.         

Alexis De La Cruz is a sophomore who attended one of the classes. “I definitely do think there are some people who don’t think of the consequences, and think, oh, if I do this, it won’t happen to me.”

Trace Painter is a senior. “Just being in high school, there are rumors all the time. It’s something that’s relevant in high school a lot.

Tyler Marsh is also a senior. “Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about people sending pictures in schools. It’s something that, like, nothing I’d get involved with though. Being a sex offender would be bad.”

Zach’s mother, Amanda, told TV5 “I never know what this was before this all happened. And I don’t know if most parents do.”

Zach is now on two years of probation, but getting back to his life.

He’s enrolled in college, he works, and has found a support team at his local church.

As for his parents, they say not only do families need to be more educated, but something needs to change in the laws. They don’t want any more families to go through what they did.

“When stuff like this happens, you really find out how much fight is in you. Because after what we went through, we’re willing to move mountains for our kids,” said Les.

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