A recent horrifying case involving teen suicide has gotten wide attention. The case got Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry thinking about the state’s sex offender registry.
If news is what people are talking about, then the big story in Michigan last week wasn’t the budget deficit, or Governor-elect Rick Snyder’s efforts to put together an administration.
No, the big story was a horrifying case where a fourteen-year-old girl killed herself after having sex with an eighteen-year-old boy.
And it ought to make us all think about a lot of things, including whether the Michigan Sex Offender registry makes any sense.
In this tragic case, both teens at first told police the act was consensual, but later the girl appeared on local TV news, and said she had been raped. Following that, the kids in her high school evidently turned on her. Eventually, the child went home and hung herself. This story is distressing on too many levels to count.
Whatever actually happened between the teens is hard to determine, though police say the girl said she told the boy she was eager to lose her virginity. If so, she later had second thoughts. As a journalist, I am appalled that a local so-called news station put this child on TV, identifying her by name, as she talked about her sex life.
Grownups ought to know how cruel the world can be.
But this whole episode really ought to draw attention to an appalling institution called the Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
Since the 1990s, the registry has listed anyone convicted of a so-called sex crime and indicates where they live. The idea was to protect children by allowing families to discover if a convicted sex offender lives in the neighborhood.
That may make some sense in the case of serious pedophiles, though it also could be seen as a dangerous invitation to vigilante action. But the registry also includes those convicted of a wide variety of far lesser offenses, including drunk frat boys who relieved themselves in public. They are on there with the serial rapists.
The main problem is in cases like this one. In Michigan sixteen is the legal age of consent. But in our highly sexualized society, there are many sixteen year old boys who are active with their almost sixteen year old girlfriends. Legally, they are committing a felony.
If they are caught, they will end up on the registry, and you can imagine what that will do to their futures.
A few years ago, I knew of a seventeen-year-old honor student who was taken to court for having relations with his underage girlfriend. Upon finding out he’d be on the registry, he killed himself by driving into the path of a huge truck.
In the case now making headlines, the student who was the dead girl’s sex partner wasn’t old enough to legally drink, but he was headed to hard time in prison, even if she had admitted that she solicited him. Our law has no tolerance for sex with underage minors, no matter the circumstances. The young man would also have been on the sex offender list for at least twenty-five years.
But ironically, he won’t be on that list now, since the only witness is dead. I’m not saying he should be, nor am I condoning whatever his behavior was. I am saying there is something terribly wrong with this system.