There is a sex offender dilemma that never occurred to me until I read the story of Zachery Anderson, a 19-year old, who through a dating app called Hot or Not hooked up with a 14-year old who presented on herself on Hot or Not as a 17-year old. Well, since 16 is the age for consensual sex, Zachery Anderson has been convicted of being a sex offender. And technically that is exactly right. But this is one of those moments when the actual truth widely misses the mark. Or so it does if, as it seems, Zachery Anderson had no reason at all to believe that the female was actually 14 instead of 17. Of course, there is the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. And I shall eventually say something about that.
The case of Zachery Anderson hooking someone one Hot or Not is one of those moments when the question that mightily presents itself is whether teenagers who hook-up through Hot or Not should provide evidence to one another that each is at least 16-yerars of age. Interestingly, an affirmative answer to that question hardly settles the matter, since it is way too easy nowadays for a person to have false ID. But would someone still be considered a sex offender if she or he had sex with a 14-year old that presented false ID according to which the teenager is 17-years old? Of course, there is clearly the question of reasonableness. After all, a 12 year old could also present false ID. But the odds of a 12-year old passing for even a 16-year old seems to be pretty much out of the question. But I can easily enough imagine the case, where appearance wise, a 14-year old passes for a 17-year old and the 17-year old also has fake ID. The point here is that the moral and social backdrop of the circumstances simply do not point to 19-year old Zachery Anderson being a sexual predator.
What is more, and most significantly from a moral point of view: If we look at the matter in terms of intentionality, we do not get the scenario where Zachary Anderson intentionally set out to hook-up with a minor. And reality mightily distinguishes Zachery Anderson’s case from the typical case of pedophilia, where the adult intentionally sets out to have sex with a minor, often engaging in acts of tremendous secrecy and duplicity in order to achieve that end.
As I noted at the outset, it is undoubtedly the case that the conviction of Zachery Anderson is tied the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Interestingly, though, this law does not apply to the issue of believing information that another provides one, where there is simply no reason whatsoever to question the information that the other provides one. Absolutely none. Much of social interaction works precisely that way.
It would be one thing if Zachery Anderson and the female met-up and there was every reason to believe that she was not at least 16 years of age. But if there is no reason whatsoever to doubt her age, should Zachery Anderson have nonetheless asked to see some ID? But then suppose that the ID she showed turned out to be fake. Well, the present wording of the law with respect to pedophilia still classifies Zachary Anderson as a pedophile, as if his very intentions were to have sex with someone under the age of 16. Clearly, this treatment of Anderson counts as unequivocally wrong.
I fully realize that I am opening the door to an honest mistake in the case of pedophilia no doubt strikes some as unacceptable. But is that because (a) there cannot be any mistakes with respect to pedophilia or both (b1) honest mistakes are so extremely rare and (b2) it is extremely difficult to determine whether a mistake is an honest one. I hold that the correct answer is both (b1) and (b2). In the case of Zachery Anderson, there is not a shred of evidence that suggests that he would have pursued the 14-year old female even if he knew that she was 14-years old.
Most disconcertingly, the case of Zachery Anderson reveals a deep harm that pertains to the issue of trust that is being caused by technology. By way of technology, a person can concoct all sorts of images of herself or himself that are not true to the facts. Preventing this would require that persons submit extremely detailed and personal information about themselves to various on-line sites. But that move, of course, mightily increases the vulnerability of individuals. With a brilliance that is without parallel, technology has mightily enhanced the wherewithal of individuals to present false conceptions of themselves in all sorts of ways. And there is not an ounce of evidence that in general human beings have the self-command, as Adam Smith would say, to refrain from deep and horrendous forms of self-misrepresentation. And that reality suggests that technology may be more akin to the handmaiden of evil than most of us would ever have imagined, with the case of Zachery Anderson being an ever poignant illustration of that reality. A society will survive—nay, flourish—if and only trust is a deep, deep aspect, in general, of life between the members of that society. There is not an iota of evidence that would suggest that human beings are moving in that direction, with the simple example of Zachery Anderson standing as a most poignant reminder in that regard.
Notwithstanding all the gadgets that I own, few things matter more to me than being trustworthy. It is my hope and prayer that I can stay the course in that regard. In that regard, the wrong that Zachery Anderson has suffered has been a catalyst like none other.
© 2015 Laurence Thomas