When 19-year-old Zach Anderson decided to try out the Tinder-like dating app Hot or Not, he couldn’t have known he was about to completely ruin his life for at least the next 25 years.
Anderson had been using the app on his smartphone for about a week when he started flirting with a girl who was registered in the “adults” section of the app and claimed to be 17 years old. Anderson explained to ABC News:
“[She] was actually the first person I had met up with or anything from that. I had asked her when we were messaging. I said, ‘How old are you?’ And then she had told me 17… I just got out of high school. So it’s two years difference. I didn’t think that was a big deal or anything.”
Anderson, who lived in Indiana, agreed to meet the girl 20 miles away near her Niles, Michigan home. He picked her up and they drove to a nearby playground where they had sex.
The girl’s mother, however, thought her daughter went missing that night and called the police. Before Anderson even knew what was happening, his life began to implode.
Two months after that encounter, detectives paid Anderson a visit at his job where he works as a mechanic. He recounted to ABC:
“I was in the middle of an oil change and my friend who was working there came into the back and was like, ‘There are two detectives here, Zach. They want to talk to you.’ And my hearts pounding like crazy so yeah I knew something was going down. I told my parents that night.”
Anderson was soon arrested — it turns out that “17-year-old” girl was really 14. She had lied about her age. Anderson eventually pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The girl, now 15, admitted to lying about her age and testified along with her mother in court on Anderson’s behalf. “I don’t want him to be a sex offender because he really is not,” the girl’s mother explained.
“I feel nothing should happen to Zach,” the girl added.
But the judge was less than understanding, condemning the adolescent dating culture of “meet, hook-up, have sex, sayonara, totally inappropriate behavior.”
The judge slapped the young Anderson with a 90-day jail sentence, from which he was released last month, and ordered that he be registered as a sex offender until the year 2040. In the state of Michigan, where the offense took place, there is no automatic defense if a victim lies about their age.
“They make me out to be a monster. I can’t even look at life regularly,” he said. If he knew she was so young, he explains, “I wouldn’t even have gone to her house, like I literally wouldn’t have gone to her house at all.”
Anderson’s probation rules are insanely strict. He can’t own a smartphone or use the internet or even a computer. He’s not allowed to talk to anyone under the age of 17 unless they are immediate family, and he’s banned from going to any establishment that serves alcohol. He even has an 8 p.m. curfew every night. He has to follow all of these rules for the next five years.
Because of Anderson’s status as a sex offender, he’s not allowed to visit a park to skateboard, his favorite past-time, and he’s not even allowed to live in his parent’s house because it is 200 feet too close to a public boat ramp. His aspiration to become a computer engineer has been destroyed.
Anderson’s parents, Les and Amanda Anderson, are now appealing what they call their son’s cruel and unusual punishment and are seeking to remove his name from the sex offender registry. They are also launching a public campaign to change the law and protect anyone else who may have fallen in to this unusual trap. Anderson’s attorney, Scott Grabel, explained:
“We’re not talking about loosening the law, no one’s indicating that someone who preys on a young adult in a predatory manner shouldn’t be prosecuted, they absolutely should be. This is an instance in my opinion that you rarely get to say the defendant had no criminal intent, and I don’t think the defendant was even negligent in engaging in the encounter.”
Michigan Senator Rick Jones, who wrote the state’s sex offender registry laws, spoke on the case, basically stating that Anderson should have been more careful by asking the girl to check her driver’s license.
Now, Amanda Anderson can only seek to help reclaim her son’s life from his unfortunate sentence.
“We hope that they stop putting people on the sex offender registry like they’re passing out traffic tickets. 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.”