The Sex Crime Hysteria

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by Conor Friedersdorf

If you aren't reading The Agitator you should be.

Today its author, Radley Balko, is highlighting this story:

23-year-old Matthew Freeman is facing a year in jail for violating Michigan’s laws for convicted sex offenders. He was caught by a police officer playing basketball within 400 feet of a school. He also happened to be in front of his own home. Michigan law requires him to remain more than 1,000 feet away from places where children congregate. Freeman’s mother says she checked with Pittsfield Township police before moving to the home to be sure it complied with Freeman’s status. She says they told her it did. They now say it’s Freeman’s responsibility to make sure he doesn’t violate the sex offender law.

Freeman was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault in 2003 for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. He was 17 at the time. The conviction required him to spend 10 years on the state’s sex offender list. After seeing the girl again and later getting caught stealing a video game, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, and ordered to remain on the list until 2028. At that point he dropped out of high school, and hasn’t gone back.

But let’s not be too harsh on Michigan’s law. I’m sure that because of the continuing harassment of people like Freeman, 17-year-boys and 15-year-old girls are no longer having sex in Michigan.

The injustice in these stories never fails to upset me, but you'd think that even folks whose only concern is stopping sexual predators would see that putting men like Matthew Freeman on them undermines their usefulness, both by spending finite criminal justice resources on people who don't present a threat to anyone, and by sending a far weaker signal than we'd have if predator lists were restricted to actual child molesters and rapists.

On a related topic, see Mark Bowden's eye-opening piece in Vanity Fair. And while we're at it, take a look at Mr. Balko on sexting too.

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