Think All Pedophiles Need to Register as Sex Offenders? You're Wrong

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.
Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

How can someone who had consensual sex with a person who misrepresented her age end up on the sex offender registry for life? The case of Zachery Anderson has many asking if sex offender registries are fair. In the New York Times William Buhl said, "The whole registry is a horrible mistake. I think it is utterly ridiculous to take teenage sex and make it a felony. This guy is obviously not a pedophile."

There is a scenario even more troubling than Anderson's. Can someone who committed a sexual crime against a child not have to register as a sex offender? Yes, and it happens every day in Maryland where people who committed sex crimes before 1996 do not need to register regardless of when they were sentenced or released from prison.

I became aware of this troubling reality in September 2014 at the sentencing of my perpetrator, Christopher Huott, who sexually abused me for years starting when I was seven. Since the crimes took place in the 1980s my perpetrator was sentenced under those guidelines, which were more lenient than today's statutes. There was also no sex offender registry in place when he was sexually abusing me. So, when Mr. Huott is released from prison -- in as little as two years -- he will not have to register as an offender.

This scenario is not limited to pedophiles, and it is not limited to the state of Maryland. In many states, violent rapists and other perpetrators of the most serious sex crimes are finishing decades-long sentences. These criminals will be released into the public without registering.

How is this possible? Most states view sex offender registries as a punishment. If registries weren't part of the statue when an offender committed a sex crime, then imposing that punishment retroactively would be a violation of ex post facto law. Supreme Court decisions have also upheld this interpretation. Peugh v. United States and Stogner v. California both support the interpretation that defendants cannot be subject to punishments that were not in effect at the time they committed their crimes.

In Virginia, a new law, Robby's rule closes the gap in the state's offender registry by providing for a supplement that contains public information on past crimes in an easily accessible format. Already, the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging its legality.

It is certainly perplexing that a teenager who had consensual sex with someone he believed to be of age will have had to register as a sex offender. It is troubling and terrifying that scores of criminals who committed crimes like rape, production of child pornography, and child sexual abuse are not required to register at all and are released into the community without having to register as sex offenders.

I was a young swimmer at my local YMCA when my perpetrator came into my life and began abusing me. Because this happened in the '80s, he can reenter the community when his sentence is complete, and his future neighbors will not be able to find out about his crimes through the offender database. He will have the opportunity insert himself into the life of a family who will be as unsuspecting as my family was three decades ago. Meanwhile, a young man who had consensual sex with someone who misrepresented her age will be on the registry for life.

Would you prefer a warning about Zach Anderson or Christopher Huott? In most states, you would never have the opportunity to find out what Christopher Huott was doing to a little girl in the 1980s and why he wants to be your family's quirky friend.