When Les and Amanda Anderson went to pick up their son from a county jail in St. Joseph, Michigan, it was the first time they had seen him in two and half months.
“I was thinking just coming up here it’s like he shouldn’t be here,” Les Anderson said. “This, you know, it shouldn’t be happening.”
Since his release last month, their son Zach Anderson’s freedom has been severely restricted because at just 19 years old, Zach is a convicted sex offender.
Zach was arrested last winter after having sex with a girl he met on the dating app “Hot or Not,” who claimed she was 17. But she admitted to police that was a lie. She was really 14.
If he had known she was so young, Zach said, he never would have met her.
“I wouldn't even have gone to her house, like I literally wouldn't have gone to her house at all,” he said.
As a convicted sex offender, the terms of Zach’s probation are incredibly strict. For the next five years, he is forbidden from owning a smart phone or using the Internet. He is not allowed to talk to anyone under age 17, other than immediate family. He is banned from going to any establishment that serves alcohol and he has to be home before 8 p.m. every night.
“They make me out to be a monster,” Zach said. “I can't even look at life regularly.”
His parents say his punishment is cruel and unusual, and they are waging a very public fight, even setting up a Facebook page, hoping to rally support for their son.
Zach graduated high school just last year. Like many teens, he turned to his smart phone to find a date one night. He says he was on the dating app “Hot or Not” for about a week when he started talking to the 14-year-old.
“[She] was actually the first person I had met up with or anything from that,” Zach said. “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.”
The then-14-year-old girl falsely registered on the “adults” section of the dating app. Zach said after they connected, they flirted through text messages and arranged to meet in her hometown of Niles, Michigan, 20 miles across the state line from Zach’s home in Indiana.
“I had been with one other girl before that,” Zach said. “But she was 18, and I was 18, and I kind of just did it to get, you know, to do it, because I was 18.”
Zach picked the then-14-year-old girl up and they drove to a playground in Niles, where they had sex.
Unbeknownst to them, the girl’s mother had called police that night because she thought her daughter was missing. Two months later, detectives showed up at Zach’s job at a mechanic shop.
“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,'” Zach said. “And my hearts pounding like crazy so yeah I knew something was going down. I told my parents that night.”
Zach was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. After admitting that she had lied about her age, the now 15-year-old and her mother even testified on Zach’s behalf at his trial.