Jailbait

Frank Rodriguez faces a lifetime on Texas’ sex offender registry for having sex with a 16-year-old—who is now his wife. He’s not alone.

These sex offenders, they're all perverts, right? Pedophiles. Rapists. Sick freaks, the whole lot of 'em. Lock the bastards up for life. And good riddance, by God.

And in the cases where we can't lock 'em up, where these sickos are showing off their weenies to little girls or some similar perversion, where the offense is of a "lesser" nature and gets only probation, we in Texas put the freaks on a sex offender registry, complete with photos and their home addresses. So we know where the hell they are. So we know where our kids shouldn't be.

Now the feds, they say if a guy lives clean for 10 years after his probation, he doesn't have to register anymore. He's rehabilitated.

Frank and Nikki Rodriguez of Caldwell live a normal life--except that Frank must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. His crime: having sex with Nikki when she was 16 and he was 19. Though the sex was consensual, Texas considers him guilty of felony sexual assault of a child.
Mark Graham
Frank and Nikki Rodriguez of Caldwell live a normal life--except that Frank must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. His crime: having sex with Nikki when she was 16 and he was 19. Though the sex was consensual, Texas considers him guilty of felony sexual assault of a child.
The Rodriguezes have three daughters: Analissa, 4; Francesca, 3; and Layla, 1. When Frank was on probation, he had to move out of his parents' home--because his younger siblings lived there.
Mark Graham
The Rodriguezes have three daughters: Analissa, 4; Francesca, 3; and Layla, 1. When Frank was on probation, he had to move out of his parents' home--because his younger siblings lived there.

In Texas? In Texas we say the guy has to register for life.

And yet--here's the weird thing--fans of lifetime registration now hope to change the rules. State Representative Ray Allen of Grand Prairie's at the fore. Ten years ago, he pushed hard for lifetime registration to pass. Now he says it's an overreaching law. Too many first-time offenders posing no risk to the public are forced to register for life, he says. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault feels the same way. So does Texas' Council for Sex Offender Treatment.

Why? Because some of our new registrants each year are... these kids. That's all they are. A high school kid who has consensual sex with his girlfriend, but the girl's parents get upset with him and press charges. A 22-year-old who hooks up with a girl at a party only to find out, days later, that she's 16, had hooked up with two guys earlier that night and her parents don't like the names she's now being called. A 19-year-old guy in a chat room who gets sexually suggestive e-mails from a girl who says she's 19, but when the two are naked at her place and her mom comes home, she tells him to hide in the closet because "I'm only 13."

All of these cases are true. There are more, many more, like them. Marsha McLane, Representative Allen's policy director, says she hears "all the time" from mothers and fathers whose sons had consensual sex but are now sex offenders. Representative Jim Jackson of Carrollton says in the last two years, "probably as many as 50" constituents called, telling him the same. But no one has a definitive count; the sex offender registry doesn't list its offenders by the nature of the act that led to the offense. Only the offense itself is registered. So all these guys, according to the state of Texas, are classified--and punished--the same as the rapists, the pedophiles and the sick freaks.

But wait--in court, surely, these guys can prove that sex with the girl was consensual, or that she lied about her age, or that she was the aggressor.

No? They can't?

Turns out, in Texas, if the girl is a minor--16 or younger--and the guy is an adult and more than 36 months older than the girl, and if he admits he had sex with her, there is no defense available to him (or her, since the law is gender-neutral). It doesn't matter that the act was consensual or that she said she was of drinking age or that he saved her sexually explicit e-mails. None of that stuff's admissible in court. He is an adult. She is a minor three years younger than him. He is guilty of sexual assault of a child.

So he pleads. Gets, on average, between five to 10 years of probation. Probation's a bitch, too. He sits there in therapy with guys who make him want to puke, applies endlessly for jobs because few take on sex offenders and applies endlessly for an apartment for the same reason. After all, he can't live with his parents if a brother or sister under 17 lives there. The probation officer won't allow it.

But the guy gets through it. Finishes probation. Yet the raw deal isn't over. He must register for life as a sex offender. So any hopes he had for a career, any dreams--"That bright future is sucked up...It's the modern-day scarlet letter," says the mother of the 22-year-old. "That isn't justice. That is a travesty."

This session, two bills came before the House, one from Representative Jackson, that would at least allow an affirmative defense in a jury trial that the girl lied about her age. But both bills are effectively dead. A third bill, by Representative Allen, would give some sex offenders the option to tell a judge, once probation's over, that he shouldn't have to register. This bill made it through the House but doesn't apply to the guys who are 36 months older than the girls they had sex with.

The scary thing in all this? Except for the people making the laws, no one knows about this 36-month rule, or the lifetime registration waiting for all who plead guilty. The schools don't know. The parents don't. The kids don't either.

"Who's liable?" asks one father from Denton County, who went through three lawyers and spent $25,000 only to be told his son had to plead guilty, that he must register for life. "I think it's a class action lawsuit...That's the next thing that will happen."

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