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Parents fight against jailing teenagers for sex offenses

Many people in Maryland wouldn't believe that it is parents who are fighting against jailing people convicted of sex offenses on minors, but there is a growing movement of parents across the country that are doing just that. While laws criminalizing sex with anyone under the age of consent is meant to protect children, many parents are arguing that these laws are leaving many teenage men behind bars and forced onto the sex offender registry.

One 26-year-old man's story may be shocking, but it is most likely not that uncommon to Montgomery County parents. When he was 18-years-old and a senior in high school he had fallen in love with a 14-year-old freshman. As with many high school students, the two did not think about the consequences of their actions and engaged in a consensual sexual relationship. After the boy got in an argument with the girl's father, he was arrested and admitted to having sex with someone under the age of consent.

The love-struck teenager was sentenced to one year in jail and a three-year probation, but the year apart and the threat of further punishment was not enough to keep the young man and woman apart. Soon, the young man was back in court for violating his probation and was sentenced to five to 15 years and was forced to register as a sex offender. After nearly six years in prison, he is finally out.

What is surprising, however, is that his mother started working with several other parents to reform state laws regarding teenage sex offenders while he was in prison. There are now groups in every state that are trying to keep high school students off sex offender registries for consensual relationships. Parents are pushing through "Romeo and Juliet" laws that will hopefully divert many high-school students into counseling or treatment centers instead of prison.

The 26-year-old has clearly learned his lesson after six years in prison and he was recently lucky enough to have his name removed from the sex offender registry. It was his former girlfriend's testimony that persuaded the court to take his name off the registry.

Source: The Daily Beast, "Should Teens Be Jailed for Sex Offenses? A Growing Parental Rebellion Says No," Abigail Pesta, Jan. 25, 2012

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