Lonnie Green discusses the sex offender label he has had to carry in his hometown of Mart.

If Mart city employee Lonnie Green’s saga of triumph, despair and desperation demonstrates anything, it’s that justice is often blind in how it’s meted out. This can be particularly true when it concerns sexual offenses, which American society rightly abhors and condemns. Yet there’s a big difference between foolish teens having consensual sex and, say, a middle-aged teacher, pastor or coach sexually preying on youths when he or she knows better.

Many of us only have to think of all the stupid deeds and misdeeds pondered, contemplated and maybe even done in the immaturity of youth to understand the tragedy of Green’s life. A high school football star with visions of playing pro, Green saw his dreams implode when at age 17 he provided alcohol for a party and gave some to a 14-year-old girl before the two ended up in a bedroom having sex. Court documents indicate the girl also had sex with another male at the party.

In any case, the girl’s father went to police a few days later and Green’s troubles began. Some more stupid mistakes, including breaking curfew and visiting the scene of his glories at Mart High School in violation of his probationary terms, finally landed him in prison for seven years. And since getting out, he has had to annually register as a sex offender.

Now 33 and married, Green makes $9 an hour as a laborer for the city of Mart, which has an ordinance limiting how close a sex offender can live to a place where children congregate. And two weeks ago a mother of six spoke to the town council and, holding up a picture of her 12-year-old daughter, demanded that Green be fired for the safety of all children in the area.

Is society just?

Yes, Green is definitely to blame for much of his predicament. But has society, its elected leaders and its judges been completely fair and balanced about all this? Despite the rhetoric, not all sex offenders are alike. The National Center on Sexual Behavior of Youth, drawing from research by other organizations, notes that:

Most adolescents do not have deviant sexual arousal and/or deviant fantasies that many adult sex offenders have.

Most adolescents are not sexual predators nor do they meet the accepted criteria for pedophilia, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Few adolescents appear to have the same long-term tendencies to commit sexual offenses as adult sexual offenders.

The overall sexual recidivism rate for adolescent sex offenders who receive treatment is low in most settings of the United States when compared with adult sex offenders.

One other theme runs through these reports: When all sex offenders are judged by the same criteria — not allowing for age and other possibly relevant factors — the entire system that monitors sexual offenders can become overwhelmed, ironically allowing the most dangerous sex offenders to go quietly undetected and commit more crimes.

Second chances

In shaping state laws and passing judgment on sexual offenders, it’s prudent to take into account all facts in a case, including more nuanced ones. Justice should be swift and firm, but if too successful in pushing all offenders to the very brink of society where they’re living beneath bridges and in desperation become more likely to commit crimes (and not just sexual ones), then justice has failed not just some of the condemned for whom hope existed but society itself.

Certain individuals have earned everlasting infamy as sexual predators and pedophiles. But in an age when adolescents seem to have more and more opportunities to do sexually inappropriate things and lack good judgment, a little perspective and wisdom by parents, judges and state lawmakers would greatly help, especially in rethinking state laws that can turn youthful, clandestine indiscretions into lifelong burdens that ruin lives and squelch hope. There’s no justice in that.