Aaron Zimmerman of Grand Haven, Mich., was 18 when he began dating a 15-year-old girl.
They'd gone to church together, and the girl was two months shy of 16, said Aaron's mother, Linda.
Mrs. Zimmerman said she and her husband told their son that they didn't approve of the relationship.
“But when you're young and in love, you think that will make everything all right,” she said.
Aaron Zimmerman eventually was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and placed on Michigan's sex offender registry along with the state's worst sex offenders.
A track athlete at the high school just months earlier, his name reappeared there, this time on the high school's list of local sex offenders, Mrs. Zimmerman said.
“The only word I can use, and even that isn't dramatic enough, is nightmare,” said Mrs. Zimmerman, who now heads Citizens for Second Chances, a nonprofit organization formed to correct what members say are flaws in Michigan's sex offender registry system.
Even Marc Klaas, founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation, says lists must differentiate between “horny young kids” and those like Richard Allen Davis, who kidnapped Mr. Klaas' daughter, Polly, at knifepoint from a slumber party at her California home in 1993. Polly's body later was found in a wooded area 30 miles away.
Certainly, Mr. Klaas said, high school sweethearts who break statutory rape laws don't belong on the same books as a Davis, who eventually was sentenced to death.
“But I don't know where you draw the line,” Mr. Klaas said.
It's a gray area that bothers Lori Olender, a Lucas County assistant prosecutor who has put plenty of child molesters in prison.
In Ohio, an 18 or 19-year-old man could be placed on the list, although classified as a low-level offender, if convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a younger teen. Realistically, that could include high school sweethearts, Ms. Olender said.
Though the act is still illegal, she said, it certainly doesn't pose the same kind of danger as some of the worst offenders.
“Some cases are a situational type of thing,” she said, “rather than the guy going after little, little kids.”