I had a call today from someone who is considered a sex offender under New York law (and at least one other state). I had a client in a similar situation before.
The general public perception of a sex offender is someone who preys on children. The stereotype is a 40-year-old man who has sex with 8-year-old boys.
The problem is that state law casts a much wider net. In this case and in another I handled, the "sex offender" was an 18 or 19 year old male who was caught having sex with a 14 or 15 year-old girl. This does violate state law. The age of consent in NY is 17 (I think).
For starters it seems to me that this is not the place for criminal prosecution. I know many people don't like it, but the reality is that some teenagers, including some 14-year-old girls, are sexually adventurous. Probably not a good thing, but again, not what I consider a crime. If it's forcible rape, that's another thing entirely.
Anyway, we also have to deal with the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), under which "sex offenders" have to register with local authorities. In some states this is a life-long thing. The supposed purpose is to protect the community from these dangerous sex offenders. But an 18-year-old who has sex with a 14-year-old is not likely to be dangerous 10 years later.
I'm just ranting now and probably a little incoherent (we have a baby home so I'm not getting enough sleep), but I'll have to come back to this topic sometime down the road.
The ACLU has taken on some cases related to all of this. You have to search their site to find relevant articles, but it's something. There is also a very recent article from Missouri on the same general topic. There's also another good article in the Detroit News.