The Age of Consent: When Young Love Is a Sex Crime

Paying the Price

Frank took the plea bargain, which kept him out of prison, but it gave him a different kind of life sentence: as a registered sex offender. His name and personal information is on the Web, visible to everyone, on the same list with people like Wesley Wayne Miller, who murdered a high school cheerleader, and Larry Don McQuay, who molested more than 200 children.

As a term of his probation, Rodriguez was ordered to stay away from anyone under the age of 17. This meant that he had to move away from his family, because his 12-year-old sister lived at home and he was not permitted to be near even her. He moved into a mobile home, where he lived by himself.

Rodriguez was also ordered to go to sex offender rehabilitation classes, where he sat with men in their forties and fifties as they described horrible stories about their crimes against children and their deviant sexual impulses. "Some of these guys were the real deal," Rodriguez recalled.

And above all, Rodriguez was ordered to stay away from his underage victim,Nikki.

"They told me, if I were to see her, run. Run the opposite way," Rodriguez remembers. "I wasn't able to see her, they told me, until she was seventeen."

The very day Nikki turned 17 she moved in with Frank. They lived together, and a few years later, got married. They now have four young daughters, but marrying didn't change Rodriguez's legal situation. While he was on probation, he couldn't take the kids to parks and playgrounds because other children were there. He was told he'd have to get special permission to pick his own kids from day care.

Texas Senator Dan Patrick defends the tough law that labels Rodriguez a sex offender. "While it seems unfair, he was 19, she was 15," says Patrick, "That's the price you pay. Even if you end up getting married."

'It Just Breaks My Heart'

Still, Rodriguez is different from the child molesters and serial rapists that he's listed alongside on the Texas Sex Offender Registry. When he and his wife are an elderly couple, Rodriguez will still be listed on this registry as a man who victimized a 15-year-old child.

Patrick agrees that Rodriguez is different from the more serious offenders on the list, but says "we are a country of laws, and that's the law."

As a father, Rodriguez understands that these laws are meant to protect young kids. "I understand what they're doing. I mean, I have four little girls," he said.

Still, he thinks the law shouldn't cast such a wide net, especially when it comes to young couples in love. "It's been a nightmare," he said. "There's gotta be another way around it."

And Nikki's mother regrets going to the police. "If I would have known that the seriousness of what I was doing I would not have filed charges," she said. "I love Frank and he is good to my grandbabies and he is good to my daughter, and it just breaks my heart that for the rest of his life he's gonna be labeled a sex offender."

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