BY DIANE DIMOND
If an adult has sexual relations with a 14-year-old, that’s bad, right?
OK, well what if that “adult” has just turned 18 years old and has a younger teen as a love interest? Would their actions be as serious a crime as, say, a 40-year-old with a young teen?
The law says yes. The law calls it statutory rape when anyone who has reached adulthood has sex with a person under the age of 16. (In a few states it is age 15.) It doesn’t matter if it is an older person, male or female, or if the younger person is a girl or boy. It is illegal and often punishable by a hefty prison sentence.
The case that brings this issue to the forefront is playing out now in Sebastian, Fla. A person who just turned 18 engaged in a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old who has been described as looking and acting much older than she really is. When the parents of the 14-year-old found out, they called the cops.
Surely this kind of attraction is happening in high schools across the country — a senior becomes attracted to someone in a lower grade, and well, both parties think they are in true love! It is normal teenage behavior to experiment with sex. It’s one of those age-old rights of passage.
Nationwide attention has been focused on the Florida case, however, because the 18-year-old is also female. And a pretty, petite female at that — a young woman who has been an honor-roll student, a cheerleader and active in school athletics. In other words, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt looks more like the pom-pom girl who dates the quarterback than someone who would have a same-sex affair.
But she did.
She has publicly admitted that she and the 14-year-old girl twice engaged in sexual activity. Kaitlyn’s mom declares her daughter acted out of love for the younger teen.
The parents of the 14-year-old fail to see the Romeo-and-Juliet aspect of the situation, and Kaitlyn faces two counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a minor, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a requirement that upon conviction she register as a sex offender. Kaitlyn was also expelled from the high school where both girls attended classes and the sexual activity took place. Kaitlyn’s future looks bleak.
“I’m scared of losing the rest of my life, not being able to go to college, and be around kids and my sisters and my family,” Kaitlyn told reporters recently.
She has every reason to feel that way. Colleges are unlikely to accept a student on the sex registry or one who has a felony conviction. Those listed on the registry cannot be in a place where children are present, like a school, a private home or a place of employment where children might come in the door.
The prosecutor offered Kaitlyn a plea deal. If she agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child abuse, he would allow her to forego registering as a sex offender. The state attorney said he would recommend to the judge that Kaitlyn be sentenced to two years of house arrest followed by one year of probation.
Kaitlyn turned down that plea. And whether her reason is because she truly thinks she didn’t do anything wrong or she thinks public opinion (including support from gay rights groups) will sway the prosecutor or the other girl’s family to drop the charges — the harsh reality is under the law she is guilty.
I hope the Hunt family truly understands what’s at stake by refusing the plea deal. It is unlikely the prosecutor’s office will walk away from this high-profile case because the law is so crystal clear. If Kaitlyn is found guilty at trial, she faces the real possibility of years in prison. Trust me on this, prison is not a place you want your beautiful, blonde, apple-cheeked daughter to be.
What is it about the age of 18 that magically turns us into full-fledged adults with all the rights and burdens that the status implies? Nothing, really. The law had to draw a line somewhere, and age 18 was chosen.
In Georgia a few years ago, a 17-year-old honor student named Genarlow Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he and his 15-year-old girlfriend were videotaped at a New Year’s Eve party engaging in what former President Bill Clinton has declared is an act that doesn’t really constitute sex. An appeals court ultimately declared Genarlow’s sentence was “cruel and unusual,” and he was released — but not before spending more than two years in prison. This is what our laws have wrought.
It really is time to give some serious thought to changing the laws on sexual contact between teenagers. I know the laws are designed to protect younger children from older kids who might be more aggressive in pressing forward with a sexual relationship. But when we try to legislate something as hard to control as the sexual urges of teenagers, shouldn’t there be some wiggle room?
Say, consideration of extenuating circumstances like their scholastic achievements or their past contributions to the community? Do we really want to imprison a churchgoing, straight-A student bound for college because he or she acted on a normal urge?
Mental health experts will certainly say it is not healthy to declare a young person’s first sexual urges as “criminal” or somehow taboo — whether they are opposite sex or same sex attractions. The heart wants what the heart wants, and no law can extinguish human desire.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net.