High school seniors, stay away from the freshmen – or else you might be arrested and sent to prison. Or labeled a sex offender. Or both.
Think we’re kidding?
Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18-year-old former high school cheerleader from Florida, is facing 15 years in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old girl.
The parents of Hunt’s girlfriend – or victim, depending on your point of view – are pressing criminal charges. Hunt rejected a deal that would have required her to plead guilty to child abuse, and the authorities said no to reducing the charges to a misdemeanor. So the felony case is going on.
If convicted, Hunt could go to jail, be labeled a sex offender for the rest of her life, and lose her right to vote.
The arguments on both sides
The arguments on Hunt’s side – which has quickly become known as #FreeKate – include these:
- She is being unfairly targeted because she is in a same-sex relationship.
- The laws of consent are unrealistic and too rigid.
- The criminal charges are too strong – there’s a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
On the other hand, many are arguing that that statutory rape is exploitative, wrong, and illegal no matter what the gender or age difference.
Some also say she’s getting a free pass from supporters – and the media – because of the LGBT context.
#freekate because she is a statutory rapist who gets public support because she's gay
— Jake Pentland (@JakePentland) May 28, 2013
Is Hunt being prosecuted because of anti-LGBT bigotry or out of adherence to laws that ignore the realities of teen relationships? Or does law enforcement have to throw the book at her after charges were brought? Should statutory rape laws better reflect the complexities of young relationships? Or continue to protect young people from inappropriate sexual contact?
There are so many questions here. It’s tricky. We have no idea what will happen, but here are 3 main takeaways from the Kaitlyn Hunt case so far.
1. Just because you feel ready to have sex, doesn’t mean you can legally.
— katelyn marie? (@kaymarie0901) May 24, 2013
Why? State laws dictate when you can legally give consent. That’s what statutory rape really means – sexual contact that qualifies as rape not because it was forcible or unwanted or both, but because it violates a state statute that dictates when someone can legally give consent.
Engage in sexual behavior before you reach the age set by your state, and your consent doesn’t count – and your partner can face legal consequences.
In the state of Florida, you have to be 16 years old before you can legally say yes to sex.
Most age of consent laws in North America – which vary state by state – say you have to be between 16 and 18 years of age to give legal consent.
But despite what the law says, one out of three high school freshmen in the U.S. say they have had intercourse. And that’s not counting the millions who have oral sex.
That means a lot of teens are having sex illegally.
2. Age isn’t just a number.
Well, according to the law, it is. Especially when it comes to things like voting, driving, and drinking.
But age can be much more nuanced and complex than the law allows. Should that come into play in how statutory rape laws are applied?
Many say no.
I don't understand this #FreeKate thing. A 14-year-old can't legally consent and an 18-year-old shouldn't be with a child anyway.
— Savannah (@thesavvy) May 27, 2013
#freekate child under 16 years of age cannot consent to sexual activity, regardless of the age of the defendant Fl 800.04 law applies to all
— Kevin (@kevinpost) May 26, 2013
Some go so far as to call her a pedophile (which, under the law, she might be).
— Shaughn (@Shaughn_A) May 28, 2013
In the affidavit, Hunt said she did not think about the age difference because the younger girl “acted older.”
But age of consent laws don’t recognize maturity levels. Or appearance. Or intention. Or ignorance. Or celebrity status.
In reality, though, teens mature emotionally, cognitively and physically at different rates. Should that come into play in statutory rape cases?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is backing Hunt, claiming that her behavior is “common” not “predatory”:
“Such behavior occurs every day in tens of thousands of high schools across the country, yet those other students are not facing felony convictions (and, in Florida, the lifetime consequences of a felony conviction) and potential lifelong branding as sex offenders.”
Some suggest that the age of consent might be better judged on a sliding scale. And indeed, some states take into account the age difference between the two people in question. Florida does not.
Other ideas for addressing cases like this include imposing financial penalties, rewarding teens’ positive sexual decisions (like taking safe sex pledges), and adjudicating “consensual” statutory cases in alternative youth courts.
3. Gender might matter in statutory rape cases.
Let’s face it: sexual relationships happen between freshmen and seniors all the time and go unprosecuted. So why is the Kaitlyn Hunt case any different?
Hunt’s parents believe she is being targeted entirely because she and the other girl were engaging in a same-sex relationship.
Is statutory rape less serious if it’s between two girls (or two boys) than between a boy and a girl? More serious? The same thing?
In half of U.S. states, consent laws either do not address homosexual sex or consider it a crime.
The online hacker group Anonymous called the Florida government’s prosecution of Hunt “selective enforcement.”
— AnonsAgainstYAN (@AnonsAgainstYAN) May 24, 2013
— Jordan Guerrero (@JordanGoRetro) May 20, 2013
Some feel that Hunt’s sexual orientation should not affect the prosecution.
— TJ Askren (@ManiaTreks) May 26, 2013
But others believe this is precisely why she is being prosecuted in the first place.
— Peter Katz Music (@peterkatzmusic) May 22, 2013
— Rachael Moshman (@RachaelMoshman) May 21, 2013
— Poppy Dixon (@dixipoppins) May 21, 2013
Do you think Kate should be prosecuted?
Images used under Creative Commons licensing.