Whether we like them or not, whether they make sense to us or not – many laws are in place that need revision or need to be thrown out altogether. Putting kids on sex offender lists for having an underage girlfriend or boyfriend in high school is one of those laws that needs revision. The question is how to do it and let kids be kids and how to keep kids safe from adult predators. So here is the story if you haven’t heard it already:
Kaitlyn Hunt is an 18 year old in Florida who was charged with a felony for engaging in a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl. The minor’s parents who were fully aware of the relationship prior to her turning 18 pressed charges against Kaitlyn when she turned 18 because (allegedly) they don’t like the fact that their minor daughter is gay. The outrage from the LGBT community is good because it brought this national attention – however this is not a new problem, and Kaitlyn is not the first “victim” of these laws or overzealous parents who don’t like who their kid is dating and she won’t be the last.
Kaitlyn is facing 15 years in prison for her crime (and she did commit a crime whether you like it or not) – she was offered a plea deal of 2 years house arrest and having to register as a sex offender. She has denied the plea deal and will take her fight to court to let a judge a jury decide. While it is sad that she has become the new poster child for revising these laws – there is a distinct possibility that she will go to prison. A judge will look at the law, look at her actions and rule accordingly. Kaitlyn has no real defense. The two girls admitted to police that they had engaged in sexual behavior after Kaitlyn turned 18. I’m no lawyer – but Kaitlyn is guilty. It is really just a matter of fighting her sentence. While I think anyone can agree that 15 years is excessive in this case – there are many young men who are in prison for the exact same offense. This is not a gay/straight issue. This is an issue of responsibility for all sexual relationships between adults and children.
There are reasons for these laws to be in place. It isn’t to persecute kids in high school, these laws are there to protect children from predators. The only revision to the law I would like to see is how we determine what is predatory behavior and what isn’t. I am an advocate of the sex offender registry – however the abuse of this registry makes it pretty much useless because you don’t know if the person on that list got drunk and urinated in public or if they molested children. I don’t think the drunk guy should be on that list, and neither should Kaitlyn; or a ton of young people who have landed on this list because of a high school relationship.
Part of the problem I see with these situations is that we fail to prepare kids to become adults. We fail to teach them the responsibility that falls on them the SECOND they turn 18. When you are talking about high school relationships – 18 years olds are still in school – and they still have children as their peers. It all looks different when you use the words children versus adults doesn’t it? Children are going to school with adults. They share the same classrooms, they change in the locker room together and participate in team sports. They study together, they party together, and in many cases they think they are in love with one another.
The way I see it, there is a simple solution for these situations. Put Kaitlyn on probation until she is 21 with a stipulation that any further activity with a minor will land her on the sex offender registry and result in a possible prison term. She broke the law – however, in situations like this one she needs to learn the lesson of adult responsibility. To lock her away for 15 years to teach that lesson is excessive (especially since the relationship existed before she turned 18). Also, the minor parents were supportive of the relationship until she turned 18 – so it becomes a witch hunt by the minor parents (which I think should be illegal as an abuse of the judicial system) , and isn’t because of predatory behavior. Kids need to be taught this stuff. We don’t turn 18 and understand sexual predator laws – because we don’t teach them in school. We don’t teach 18 year old adults who are in school with minors about the serious ramifications of having a sexual relationship with their now minor peers (even if they have been dating for a year or two before one of them turned 18). All it takes is one pissed off parent and your life is ruined forever. That just isn’t part of the curriculum and thousands of young adults have been prosecuted (9/10 of them have been young men) for their high school relationships.
The laws are imbalanced and need revision. The sex offender registry should be used for sex offenders – not high school kids in high school relationships, or other nonsense stuff that lands people on the registry. As someone who was sexually abused by adults – I see a distinct difference between Kaitlyn and my abuser and the the law should allow for those differences. If we are going to prosecute sex offenders with this kind of vigor – our prisons should be FULL of priests right now but they aren’t. They are full of young people who engaged in consensual sex. We can argue consent – the minor can’t give consent legally but we all know how we were in high school. We think we can consent. We do consent and our parents may or may not like or even know about it. As a 16 years old I was very aware of what sex was consensual and what sex wasn’t.
I just think we need to look for real solutions. I think we need to leave the sex offender registry for those who are actual sex offenders. I think we should teach kids (and give them a grace period if they are still attending high school) the ramifications of having relationships with minors. Turning 18 isn’t some magic thing that happens where we have our birthdays and understand what being an adult is all about. Ignorance of the law is not a defense – however, when was Kaitlyn taught the law and the ramifications of dating a minor? This is her first lesson in adulthood. So while she broke the law and should be held accountable to it; it should not in this case – or the many cases like this one ruin this kids entire future. It isn’t what is needed here. What is needed is to use this as a teachable moment. We can use this to teach young adults how to be adults, but we don’t have to ruin their lives in the process.
Do you think Kaitlyn should spend 15 years in prison and be placed on the sex offender registry for life? Do you think the law is right in this situation?