I did a double take when I first saw it. A teen girl in Florida was expelled from her high school and arrested for having a relationship with another girl. I hunkered down in full fury mode to read about the case. Then my racing mind came to a screeching halt as it read the magic number: 18. A legal adult had been with a legal minor. Things just got complicated.
As a dad with 10-year-old sons, under no circumstances do I want their intimacies leveraged by predators or abusers. I would like to have my sons curtail their sexual experiences until they are at the appropriate emotional and spiritual maturity level. Opinions on when that time arrives are likely to differ depending on whom you're talking to. For the sake of argument, I penciled in age 30 for my boys, but I suspect that they might find that a tad unreasonable.
All that being said, here are the facts: Teens have hormones, and they are being sexual in some fashion, and in a big way. According to a 2006 ABC News poll:
In terms of their own activity, 63 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds say they've kissed romantically, rising to 73 percent of those 15 and up. Forty-four percent report sexual touching; among older teens, it's 55 percent. Nineteen percent of all teens, and 27 percent of older teens, say they've had oral sex. As many have had sexual intercourse.
Birds do it, bees do it, and there is a 50-50 chance that your kids are doing it too. But despite the fact that the teen girls in the Florida case were doing what half of all teen girls have done, all the activities described in the poll would violate Florida's "lewd and lascivious" law.
There are facts, and then there is Florida law, and unfortunately, the two are not necessarily synonymous. Age-of-consent laws vary widely from state to state, country to country, culture to culture and time period to time period. Globally, the age of consent ranges from as low as 12 to as high as 21. For that reason alone, the objective logic and rationale behind these laws are suspect. Even "traditional" thinkers must pause and take note of the fact that it's probable that the Virgin Mary was divinely impregnated, gave birth and then had marital sex all well before her 14th birthday. Under today's tight scrutiny, Joseph and possibly even God himself would be labeled child sex predators.
There is a massive online petition in support of Kaitlyn, and even celebrated author Anne Rice has come out in her defense. "It's outrageous really that anyone would arrest a girl of 18 for relations with a girl of 15," Rice wrote on her Facebook page. "I've never heard of a boy being arrested in the same situation, ever." (In fact, boys have been arrested for the same "crime.") Rice later added:
To criminalize this girl, to force her to register as a "sex offender," to threaten her with jail is monstrous, and it would just as monstrous if she were a boy who'd been dating the underaged one for two years, too. Laws that criminalize teen age dating like this should be reformed all through our country.
Support notwithstanding, there is no disputing that Kaitlyn Hunt is in legal trouble, and the good will may not help her. She was an 18-year-old who had sexual intimacy with a 14-year-old. (The relationship began before the younger girl turned 15.) She has pled "not guilty." Legal experts in Florida agree that she may have violated the laws on the books, but she may qualify for the "Romeo and Juliet" exemption, which would not forgive her but would keep her from being labeled a sex offender. However, that exemption is usually denied by the courts. Even in the most permissive courts in the state, it is granted only about 24 percent of the time. She is not headed for one of those courts. But even if the idea of a sexual relationship between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old makes people uncomfortable, can anyone really look at the relationship between these two girls and come to the conclusion that it is worthy of a felony and lifelong stigma?
Given that older and younger teens are intermingling frequently throughout Florida high schools, it seems pertinent to ask whom the Florida law is applied to and when. County Sheriff Deryl Loar, pursuing Kaitlin's case, is quoted as saying, "When you have vocal victims, that enhances the case." So I decided to address the "vocal victims," parent to parent, in an open letter.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. S:
I cannot honestly tell you that I know what you are going through. My sons are both 10 years old. As they grow up over the next few years, I do worry about what kind of relationships they will have and their moral, spiritual and emotional health. I love them more than anything in the world and want nothing but their well-being, health and ultimate happiness.
I cannot imagine that you want less than that for your daughter. But it seems that you have had a good deal of contention, given the fact that she ran away from home in January. I imagine that your issue with her sexuality played a part of that situation, and even though I would not agree with your opinion that her sexuality is a "choice," I'm not seeking to discuss that issue or change your views with this letter. Instead, this letter is a hopeful plea for a reasoned response to her situation, because in many families that go through the issues that your family is facing, the child in question ends up taking to the streets, committing suicide or meeting some other tragic result.
I understand that you do not approve of your daughter's relationship with Kaitlyn or the fact that they have been sexual. I likely would feel similarly about one of my sons having relations with an 18-year-old at just 14 years old. I also understand that you have the law and all its resources on your side. You are not misusing it. It says what it says, and you are operating accordingly. But here is a question that I have asked people facing major life decisions, and I would like you to consider it: Would your rather be right, or would you rather be happy? I believe that that is exactly the question before you right now. The happiness in question is not minor, and it is not only your own but your daughter's, her girlfriend's, her girlfriend's family's and the community's.
Your daughter was not molested by a predator. She was involved in an overly adult-like relationship with another teen. She was not targeted by someone wanting to do her harm. She was embraced by someone who loved her and wanted good for her. As I pointed out, you do have laws on your side, and they, too, can ignore the fact that no one wished to abuse your daughter, but I'd like you to answer two additional questions: How could this end well? If you pursue the charges as you intend, and if you win, will you have created misery for all involved, including for yourselves? The answer is that the young woman may be imprisoned and tainted with a label for life. Your daughter may have to wade through the quagmire of resentment toward you and the knowledge that you demolished the tenderness of her first love. And if that weren't enough, she may have to fight feeling ostracized, unable to trust or be trusted in relationships, and be plagued by a confused sense of love and abuse.
I could never do that to one of my sons. I pray that you find it in your heart not to do it to your daughter. There has got to be a better way to work this out. You have the power to be magnanimous and effect a positive outcome for all. What is legal is not always what is spiritually right. It is not what will inspire deep and abiding love and respect within your family. Please find that kindness, fairness and compassion. Drop the charges, determine a better way to communicate, and help your daughter start a rich and rewarding life.
Follow Rob Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JandJDad