Once again, the ethical complexities of applying statutory rape and age of consent laws to relationships between non-adults and just barely adults has led to an ethics train wreck. The worst example in recent years has been the epic criminal system abuse of Genarlow Wilson, which if you are unfamiliar with his story and its aftermath, you should catch up here and here. The Kaitlyn Hunt case,however, has potential to be an epic of its own.
It appears that Floridian teen Kaitlyn Hunt was involved in a consensual, same-sex relationship with another girl in her school while both she and her partner were minors. They had started dating at the beginning of the school year, and the relationship had been known to both parents for months. Clearly the parents of the younger girl did not approve, for when Kaitlyn turned 18—the other girl was 15—they filed a criminal complaint with police.
No doubt about it: under the law, Kaitlyn was a violator. The law, Fla. Stats. § 800.04,reads in relevant part…
A person who:
(a) Engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age …
commits lewd or lascivious battery, a felony of the second degree ….
That’s Kaitlyn. The statute is not gender specific, and she meets all of the criteria, as does her “victim.” As in the Wilson fiasco, however, the statute was never intended to apply to such a case, in this instance making a felon out of a teen who doesn’t end a consensual sexual relationship with another teen simply because she has a birthday. Nonetheless, Hunt was arrested and charged. The state attorney’s office offered Kaitlyn Hunt a plea deal including two years’ house arrest and a year of probation, which would stay on her adult record and limit her career choices.
Here is the ethics carnage and train wreck miscreants to date:
- Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and Kaitlyn, as an adult, continued a relationship with a minor after it has become a crime. The only ethical thing she did wrong, however, is violate a badly-drafted law.
- Kaitlyn Hunt’s parents knew about the relationship, as well as her birthday, obviously, and as citzens are charged with knowledge of the law. They failed their daughter by not warning her.
- The parents of Hunt’s girlfriend, according to Kaitlyn’s mother, never approached Kaitlyn’s parents or made any effort to resolve their objections to the relationship before going to the police. So cruel and unfair.
- If it has to be prosecuted at all, the “offense” should be dispensed with by the prosecutor, employing the most leniency possible. I think this is a superb example of when a prosecutor, in the interest of justice, should decide not to prosecute.
- The Florida legislature passed a bad law. All such laws should exclude this kind of situation, and consider other situations worthy of an exception.
- Finally, various media outlets and websites characterized the story as a case of anti-gay bias where a teen is being persecuted for a same-sex relationship. It might be anti-gay bias on the part of the parents, but as Eugene Volokh points out, the parents may well have had the same objections if Kaitlyn was a boy. This is misleading, trouble-making journalism.
- UPDATE: I omitted to mention the vigilante internet group Anonymous, which is also getting involved, making threats, and being arrogant. Any involvement by anonymous vigilantes in local law enforcement is unethical, no matter who or what they support.
Protecting children and teens from sexual abuse by adults exploiting their superior authority and status is a legitimate law enforcement goal, but it should also be a high priority to craft laws and enforcement policies so innocent teens like Genarlow Wilson and Kaitlyn Hunt don’t have their young lives permanently scarred.
Pointer: Alexander Cheezem