In the second half of Liberal Dan Radio tonight I discussed the issue of Kaitlyn Hunt and the charges against her in Florida. If you are unfamiliar with the story, I suggest reading the Huffington Post synopsis of it. Basically, while Ms. Hunt was a senior and 17/18 she involved herself in a physical relationship with a freshman who was 14/15.

Before I discuss the particulars of the case, it is vital that we look into the laws pertaining to the age of consent in Florida. In Florida, the age of consent is 18. However, it is legal for a teenager of 16 or 17 years to have sex with someone as old as 23.

Now, I have several issues about this case and with some of the activists who are fighting the charges against Ms. Hunt. The ACLU is condemning the charges against her but is making some flawed statements pertaining to the specifics of the case. It said

The facts as we understand them suggest that the state is prosecuting Kaitlyn for engaging in behavior that is both fairly innocuous and extremely common,

I am hardly a puritan when it comes to sex. However, I am not sure if sex between a senior and a freshman can be labelled as “innocuous”. Sure, it may be common but just because something is common does not make it right.

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,

This is a life sentence for behavior by teenagers that is all too common, whether they are male or female, gay or straight. High-school relationships may be fleeting, but felony convictions are not.

The ACLU is being disingenuous here. Age of consent laws differ from state to state across this country. It is possible that such behavior in other states is perfectly legal. I personally would advocate for making a uniform age of consent law that can be consistently applied across the nation. The fact that there is such disparity in the consent laws across this country shows just how hard it is to come up with an exact definition of who is able to consent and who is not.

The ACLU is also forgetting about the so called “Romeo and Juliet” law that exists in Florida. While it does not forgive the crime that is committed, it does allow for a young person who is convicted of a crime such as this to remove his or her name from the sexual offenders list, thus making the conviction of such a crime not a lifetime punishment.

Some people, including the parents of Ms. Hunt, have suggested that this is a gay rights issue. They believe that the parents of the younger girl are only coming after Ms. Hunt because they are “bigots” who do not want to accept that their girl might be a lesbian (or at least be sexually attracted to girls or at least open to experimenting with girls). They may very well be upset at their daughter being sexual active with another girl. However, I am not convinced that the parents would have avoided pressing charges had their daughter had sexual relations with a young boy.

Furthermore, I also have an issue with the idea that people who are supportive of equal rights are going to be suggesting that gay teens should be able to violate age of consent laws. That doesn’t seem to be a good way to win advocates to your side. Equality will not be found by advocating that gay teens should be exempt from state consent laws.

The state has also stated that they would pursue charges had it been an 18 year old boy with a 15 year old girl.

One of the most stunning parts of this story is this article written by the father of Ms. Hunt. It brings up several very important questions about this story that really make me scratch my head.

While Kate was three years older than her girlfriend, they were peers. But when Kate’s girlfriend’s parents learned of their relationship, they went directly to the police to press charges without sharing their objections with Kate or her family.

Why would they have any responsibility to share their objections with Ms. Hunt or her family? That is just absurd. If I am a bigoted parent (what some are claiming the younger girls parents are) who disapproves of all homosexual activity and I know that the parents of my daughters girlfriend are OK with the relationship, why would I believe that those parents would be open to a discussion? If you believe a crime is happening, would you warn the parents of the criminal before contacting the police? The belief that they had any responsibility to come to the parents first before making a criminal complaint is absurd.

The police taped a conversation between Kate and her girlfriend, which led to Kate’s arrest. Kate was interrogated extensively without a lawyer present. I am a former police officer, so she trusted the police and didn’t feel she had anything to hide. Kate was eventually charged with two counts of felony lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12-16.

He stated that his daughter was interrogated by the police, without an attorney, in part because she trusted police officers. Now, come on. Seriously? I cannot believe that this father did not instruct his daughter that if she is ever detained and interviewed by police that she should both ask if she is free to go, if she is under arrest and if so that she would like to speak to an attorney. All parents should be instructing their children on what they should do if they are arrested by the police and that they should never waive their right to have an attorney present for all questioning. So the fact that Mr. Hunt did not make this clear to his daughter shows a huge failure in parenting on his part.

This relationship occurred when they were both minors, and my daughter’s girlfriend’s parents waited until she turned 18 to arrest her.

So? There is no difference under the law. It was illegal for Ms. Hunt to have sexual relations with a 14/15 year old at 17. It was illegal for Ms. Hunt to have sexual relations with a 14/15 year old at 18. The idea that they waited until she turned 18 makes no sense because there is no legal difference between the two acts.

My daughter’s girlfriend has said from day one, she cares about my daughter, she never wanted her parents to do this, she was 100% consenting and it was by her own choice that she was with my daughter.

Florida law does not consider consent to be valid for such cases. That she said yes makes no difference. It doesn’t matter how bad the younger girl wanted it. Ms. Hunt had a legal responsibility to say no.

On All In with Chris Hayes, the mother of Ms. Hunt admitted that she (and obviously her husband) knew about the relationship that was going on. WHY ON EARTH wouldn’t the parents of Ms. Hunt, including her father who was a police officer, advise her that any sexual touching that took place between the two would be illegal and make sure that she was absolutely aware of this fact before pursuing the relationship further. Her mother claimed to not realize that this was the law but wouldn’t her father know? Is this why the father did not join them on the show? And even if they claim that Ms. Hunt was ignorant of the law (as her mother claims to have been), ignorance of the law is not an excuse, especially in cases of statutory rape.

The fact that her father did not properly advise her on how to deal with police officers after an arrest and on how the law would treat her relationship with a 15 year old if caught does make me feel very sorry for Ms. Hunt.

On All In, her attorney also stated that Ms. Hunt is being charged with a crime that was intended to protect children from adults. I will agree that an 18 year old having sexual relations with a 15 year old is not the same as a 45 year old having sexual relations with a 15 year old. However, that doesn’t mean that an 18 year old is innocent in seeking out a relationship with a girl who is under the age of consent.

So what should happen to Ms. Hunt? Should she be freed? Should the state drop the charges because, as some have claimed, this is a “victimless” crime? Should Ms. Hunt accept a plea deal?

Well, unless the plea deal includes the ability to not have to register as a sex offender (i.e. unless it takes advantage of the state Romeo and Juliet law) I would highly recommend against taking a deal. To me, that would just be stupid. Hopefully her lawyer doesn’t need to be told this.

It could be possible to just allow a jury to take this case. Jury nullification can be used in cases where the jury believes that the alleged victim is not really a victim at all. They very well could decide that even though the state of Florida lists certain age restrictions on who can consent to sexual activity that in this case there was no harm done and as such no need to punish Ms. Hunt. This is a gamble but could very well be the choice that leads to the best possible outcome for Ms. Hunt.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it is vital that we have a conversation about age of consent laws in this country. We need to adopt a uniform set of age of consent laws  that take way any ambiguity on who can consent to sex and with whom it can be consented to. We do need to sit back and consider that the 17 year old having sexual relations with a 15 year old is not the same thing as a 45 year old having sex with a 15 year old. However, at the end of the day if we do accomplish that goal of having a uniform age of consent law , that age that is calculated as being the earliest one can be to consent to sexual activity will still be arbitrary. There will people people who are older than that selected age who will be ill prepared for all that comes with sexual activity and there will be people who are younger than that age who will be ready despite their being younger than the age of consent. And at the end of the day, it will be the responsibility of the older party to say “no” to any illegal sexual relationships and if the person refuses to say no, then that person risks imprisonment and punishment under the law. Just as it was Ms. Hunt’s responsibility to say no to her underage girlfriend.

And if you are going to sit back and say that a 14 year old can consent to an 18 year old without a problem, regardless of gender identification for either party, I would ask you this. What age is would have made it not ok? Why do you pick those numbers? And what should happen if laws based on your arbitrary numbers are violated? Because at the end of the day, that is what this comes down to. Someone had to decide what those arbitrary numbers are and the rest of the people have to follow those rules.

Update: Some other great posts about this issue here,  here, and here.

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