The Norman Transcript


May 25, 2013

“Free Kate” campaign missing the point



What was that about equality?

A disclaimer here: I believe the sex crime laws as applied to teenagers can lead to some absurd situations. Obviously, it is not illegal for two consenting adults to have sex. But in the U.S., the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18. So, it is quite possible for a 16-year-old high-school junior to be committing statutory rape on his 15-year-old girlfriend, even if they have what she says is consensual sex. In the eyes of the law, she is incapable of giving her consent.

And what if both participants are 15 or younger? Neither can legally consent, while the reality is that most of the time both of them did. So, should both be charged? Should both be brought to trial and, if convicted, have to live as felons and register as sex offenders?

Such encounters are, of course, almost never prosecuted, which seems to make common sense, but it also undermines respect for the law, and allows arguments that if it was OK for a 16-year-old, why not for a 17- or 18-year-old? After all, they’re both in high school.

That argument, if brought by Hunt’s defenders, would at least have a measure of substance. And she does have the opportunity, in court, to make the so-called “Romeo and Juliet” (although in this case it would have to be “Juliet and Juliet”) defense that they were just two teenagers in love (or lust) and neither suffered harm from the encounter.

But, that kind of creeping attempt at justification is corrosive to a credible justice system. And in this case it is weak on its face — the line between 18 and 14 is much brighter than if the two were 16 and 15.

At 18, a young person is legally an adult who can drive, vote, live and work independently, sign contracts and serve in the military. A 14-year-old is barely out of middle school and barred from all of those.

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