A freshman girl dating a senior guy is a common scenario in high school. For some, the story ends with popularity, a high school sweetheart, maybe even heartbreak, but for others there is shame, stigma, and maybe even a charge of statutory rape.
The Daily Beast reports that there are a growing number of parents across all 50 states who are fighting to protect their children from the sex-offender laws that were meant to do just that. From their view, the punishments inflicted on high-school boys are far too harsh and they want the laws to change.
One mother, Francie Baldino, says her son Ken’s prison term was unthinkable. In 2004, the 18-year-old high school senior was arrested for having sex with his girlfriend who was a 14-year-old freshman. Because the age of consent in Michigan is 16, he was sentenced to a year in jail and three years’ probation. When Ken was released from jail he violated probation by resuming his relationship with the girl and then was given a sentence of five to fifteen years. After serving six years behind bars, he’s now forced to wear a GPS device and was told his home address and personal information would be listed in the sex-offender registry for 25 years.
When a guy is in his 20s and a girl is 14, the issue of sex with a minor is a no-brainer, but when we’re talking two high-school students, one of whom may have just become a legal adult, the issue is much more gray. Even Fred Mester, the judge in Ken’s case openly acknowledged the complexities of statutory rape laws when he sentenced him in 2005, saying, “Half my senior class … were dating freshman girls, and I suspect half of them would be in here today.”
While the prevalence of the act doesn’t mean it should be excused, it does call into question whether the law should recognize the difference between teen sex and teen rape. As Ken’s attorney, Cheryl Carpenter says, “The laws often don’t differentiate between a 50-year-old man molesting a 14-year-old girl, and two teenagers having sex.”
But how could that be done? Often times girls who sleep with older boys say the sex was consensual, but in an age where so many teen girls are admitting to being coerced into having sex or performing certain sexual acts, it’s hard to know whether they are telling the truth or protecting boys they are scared of. And as prosecutors argue, the law is there so there’s no need to delve into this issue of distinction at all. They say the law is the law and kids need to follow it regardless of whatever urges or relationships they have.
“The court isn’t imposing restrictions because it’s fun—it’s the law,” Paul Walton, a chief assistant prosecutor in Michigan, says. “You can disagree on the age of consent, but the law says that prior to that age, a person doesn’t have the ability to consent.”
Although following the law truly is the bottom line in these cases and the aim isn’t to encourage teen sex—although that behavior isn’t going anywhere—unfair laws are protested all the time. With boys like Ken, who has now been taken off the sex-offender registry but remains a convicted felon for life, you have to wonder if their futures are being thrown away before they even get started with these harsh penalties.
Do you think sex-offender laws are too harsh when it comes to teens? Should legislators work to modify the laws or should they stand as they are to protect young girls?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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