Where Do We Draw the Line with Statutory Rape?
Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn, honors student and star athlete, is a girl from a Florida town making national headlines this week. Not for the bright future she has ahead of her but because she’s being slapped with felony charges for lewd and lascivious battery of a minor—because she was dating a girl who’s 15 years old. The younger girl’s parents pressed charges, saying their daughter was coerced into a sexual relationship. Even after agreeing to stop seeing her girlfriend, Kate was expelled just week’s before her high school graduation.
The two girls had classes together (the younger girl took honor classes that she shared with upperclassmen) and played varsity basketball. They developed a friendship and later a romantic relationship in the fall, shortly after Kate turned 18. She never hid her relationship from her parents and they supported her. Kelley Hunt Smith, Kaitlyn’s mother, said she had met the younger girl’s parents and assumed they were aware of the relationship. When the team’s coach found out about the girls’ relationship, she kicked Kate off the team and called the younger girl’s parents. It was then the girl’s parents called the police; on February 16, Kate was led from her house in handcuffs. For her two second-degree felonies, she faces 15 years in prison or she can take a plea deal that would mean two years of house arrest and one year probation. She also has to register as a sex offender.
Though Kate was herself a minor when she developed her relationship with her girlfriend, Florida’s laws charge anyone who has sexual contact with someone between the ages of 12 and 16. Kate’s parents have started a Facebook group called “Free Kate” and are urging people to sign a Change.org petition to get the charges dropped. Kelley wrote on the page, “I knew then that it had to have been her girlfriend’s parents. These people never came to us as parents, never tried to speak to us, didn’t try to get the school involved to speak to us and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating, not one single word.” She argues this has more to do with the younger girl’s parents being upset that she has a relationship with another girl. Kelley said the girl’s parents are “bigots and religious zealots” who think Kate “‘made’ her daughter gay”.
Kate’s parents are trying to garner as much public support as possible (they’ve started a Change.org petition), but it doesn’t look like the state will budge. State attorney for Florida’s 19th circuit Bruce Colton told Florida Today, “The statute specifically says that consent is not a defense.”
Statutory rape is definitely an issue. Adults shouldn’t be having sex with children and coercion and unequal power dynamics are a very real problem. But when girls are peers, it doesn’t quite fit, especially when the accusing family has ulterior motives.
The details of the case involve scary surveillance designed to trap Kate. After finding out about the relationship, the girl’s parents worked with police to tape a conversation between the two, during which they talked about their relationship and Kate said “I love you.” Shortly after the taped conversation, Kate was arrested and charged. Even after two judges said Kate could finish her final year at her high school, the girl’s parents petitioned the school to have her expelled. The school yielded and Kate has to complete her year at an alternative school.
It seems the girl’s parents aren’t worried about their daughter’s safety so much as they’re concerned about punishing a “pervert”. But that “pervert” is someone’s child, a child voted “Most Liked” by her senior class. Even if you don’t have the same beliefs as someone else, you’re a parent; you know what it’s like to want your child to succeed and be happy. Kaitlyn’s future is in serious trouble, not to mention the trauma that must have come with telling a group of what was likely completely male about intimate sexual moments with someone you love. Kaitlyn isn’t a pedophile; she wasn’t digging through the Internet for underage girls. More importantly, she’s no different than hundreds of thousands of high school seniors dating people younger than them across the country. In a lot of those cases, the parents step in and determine what’s best for their child when it comes to dating rather than having the law decide it for them. Why didn’t her girlfriend’s parents try that? Besides, they’re hurting their daughter as well. They’ve outed her to her entire community and there’s a good chance she’ll be blamed for dragging Kate through the whole mess.
The law won’t change in time for Kate’s hearing this Friday, but it seems like this might need to be reworked. Many states have adopted a close-in-age exemption and maybe Florida will do the same protect other girls (and boys) like Kaitlyn.