BY ANAILI MEDINA — High school: a place to meet people? Make friendships? Make mistakes? Or get into relationships that last, end, or get you in jail? High school students usually span from ages fourteen to eighteen. Freshmen and seniors may have elective classes and/or play sports together. They may have common friends and common interests. Yet they may not date or have sexual encounters without fear of life changing effects.
To most, it is common knowledge that people who have reached the age of majority should not be romantically involved with minors. However, does a senior in high school feel like an adult? Should a senior in high school be wary of getting into relationships with freshmen or sophomore students? What about the freshmen and sophomore students—should they know about the possible consequences of their actions on others, and about their incapacity to consent? Should sex education be required, and if so, is that the best place to tell Florida high school students that they may not legally consent to having sexual relationships until the age of sixteen according to Florida Statute 794.05 and 800.04? According to those statutes, the fact that a person under the age of sixteen consents to having sexual relations with a person of at least eighteen years of age is not a defense that will be considered when determining the eighteen year old’s guilt.
These may be some of the questions running through the mind of Kaitlyn Hunt as she continues to murk her way through the criminal justice system for engaging in a relationship with her fourteen year old, same sex girlfriend. According to Hunt, the relationship was consensual and began shortly after Hunt turned eighteen.
According to CNN, Hunt was initially charged with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery after her fourteen year old girlfriend’s parents went to the authorities in opposition of the relationship. The parents of the victim sought Hunt’s prosecution based on their allegations that, pursuant to Florida law, Hunt and their daughter engaged in an inappropriate and illegal relationship. When Hunt was initially asked if she thought she had done something wrong, she stated, “Do I think I made a mistake dating someone in high school, that I went to school with and I played basketball with? … No, I don’t think I made a mistake.”
The arrest affidavit describes some of the sexual encounters by the two girls. Amongst them were two instances where they met in the bathroom stall at their high school. The affidavit also refers to the younger victim running away from her home to meet up with Hunt. After her initial arrest, Hunt was granted bail. As part of her bail, the judge ordered Hunt to maintain distance from the fourteen year old and to discontinue any communications with the girl. However, Hunt was re-incarcerated after it was discovered that she sent and received 20,000 text messages to the minor, including nude pictures. Hunt’s ignorance of the law was no longer a defense to her. Although Hunt admitted that she thought her actions post-bailment were a mistake, she justified her actions by stating that she “needed closure” and she “got wrapped up again.”
Just days ago, Hunt pleaded no contest to two counts of misdemeanor battery, misdemeanor contributing to the dependency of a child, and two counts of felony interference with child custody in a plea bargain agreement. As part of the plea, Hunt will not have to register as a sex offender, but she will have to serve at least four months in jail, followed by another two years and nine months of house arrest/probation before she can finally put all of this behind her. It seems like an appropriate deal for someone initially facing felony charges that would have required her to register as a sex offender. Still, it is questionable whether Hunt will have to register as a sex offender due to Florida’s “Romeo & Juliet” Statute 943.04354, which allows a defendant to petition the court to remove the requirement of registering as a sex offender or sexual predator if the victim is at least fourteen years of age and the offender is no more then 4 years older then the victim at the time of the offense.
Though much media coverage centered on the fact that this case was prosecuted because the nineteen year old adult and fourteen year old minor were engaged in a same sex relationship, just recently in New Jersey, a nineteen year old male was arrested and charged for having sexual relations with his fifteen year old girlfriend. The nineteen year old and fifteen year old had been dating for several months, but the father of the fifteen year old girl wanted the relationship to end, so he reported it to the authorities. There are other examples of teenagers going to prison and/or facing criminal sanctions for dating other teenagers, including Ken Thornsberry of Michigan who spent six years in prison for dating a high school classmate.
So what is the sensible thing to do? It appears that in most of these teen arrests, it is the parent of the underage teen that goes to the authorities to report the problem. But whose fault is it? Can we blame the adult teenagers that met their fellow “loves” while in high school, or do we blame the schools, parents, or culture for lack of information? Should the parents of the minor children reach out to the adult teenager and the teenager’s parents before resorting to the courts? There is no easy answer. On the one hand, the laws were enacted to protect minors, but on the other, they are being used to ruin teenager’s lives. This author ultimately believes that when the case before the judge is between two teenagers who met in high school, the consequences for having sexual contact should be much more lenient than when the case involves a fully grown adult and a high school student.