There’s nothing that unifies people’s opinions more than hearing a story about how an adult preyed upon a young child. It’s all you can do to turn away at the disgust you surely feel. You think to yourself, ‘How could anyone do that?’ Would you feel differently if the adult was an 18-year old high school senior and the young child was a 14-year old freshman in the same high school? Maybe or maybe not. Would it matter if there was a consensual relationship, and the two were in fact of the same sex? This is the controversy that surrounds the case of a popular high school senior in Florida – Kaitlyn Hunt.
Kaitlyn doesn’t look the part of a sexual offender. According to the Facebook page supporting her, she was involved in several sports, including basketball and cheerleading. She was a camp counselor, and was also taking medical assistant training. She plans on getting a degree to be a nurse. She’s so well liked by her peers that she was voted to have the most school spirit. All of that may be for naught because of a law that Florida and many other states have against underage consensual sex. Florida is one of the many states where the older of a couple of dating teens can be charged as a sex offender.
Florida’s law has several sections under which the older of a dating couple may be charged. In all sections the “perpetrator” is eighteen years or older, and the “victim” is under sixteen years of age. Each of the sections specifies the type of behavior, but all of them are under the section of lewdness or indecent exposure. The section that Kaitlyn is being charged with is felony lewd or lascivious battery. This is defined as
A person who:(a) Engages in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age; or(b) Encourages, forces, or entices any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sadomasochistic abuse, sexual bestiality, prostitution, or any other act involving sexual activity
In other words, current Florida law equates consensual sex between high school students with bestiality and prostitution.
The truth is, Kaitlyn admitted having intimate relations with the younger girl. The younger girl admitted that there was no coercion. The problem is that it was only after the younger girl’s parents found out about the the relationship that things started to get heated. Kaitlyn was kicked off of her basketball team, and eventually she was kicked out of her high school, having to finish the year in alternative school. The parents of the younger girl insist that it has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the girls. They state that they would have done the same if their daughter was involved with an 18-year old male.
Once Kaitlyn’s story hit social media, it became viral. A Facebook group, Free Kate, has over 47,000 members as of the publication of this piece. The Florida ACLU has gotten involved. They have written a letter in support of Kaitlyn, asking that the charges be dropped due to the fact that the laws were written to protect unsuspecting children from child molesters, and not to prosecute teens who are in a consensual relationship.
It seems some of the pressure has had some effect. Authorities are offering Kaitlyn a plea. They’ll take it down to a misdemeanor – one of having an improper relationship. After discussion the options, Kaitlyn has decided not the take the plea deal. It would have allowed her to stay out of jail, and instead be on supervised release. As a result, she’ll be going to trial on June 20th. If convicted, she will have to register as a sex offender, which could affect her ability to attend college and obtain future employment.
Some may ask why Kaitlyn doesn’t just take the plea. It’s obvious that she’s looking at the bigger picture, and her mom said in an off camera interview with a local CBS affiliate that they are working on getting Florida law changed so that this doesn’t have to happen again. Currently, the only out that teens have is to apply for a Romeo & Juliet exemption. This is a lesser known Florida law that allows teens to not have to be registered as sex offenders. However, it does not mean that the charges are dismissed.
The reality is, when a form asks whether or not you’ve been convicted of a felony, you’re still going to have to say ‘yes’. These young adults are still going to be punished time and time again for something that is otherwise considered OK if both of them were aged sixteen or older. Add to this, the fact that the relationship is between two people of the same sex, it’s like getting an additional punishment to boot. Surely this story could well change the landscape for future teens in other states who face similar situations. This is surely an interesting story that may well go down in the history books.