June 9, 2015

Online "Dating", Consent, Age, Statutory Rape, and Stupidity - A Rant

From the "Sentencing Law and Policy" blog comes this:

"Michigan teen, guilty of misdemeanor after encounter with girl claiming to be 17, facing extreme sex offender restrictions."

The teen man in question is actually from Elkhart, Indiana, but traveled up to Michigan based upon "a whirlwind courtship in cyberspace" with a Michigan teen he met on "Hot or Not." Teen Zach is 19, a graduate of Concord High School in Elkhart. He met unidentified "Girl" on the website, who said she was 17. Turns out she was 14, two years below Michigan's age of consent. The two had apparently sexted before meeting, and the reason the police got involved is that the mother in question could not locate Girl, and mother was worried that Girl would miss a medication dose. Zach is serving time in Michigan, and faces probation and potential sex-offender status in Indiana upon his return.

Zach's parents are concerned about this, as it will follow him forever. His father argued, variously:
This mistake should not haunt him the rest of his life...[our goal is to] get him off the list and be able to function as a normal person in society, be able to live his life like any other person. Because at the end of the day, this is the old-fashioned scarlet letter...My son, he’s not a danger to anybody. He’s not dangerous to society....He’s not going to hurt a little girl. That’s not going to happen.
The Girl's mother states:
I don’t want him to be a sex offender because he really is not and I know that there’s an age difference and I  realize that (name deleted) was inappropriate that night, we didn’t know.
From another article in the South Bend Tribune comes corroborating information that the Girl and her mother are begging for Zach not to be place on the sex offender list; not to be so heavily punished:
She's still outraged that neither the prosecutor nor judge took into account her daughter's wishes in pressing forward with the case. "It's hurt our families greatly," she said.
And also:
Her mother elaborated, telling the judge the girl's emotional state over her epilepsy "plays a role in what she has done, and she feels guilty about what happened and she says, 'Why can't I be in trouble for what happened?' ... I hope you'll really consider the fact of just dropping the case."
On one hand, I understand the desire to excuse this mistake. Any parent would hate to see their child on the receiving end of a lifetime listing as a "sex offender." I am myself in favor of more immediate sentencing (in this case, say 8 years rather than 5) and alternative sentencing (community service, etc.) rather than the somewhat draconian lumping in of teens having (quasi) consensual sex with multiple-victim predators, and thus receiving the stigma and treatment as societal outcast for the remainder of their life.

I would also prefer to see a distinction between forcible rape and unforced rape illegal due to presumed lack of consent. However, there must be a great deal of care and discussion to make this distinction. A 14-year old girl claiming to be 17 and consenting to sex seems worlds away from an 11-year old who makes no such claims and "consents" to sex with an older man or woman due to incorrect feelings of "adults know best in all situations." However, unless we are to abandon the notion of consent altogether, there must nonetheless be a line drawn someplace.

With that said, there seems to be a movement afoot to excuse violations of law if the matter involves teen sex. Nay, I know not "seems..." there IS a movement afoot to excuse violation of law in such matters. Suppose the person sleeping with the Girl had been a 40-year old school teacher? Or a counselor. Or softball coach. All of them mistaken and thinking she were a 17 or 18 year old. Suppose they had sexted beforehand. Would there be any doubt as to their culpability? Why should Zach be treated differently?

What really gets my goat is the parents' statements about how they want Zach treated more leniently, but express nothing about their own lack of oversight of either child. If Zach is indeed so innocent and caught up in overzealous laws, then Zach's father should have been exercising MUCH more oversight of his internet usage. Instead, he was able to use Hot or Not (presumably not his first time on the site when he met the Girl), find the Girl, sext with the Girl, meet the Girl across state lines in a town roughly 45 mins away, take her to a nearby school, sleep with Girl, and keep her away long enough that her mother calls the police.

Mother of Girl also asked where Girl was going, and just let her go when Girl didn't answer the question. This is a Girl who struggles with epilepsy, and Mother doesn't have any idea where she's going? Girl has also been on Hot or Not, has used it to find Zach, send Zach risque photos of herself, and has lied about her age. Girl exited the home without telling her Mother where she was going, got into a car with a boy she'd never met, whom her parents do not know, went with him to a nearby school, and had sex with him.

Neither parent expresses any personal regret for their lack of oversight in this situation. If either had been watching, would this still have happened? They want to "give the kids their space," but that so much so that one of them will end up a lifetime sex offender and the other guilty about it for the rest of her life. Yet had either parent bothered to be involved - to treat these two now like they want the criminal justice system to treat them - this may have been entirely avoided. Instead, you have two hands-off parents who failed in oversight of their children. And now, say nothing about that lack.

At 19, Zach can father a child, work full time, pay taxes, own property, fire weapons, sign for his own debt, drive, and be drafted and die for his country. He's a man in every important sense except being able to drink - you can argue that the sex offender laws are over broad, but his age should not come into it. If justice is not served for him, that it would not be served by a 40-year old who did the same thing, nor a school teacher, nor a principal, nor a softball coach, nor a gymnastics instructor, nor a priest, nor any person who claims they had consensual sex with a 14-year old who lied about her age.

This is a lesson for parents. For any children who live with you, or anyone you will later argue is an innocent or childlike in some fashion, you must exercise oversight, to the point of monitoring all  of their electronics use and all of their comings and goings.

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