Monday, July 14, 2008

Teen Sex or Sex Offense?

From the Atlanta-Journal Constitution:

Wendy Whitaker's name may be on Georgia's sex offender registry, but her offense suggests she is no predator.

At age 17, while a high school sophomore, Whitaker had oral sex with a 15-year-old male classmate. In 1997, she pleaded guilty to sodomy and got five years' probation.

Whitaker, 28, has moved twice because of the sex offender law's restrictions that say an offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate. Whitaker was recently told by a sheriff she must move again because her home is within 1,000 feet of a church.

While I certainly understand the appeal of a law aimed at keeping sex offenders away from children, it seems like we might want to more carefully consider just what type of crimes get a person's name added to a registry that can have such lasting and profound impacts.

Wendy Whitaker is now the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit "that seeks to have [Georgia's] residency restrictions found unconstitutional," yet the state of Georgia does not want to allow her to wait for the federal decision before moving. Whitaker's lawyer, Sarah Geraghty, couldn't help but express some exasperation with the case, commenting:

Wendy Whitaker is not now and has never been a threat to anyone... The state of Georgia has better things to do than to evict a woman from her lawfully purchased home because she had sex as a teenager.

What do other people think about Whitaker's case, and about residency restriction laws in general?


Mächtige Maus said...

LaPH, are you trying to force me out of my sporting comfort zone? I see your devious ways. And it is working.

For starters, we must acknowledge that the sex offender registry laws can be harmful to an individual regardless of gender. Statutory rape is based upon the concept of age of consent. This varies by state. However, for the sake of argument, let's go with 18 as the legal age of consent for both a male and a female. Under these standards, an 18 year old having sex with a 17 year old (be that just 17 or almost 18) can be convicted of statutory rape. As a result, her or his life will be forever altered.

So, what to do? Maybe these two people really are in love. Maybe they will marry in another year and stay married. Unfortunately, according to the law, the perpetrator can be convicted and labeled as a sex offender even if they were never an actual threat to anyone. An important note here, the sex offender registry requirements are state specific.

Honestly, I don't know what the solution is. Many have no issues with residency restrictions. I suppose this is mainly because, while it may restrict some innocents, it is designed to restrict those who are an actual threat to young children.

I would like to give credit to Tennessee right now for at least recognizing the slippery slope that is statutory rape. A new arrestee law requires DNA samples to be taken from a specific set of violent felony arrests. The law is quite specific when it comes to rape. Rape alone is a qualifying offense. Aggravated statutory rape is a qualifying offense. Statutory rape is not. I find this to be an important distinction and success.

Habladora said...

Well, if two teens have consensual sex, could we pass laws that declare that there has to be an age difference of at least ... 4 years... for it to constitute statutory rape?

Of course, 4 years is arbitrary... perhaps a sliding scale would be better - a greater age difference could be acceptable for kids over a certain age than would be acceptable for kids under a certain age...

Fine. So I'm not going to solve the problem in one comment, but what do you think of the premise?

OutcrazyOphelia said...

I've been thinking about this story for a bit. I just think that her designation as a sex offender doesn't fly. The age difference between the two wasn't egregious, moreover, she wasn't able to legally consent (although I don't know Georgia's laws so she may have been able to). My bigger problem is the sodomy charge--so if it had been penetrative sex there would have been no charge? Moreover, these laws were invalidated in 2003--so how does that work for someone who was convicted of a crime that now isn't a crime and is still suffering from that conviction?

More than that, why isn't there some sort of rating system. I would think that sex offenses between consenting but mutually underaged parties is different than molestation or rape. For the designation to have a flat punishment is stupid and harmful.

Dee said...

This is so scary but good of you to post. I had to read it to my 15 year old son. So many kids are having "consensual" sex it is worrying to consider all the ramifications.

Both the sex offender designation and the (bear with me now) the felony charge need to be revisited. Where I come from sodomy involves a lot more than oral sex.