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Kaitlyn Hunt’s Encounter with Florida’s Statutory Rape Law

Kaitlyn Hunt, an eighteen-year-old cheerleader in Indian River County, Florida, is being prosecuted under Florida’s statutory rape law for a physical relationship with a younger girl, who is now fifteen and may have been as young as fourteen when the relationship began.  Both girls were students at Sebastian River High School, with Kaitlyn a senior and her girlfriend a freshman.

As Tampa Bay Times reported, after learning of the relationship, Hunt’s girlfriend’s parents contacted the police to press criminal charges and asked the high school to expel her.  Before Kaitlyn was arrested, the parents secretly recorded a telephone conversation between the two girls.

The prosecutor charged Kaitlyn with two counts of felony lewd and lascivious battery on a child aged 12-16 and her high school expelled Kaitlyn.  Kaitlyn was assigned to an alternative high school, and she faces criminal charges that could lead to fifteen years in prison.

The prosecutor offered Kaitlyn a deal if she pled guilty to lesser charges of child abuse:   two years of house arrest and a year of probation, but so far Kaitlyn has rejected that deal.  Under this deal, she would be able to avoid having to register as a sex offender.  However, her parents have said that she would only accept a plea if the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor, according to Bay News 9.

Community-Wide Debate

Kaitlyn’s parents and supports are arguing that Kaitlyn is being charged because she is gay and that many high school students are not charged for similar crimes.  Because of her parents’ advocacy, Kaitlyn Hunt’s case has gained national and even international attention, from CNN to change.org.  An internet petition to stop Florida from prosecuting her gained more than 310,000 signatures, but prosecutors are unlikely to drop charges in response to an internet petition.

Many people are surprised that a high school student can be arrested and charged as a criminal for having a consensual relationship with another high school student.  However, as this blog noted last month, Florida law makes any sexual relations with individuals younger than 16 unlawful, regardless of the age of the partner and regardless of the gender of the individuals.

Many high school students who have sexual relationships with younger students, even those as young as fourteen, are not charged with crimes.  Whether a person is charged with statutory rape can be completely arbitrary.  For example, many prosecutions start with a call to the police by a parent of the younger child, just as happened in Kaitlyn’s case.  In some cases, parents only become aware of the relationship and report the crime when they learn of a pregnancy.  While prosecution of girls for same sex relationships with younger girls is rare, eighteen-year-old male high school students have been prosecuted for having consensual relationships with fifteen and fourteen-year-old girls.

One Florida state senator, Thad Altman, told the press, News Channel 5, that he now wants to change Florida’ s statutory rape law to give judges more discretion in sentencing so that high school students who act consensually in a moment of passion do not face sentences of fifteen years in prison.  However, the other two state senators in Indian River County oppose changes in the law, claiming that the current law protects children.

Criminal  Defense

Statutory rape is a serious crime, with serious penalties and serious consequences.  Anyone who is being investigated for statutory rape or has been charged with statutory rape needs the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.