By now the mug shot of eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt, who is currently facing a possible penalty of fifteen years in prison for lewd and lascivious battery on a minor, has circulated enough national headlines that her story is well-known.
Her apparent relationship with a 14-year-old girl has been the subject of many a debate, particularly within the gay community who maintain that the law is effectively punishing Hunt for her sexual orientation. Although police state that the same-sex relationship between the two has no bearing on her sentencing, there is still outrage that Hunt has been brought under such fire for her relationship.
While the fact that she is a lesbian adds enough interest to the story to land her in the news, the statutory rape charges brought against her are the more troubling issue here.
Rape, by definition, is when one party initiates sexual contact with someone without the latter's consent. Often this is accomplished via physical force, abuse of power, or coercion. It has been broadened to include sexual contact with anyone below the legal age of consent (defined as statutory rape), which leads to Miss Hunt's current legal nightmare.
While punishing those who are having sex with individuals younger than the legal age of consent may seem like a justifiable idea, in reality the gray area introduced by statutory rape is far less clear than one would expect.
It was not so long ago that I was an 18-year-old, high on the idea that I could legally purchase cheap cigars and lottery tickets and generally be cooler than everyone a year younger than me. And it was also not so long ago that I had fellow 18-year-old friends who were in serious relationships with freshmen.
Of course, you may not think a high school relationship is serious. You may be under the impression that your sons and daughters are in some form of "puppy love," a term used by adults to evoke the idea that a relationship between two teenagers is somehow less justified, less intense than one shared between two adults.
Well, being that I am a ripe old age of 20 and just on the precipice of adulthood, I can tell you without hesitation that you would be completely, entirely wrong.
Teenage years are known to be some of the most formidable in an individual's life, and relationships are often a key factor in socialization, self-image and self-confidence. They promote a feeling of acceptance and, often, introduce adolescents to the concept of love. And, as we all know, love has a tendency to lead to sex.
Even so, the relationship between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old - or, to put it into perspective, a relationship between a senior and a freshman - is apparently considered illegal, given that the age of consent in West Virginia is 16. But it doesn't stop there; if two freshmen, or even two sophomores, are engaging in sexual behavior, by law they can be brought to court and held to the same charges Kaitlyn Hunt is dealing with.
However even the legal age of consent is up in the air; in the United States that age ranges from 16 to 18 years old. If the nation cannot come to a definite conclusion on when, precisely, a teenager has the ability to make an informed decision on whether or not he or she should have sex, how can adolescents possibly be held responsible for engaging in this behavior?
Statutory rape is meant to catch pedophiles, not teenagers who decide to act on their raging hormones with their younger girlfriend or boyfriend. It is put in place to protect minors from being manipulated or coerced into sex without being able to legally make that decision for themselves, not to lead a witch hunt that ultimately ruins their significant other's life.
The case of Kaitlyn Hunt is a prime example of where the gray area is in full effect; she was in a healthy, normal, sexual relationship with her 14-year-old girlfriend and is now being punished, not because she is a lesbian, but because she loved somebody. She is not the first person to be caught in this mess of a law, and she will not be the last.
To make laws that unjustly tag an individual in a mutual, consensual relationship as a rapist is not only ridiculous, but diminishes the effect the word "rape" holds over society. If what Kaitlyn did was rape, then how is a 24-year-old man who molests a 12-year-old going to be punished differently?
Kaitlyn Hunt is not a pedophile. She is a girl who loves another girl who happens to be four years younger. That's all there is to it.
Molly Robinson is a native of Wheeling and a junior biology student at West Virginia University. She has been published in WVU's undergraduate literary magazine the Calliope and is the opinion editor for the Daily Athenaeum. When not writing, she can be found buried beneath piles of organic chemistry homework in the campus library or looking at pictures of cats online.