MIAMI — In separate statements on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the attorney for Kaitlyn Hunt, the 18-year-old high school senior facing felony sex offender charges stemming from her relationship with her 14-year-old girlfriend, condemned the actions of prosecutors handling the case.
Hunt has been charged with two felony counts of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 – 16 years of age,” but has been offered a plea deal consisting of two years house arrest, one year probation, and sex offender counseling.
The criminal case against Hunt is unusual because it involves two females, not an older male and a younger female. But advocates say older high schoolers dating their younger counterparts is an innocuous, everyday occurrence that is not prosecuted – regardless of sexual orientation – and not a crime on par with predatory sex offenses.
“Such behavior occurs every day in tens of thousands of high schools across the country, yet those other students are not facing felony convictions (and, in Florida, the lifetime consequences of a felony conviction) and potential lifelong branding as sex offenders,” said Baylor Johnson of the ACLU of Florida.
“This is a life sentence for behavior by teenagers that is all too common, whether they are male or female, gay or straight. High-school relationships may be fleeting, but felony convictions are not,” he said.
Hunt’s attorney, Julia Graves, said the charges are “a misapplication of the law that will destroy the lives of two high school teenagers, while doing nothing to serve justice.”
“Kaitlyn and her parents have been given until Friday to decide whether to go to trial and have the most intimate details of the relationship played out in public or to take a plea agreement that includes forever having a record even if adjudication is withheld,” said Graves, in a statement.
“In addition with the sex offender conditions, Kaitlyn would be subjected to sitting in group counseling meetings with legitimate convicted sex offenders that the law was truly meant for,” she said.
Graves said that, although there are different statements out in the media, the family has never requested that the charges be completely dropped.
“We have suggested since the day of her arrest that we are willing to enter a plea to a misdemeanor charge with appropriate punishment that will allow everyone to move on and not dwell on this their entire lives.”
Under the deal offered by prosecutors, Hunt would plead guilty to lesser charges of child abuse; Hunt has until Friday to take the deal or go to trial.
If convicted, Hunt could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, but it’s also possible that she could apply to not have to register as a sex offender under Florida’s “Romeo and Juliet” law because the girls were no more than four years apart in age.
The case against Hunt has drawn global notoriety and media scrutiny, and has raised questions about the age of consent laws, especially when applied to teenagers who are social and academic peers, despite some being considered adults in the eyes of the law.
Prosecutor Bruce Colton said that one of the reasons the case has received international attention is because “it’s being publicized as a person being persecuted because she’s gay, and that has nothing to do with the case, nothing to do with the law, nothing to do with the sheriff’s office filing the charges.”
He said the law is designed to protect younger children from older children who might be more aggressive in starting a relationship.
“The law doesn’t make any differentiation. It doesn’t matter if it’s two girls or two boys, or an older boy and a younger girl or an older girl and a younger boy. Whatever the combination, it doesn’t matter.”
But Hunt’s parents have publicly stated in numerous media interviews that the case against their daughter, initiated by the younger girl’s parents, is “nothing more than a religiously motivated anti-gay witch hunt.”