Next month, our state's lawmakers return to Columbia, ostensibly for the purpose of conducting real business and producing meaningful legislation.
A story published last week serves as a reminder that, at some point upon their return, in between issuing resolutions honoring constituents or arguing back and forth about some petty matter, our lawmakers should address what does and does not constitute a sex crime sufficient to emblazon a person with a scarlet letter and a very public place on the sex offender registry.
The story involved a 20-year-old man and a 15-year-old minor who, according to the investigator's report, had consensual sex. The girl's parents contacted law enforcement after she confided in them and expressed a concern she might be pregnant. A parent's worst fear come true? Absolutely. Was the man wrong? Absolutely.
Was the girl wrong? Well, this is where things get a little more complicated. This is where emotions get the best of some people and all blame gets laid at the feet of the male involved. He is 20, she is 15. He's considered an adult, she a minor. The word "consensual" carries no weight. But should it? Yes.
There is a vast difference between a 20- and 15-year-old having consensual sex and a 30-, 35-, 40-year-old who preys on a minor child - or even a 16-year-old, for that matter. Yet 16 is the age of consent in this state, which is why not too many years ago in our community a group of National Guardsmen essentially got away with having sex with cheerleaders from a local high school. It is as though a nearly arbitrary chronological benchmark decides what is legal consensual sex and that which is a criminal act, though also consensual.
Get the pedophiles off the street, lock up the men who prey on young girls (and boys), incarcerate those who are involved in despicable child pornography, imprison rapists. Put these people on the state and national sex offender registries so the public can be better informed and proactive in protecting themselves and their families.
But, it is time to revisit the laws that mark teenagers and even 20-year-olds for life, equating them with peddlers of porn, molesters and rapists. Our current laws single out the male with raging hormones while labeling as victims teenage girls who are willing participants and who are old enough to know what they are doing, and likely old enough to know better. Should they be punished in some way? Sure, but the law as it stands now is grossly unfair to the male participant.
While lawmakers tweak the law a bit, it's time they also fixed another aspect involving public urination. It is ridiculous that a man who urinates in public is also put on the sex offender registry. Again, it's a crime, but let the punishment fit. Public urination should not be equated with a man who exposes himself for sexual gratification.
This is not to condone sex between any and all who consent to the act. This is not to say punishment for sex crimes should be eased. It is, however, to say our laws need to be revisited so we do not put young men whose bubbling hormones have gotten the best of them in the same category as real sex criminals. And it is time we acknowledge the roles some young girls and women play in acts that make their partners the criminals, while they are merely the victims.