Once again a high profile sex crime has hit the media in a big way. This time it is Torrington, but it could be any city or town in Connecticut. In fact, it could be anywhere in the U.S. Boys, 18 and 17 years old, have been accused of having consensual sex with 13-year-old-girls: this has been forever labeled as statutory rape.
Statutory rape evolved as a concept to protect young people from themselves. If one is between the ages of 13 and 15, that person cannot consent to sexual activities with a person more than three years older. The theory here is that these young people are not intellectually or morally developed to make such decisions, so the government, acting as parens patriae, will make them for you. Under Connecticut General Statutes Section53a-71, sexual assault in the second degree is a class B felony (for a victim under 16 years of age) carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years with a nine-month mandatory minimum sentence to serve.
As recently as 2007, the age differential was increased from two years to three years. This change in the law was premised on the reality that despite the abstinence/morality teachings of many adults, including parents, teenagers in this age cohort were having sexual relations.
In Torrington, the case has gone viral due to a number of issues. The boys have been arrested: some remain in pretrial detention while others have obtained their liberty and are out of jail having posted bonds. Some are treated as adults (18 year olds), and others (17 year olds) are treated as juveniles. Whether the juveniles get transferred to adult court is a discretionary decision by the prosecution. It would not be surprising to find that in some jurisdictions some juveniles get transferred to adult court and some remain in juvenile court.
It is not yet clear how this will play out in Torrington. In reaction to the arrests, a number of teenage school mates started tweeting support for the arrested teenagers. They wondered why only the males were arrested. Why not the girls, who they saw as equally culpable? School officials, Board of Education members, and the community at large are now dealing with the uncomfortable amplified public discourse over issues of statutory rape in social media. Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Kloczko recently stated that the school district tried to educate students about moral behavior, but "sometimes it seems that just isn’t enough".
We believe schools should be going well beyond the morality issues here. Sex education should include the practical realities of the legal consequences of these behaviors. Whether it is our teachers or members of the bar, students should understand the details of these statutes and the potential for destroying one’s life if discovered, arrested and prosecuted. Prison sentences, felony records, sex offender treatment, and registration are catastrophic consequences to a young person.
We can all debate whether the punishments are Draconian. But there should be no debate about educating students about the details of these laws. This becomes particularly true and of greater significance when there seems to be such a great divide between how we think our teenagers should be behaving versus what they are doing.
We urge the bar to join forces with our educators to teach our children about these laws. We believe there will be great interest from school administrators, teachers and students in both the middle and high schools. Teaching or talking about sexual relationships is never easy, but the legal community needs to be proactive in this area. If we fail to travel down this path and continue to leave our students uninformed of the serious legal consequences that await them in these contexts, we will end up with many more cases of destroyed young people’s lives, the lives of both the victims of statutory rape and the perpetrators.•