Like many high school students, Kaitlyn Hunt found someone she liked, a classmate, and they started dating. The difference is that Hunt, an 18-year-old senior at Sebastian River High School in Sebastian, Fla., met a 14-year-old freshman girl, who police are referring to as C.S. Once their relationship became sexual, it also became illegal, and Hunt now faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted as well as being put on a sexual offender registry list for life.
Indian River State Attorney Bruce Colton admits the charges are harsh and that’s why his office has offered her a plea deal that reduces the charges to felony child abuse, which would require two years of community control, plus one more year of probation. Hunt has until Friday, May 24 to accept or reject the plea. Colton added that his office would “stay silent” on whether Hunt is adjudicated guilty.
“That would prevent her branded as a felon and she wouldn’t have to register as a sex offender,” Colton said. “We start off by charging what the crime actually is.” She’s been charged with two felonies of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 – 16 years of age.”
Everyone agrees the relationship was consensual, but that doesn’t matter. Children under 16 cannot consent to sex. As for being classmates and in high school together, Colton said those things don’t matter, the law is the law, and Hunt broke it by engaging in a sexual relationship with C.S.
“It doesn’t matter that they are in high school. are meant to protect children 12 to 16,” Colton argued. “There’s a big difference in maturity.”
But Hunt’s arrest has sparked a national controversy and debate. Charges of homophobia are being tossed around as well as a discussion over the strict age of consent laws.
Hunt’s parents are waging a social media campaign to clear their daughter’s name and pressure Colton to drop the charges. They’ve started an online petition on Change.org that’s now topped 147,000 signatures; launched a “Free Kate” Facebook group with more than 40,000 members; and ordered bracelets that read “Stop the hate, free Kate.”
In Florida the age of consent is 18, but there are age exemptions allowing individuals 23 and younger to have a consensual sexual relationship with a 16- or 17-year-old.
“I am outraged,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. “It’s outrageous a teenager is facing felony charges that carry up to 15 years in because of a relationship with a school mate. These laws are intended to stop adults from preying on children and should not be used to destroy the lives of these two teenagers.”
Smith said Equality Florida is pushing this story in the media to bring awareness to Hunt’s plight, as well as contacting legislators and legal organizations.
Many do not agree with Colton’s decision to charge Hunt at all.“This is complete absence of common sense application of the law and it’s terrifying,” Nadine Smith said. “A lot of times these cases stem from a parent objecting to race, gender, or ethnicity of the person their child is dating so they wait to the eighteenth birthday and go to the police. They ignore the fact that they’re teenagers, and school mates. It’s unconscionable that this law is used in this case or any other that involves high school sweet hearts.”
Hunt’s parents have alleged that Hunt’s sexual orientation was a factor in their decision to go to the police. Colton and the Indian River Sheriff’s Department denies sexual orientation was a factor in the arrest and charges.
“I don’t know that that’s happening, the investigation wasn’t based on the fact that they were gay, we’ve prosecuted several cases like this before,” Colton said. “It’s wrong for people to bring that into it.”
Colton, however, did admit that he doesn’t know the reasoning behind the parents’ decision to contact authorities and said sexual orientation could have been a factor.
“The parents could have been upset about that,” he noted. But added, “It wouldn’t have mattered how the parents felt about that to us.”
What does matter though is that parents want to see Hunt punished. Colton said they don’t want her to go jail though. “They believe she should be held accountable, and face some consequence for this.” He also added that the victim’s parents want to make sure Hunt is prohibited from seeing their daughter.
Legislative director for the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, Michael Rajner, isn’t buying it.
"The prosecution of Kaitlyn Hunt by the Indian River State Attorney's Office is an absolute abuse of our criminal justice system and clearly fueled by blatant homophobia,” he said.
Florida passed a law in 2007 that may help Hunt if she’s convicted. Nicknamed the "Romeo and Juliet" law, it allows judges to remove individuals from the sexual offender registry list if the victim was at least 14 years old and the offender no more than four years older. In addition the sex must have been consensual, and the offender must not have additional sex offense convictions after the original offense.
According to some media outlets, including the Miami Herald, Colton said that Hunt wouldn’t qualify under the requirements of the “Romeo and Juliet” law.
However Colton told SFGN, that’s untrue.
“I never said that,” he told SFGN. “She could qualify.”
South Florida criminal defense attorney Alvin Entin believes there’s more going on in this case than the police and state attorney just doing their job.
“This is just wrong,” Entin said. “Everyone should pressure the state attorney into leaving this girl alone. They’re just trying to placate the parents of the younger girl. If this were a male and female this wouldn’t be happening. This is anti-gay thing.”
Hunt’s father, Steven Hunt, told Kaitlyn’s story in an online post on Monday that detailed the horrifying experience of watching his daughter arrested and taken to jail.
When asked why this case has made headlines Colton believes it’s because misinformation has been spread.
“Number one, people have said they formed this relationship as juveniles. The defendant stated they became friends after she turned 18 . They started a sexual relationship in December 2012, at the time the victim was 14,” he explained. Colton said some reports identified Kate as 17-years-old and C.S. as 15-years-old. “That wasn’t accurate. This was an 18-year-old and 14-year-old.”
When asked if the law was meant to protect freshman from seniors he said yes, “That’s what the law was meant for.” He went on to note that the law doesn’t forbid “being friends, holding hands, walking around with each other. It was meant to protect in a sexual relationship.”
Hunt and C.S. met at school sometime in the fall of 2012 and the relationship turned sexual in December 2012, according to the police report. They had one other sexual encounter in January 2013 after C.S. ran away from home and spent the night with Hunt. The two girls were also on the varsity basketball team together.
According to Hunt’s father, “Kate's girlfriend has taken no part in her prosecution and adamantly denies she is a victim. My daughter's girlfriend has said from day one, she cares about my daughter, she never wanted her parents to do this, she was 100 percent consenting and it was by her own choice that she was with my daughter. She doesn’t want Kate to be punished.”
Hunt’s father said that his daughter would be willing to cease all contact with C.S. and even leave the state if the charges are dropped.
Hunt’s father and the state attorney seem to differ on when the two girls started a relationship, though. Hunt’s father said, “This relationship occurred when they were both minors, and my daughter's girlfriend's parents waited until she turned 18 to arrest her.”
Colton though insists the two girls didn’t actually meet until Kaitlyn had turned 18.
The story continues to spread quickly with legal organizations, celebrities and even the Internet activist group “Anonymous” jumping into the fray.
The ACLU released a statement:
“The ACLU of Florida condemns the prosecution of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt. The facts as we understand them suggest that the state is prosecuting Kaitlyn for engaging in behavior that is both fairly innocuous and extremely common. 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. 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. While effective laws are certainly needed to protect Florida’s children from sexual predators, one cannot seriously maintain that Kaitlyn’s behavior was predatory.”
Meanwhile, “Anonymous” is also supporting Hunt.
“While in the course of performing your duties we feel that you've lost perspective. Tsk, tsk. The truth is, Kaitlyn Hunt is a bright young girl who was involved in a consensual, same-sex relationship while both she and her partner were minors,” the letter reads. “She has a big future ahead of her and there are people, thousands of people in fact, that have no intention of allowing you to ruin it with your rotten selective enforcement.”
Others who are coming to Hunt’s defense include out actor Evan Rachel Wood and author Anne Rice.
“I think there should be an age difference law, allowing for consensual relationships between kids three or four years apart in age. This is unfair,” Rice wrote in a Facebook post. “It is flat out unfair to criminalize 18-year-olds for having relationships with 15- or 16-year-olds. And frankly, I do think this girl is being persecuted in this place because she is gay. The whole way this was handled indicates a horror of homosexuality on the part of the younger girl's parents. I think laws that allow this are unfair to all involved.” Jason Parsley