Kaitlyn Hunt allegedly had sexual relations with her girlfriend. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but in this case, Hunt is 18 years old and her girlfriend at the time was 14, which makes it illegal even though the relationship was consensual and both girls attend the same high school.
The story has suddenly gone viral with people expressing their outrage online and on social media outlets. Hunt’s parents are waging a social media campaign to clear their daughter’s name, which include an online petition on Chang.org that’s garnered more than 69,000 signatures and also a “Free Kate” Facebook group with more than 21,000 members. Hunt’s been charged with two felonies of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 – 16 years of age,” which if convicted, could send her to jail for 15 years and put her on a sexual offender list for life.
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 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.
The state prosecutor’s office has offered Hunt a plea deal that reduces the charges to felony child abuse, which would require two years of house arrest, plus one more year of probation. Hunt has until May 24 to accept the deal. If not ,the trial could start in June.
“This is complete absence of common sense application of the law and it’s terrifying,” Smith said. “It’s obviously inappropriate for a coach to shower with a student, but what about an 18 year old student who showers with a younger student? Either we treat students like students or we treat adult students like adults and separate them from and take appropriate precautions.”
Hunt’s parents have alleged that Hunt’s sexual orientation was a factor in their decision to go to the police. The Indian River Sheriff’s Department denies sexual orientation was a factor in the arrest and charges.
Michael Rajner, legislative director for the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, 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 Attorney General Pam Bondi must intervene before another innocent vibrant youth is made a victim of Florida's outdated antiquated laws."
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.
“Florida laws in this area are very strict and it’s illegal for an adult to engage in sexual relations with a minor, even if they are close in age and the relationship is consensual. However, one would hope that the unique facts of this case would be taken into consideration by the State Attorney’s Office as they decide how to handle the case,” said Russell Cormican, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale. Additionally, Florida’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ law may allow Ms. Hunt to avoid lifelong classification as a sexual offender because the age difference is less than four years. But while this law may allow her to avoid sex offender registration, it does not create a defense the crime charged.”
Hunt’s father, Steven Hunt, told Kaitlyn’s story in an online post earlier today that detailed the horrifying experience of watching his daughter arrested and taken to jail.
“The police taped a conversation between Kate and her girlfriend, which led to Kate's arrest. Kate was interrogated extensively without a lawyer present. I am a former police officer, so she trusted the police and didn't feel she had anything to hide,” he said. “Kate's girlfriend has taken no part in her prosecution and adamantly denies she is a victim, but the law grants her no rights in this matter. The girl's mother found out about the relationship, and, as several people told me, the girl's mother said that there's no way her daughter could be gay. These people never came to us, never tried to speak to us, didn’t try to get the school involved to speak to us and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating, not one single word.Instead, they set out their vengeance and had Kate arrested on felony charges.”
READ: Kaitlyn’s redacted affidavit