“She was only sixteen, only sixteen, but I loved her so. But she was too young to fall in love, and I was too young to know.” Dr. Hook’s classic, “Only Sixteen” lyrics are the starting point for today’s discussion of what is a mounting problem in the ol’ USA.
In Georgia the age of consent for sexual intimacy is sixteen. But there is a quirk in the law that, while it wasn’t much of an issue in 1994, is problematic today. In 1994, we didn’t have “smart” phones, although the point of this column is that “smart” isn’t the right nomenclature for these new fangled gadgets. Today, a pretty good high-def video can be taken with your phone and sent around the world in seconds. Our laws have not kept up with the exploding technology however.
OCGA 16-12-100 makes it a felony to create or possess any visual medium that shows a minor engaged in any sexually explicit conduct, which includes doing the wild thing, but also the taking of a picture of a minor’s nakedness. A minor, for purposes of this code section, is anyone under 18. And there is the rub.
A young couple, Jack and Diane, both 16 years old, goes into the backseat of a Dodge and they do what teenagers sometimes do. We like to think as parents that we’ve brought them up better, but alas, they don’t always obey. However, in today’s modern age, they do something we couldn’t do, they record it. Whether it is an occasional photograph, or a video, or an audio recording, they make a permanent record. Why? Because they are teenagers.
Down the road, someone is going to find out. Either Jack tells a friend who doesn’t believe him, so Jack shows the picture, or sometimes it’s Diane who is doing the bragging, but word gets out. As a prosecutor, I saw it both ways plenty of times. So somebody somewhere calls the police. The police, having an irate parent on their hands, do what police do. They investigate and charge someone. Usually the guy. Because somehow guys are more culpable than girls.
So now Jack gets a felony hung on him, while Diane becomes the victim. Jack loses his football scholarship, his high school studies are in chaos and he probably gets kicked out of school for violating some student conduct code.
Most of the time, the charge goes away. Maybe it’s pretrial diversion, or outright dismissal after the charge pends in court for a year, but it often goes away. But sometimes Jack gets prosecuted. He gets a sex offender charge hung on his neck. The girl? It used to be a badge of dishonor, but alas not in today’s world. Nothing happens to her, except maybe she gets a reality television show.
Justice is done?
“So, why did I give my heart so fast? It never will happen again. But I was a mere child of sixteen, I’ve aged a year since then.”