Warning: this column contains subject matter which may not be appropriate for some audiences.
The Official Code of Georgia, the set of laws that apply everywhere in the State of Georgia, were not written all in one sitting. They were added to, subtracted from, edited, changed, and reworked by different people with different philosophies and voted into law by different congresses with different political leanings line by line over decades. As a result, there tend to be some very inconsistent and surprising provisions. This is especially apparent in the laws regarding sexual offenses regarding underage people.
Statutory rape is defined a sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of 16 who is not your spouse. It generally carries a sentence of 1-20 years, though if you are over 21 when you commit the offense, it is 10-20 years. If the victim is at least 14, and the offender is 18 or younger, the offense is a misdemeanor, with no more than one year in prison. There are a lot of folks who fall into these categories. It is not unusual for a 10th grader to be 15, and not unusual for a 12th grader to be 19. If they engage in consensual intercourse, the 12th grader will have to serve a minimum of ten years in prison and will be a registered sex offender. Likewise, there are plenty of 17 year olds with 15 year old girlfriends, and the statistics show that they have at least an even chance of engaging in sexual intercourse at those ages. The 17 year old will be tried as an adult, and guilty of a sex crime, even though at least in that case it is a misdemeanor.
Now get this – child molestation is defined by the code as doing “any immoral or indecent act to or in the presence of or with any child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person,” or “by means of an electronic device, transmits images of a person engaging in, inducing, or otherwise participating in any immoral or indecent act to a child under the age of 16 years with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person.” It becomes aggravated child molestation if it actually injures the child or “involves an act of sodomy.” The sentencing for these offenses ranges from 5 years to life in prison. Aggravated child molestation is a minimum of 25 to life. The same circumstances that make it a misdemeanor for statutory rape apply here.
Ok, so far so relatively good, right? As far as I’m concerned, there is a special place in heck for people who prey on children, and I have no problem with the law being harsh as far as that is concerned. The law is better than it was, when there were no ‘Romeo and Juliet’ provisions saving the 16 year old from 10 years in prison and life as a registered sex offender because of his 15 year old girlfriend’s angry mother who caught them.
I’m the last person in the world who is going to be pro sex offender, but the laws do make for some curious incentives. If a 19 year old has intercourse with a 15 year old who consents and he impregnates her, he may only spend a year in prison. However, if he engages in consensual oral sex – which cannot result in a life altering pregnancy – it is a 25 year MINIMUM sentence.
Similarly, the somewhat mushy definition of child molestation as transmitting an image of or an image that induces “any immoral or indecent act” by electronic means is another pitfall. Unfortunately, the younger culture is such that everything they do is captured by someone’s cell phone and shared on various social media outlets and texted to friends. What could just be a ‘mooning’ prank may turn into child molestation if it is captured on camera and shared. A teenage girl who ‘sexts’ a picture of her breasts exclusively to her boyfriend might find herself labeled a child molester if her boyfriend’s parents see his phone and one of them is under 16.
This is serious business, folks. The sex offender registries capture truly dangerous predators and relatively normal 19 year olds in the same net, so be sure to do research before condemning the neighbor you find listed on the registry. As uncomfortable as it may be to have these conversations with your teenage children, they need to know that if they engage in this behavior that studies show is somewhat commonplace, they might find themselves dragged in front of a criminal court.
Due to the serious nature of these offenses, if you find yourself or a member of your family suspected or accused of one of these crimes, make sure you understand your rights and get qualified advice before speaking to anyone – I mean anyone, including friends and neighbors who might later be called as witnesses — about it. There could be decades in prison in the balance.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.