maybe they should trade

Recently I was perusing the Sheboygan Press* and ran across an article that I thought y’all might find interesting. It is a rather intriguing tale of unequal treatment under the law based on the sex of the defendant. But, fortunately for us jaded social scientists, there’s a twist:

A 17-year-old Sheboygan girl was charged Thursday with misdemeanor sexual assault for allegedly having sex with her 14-year-old boyfriend.

Norma J. Guthrie, of [Redacted because, seriously, does she need the paper to print her address?], was in court a day after a 17-year-old Sheboygan boy was charged with a felony for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girlfriend.

Guthrie admitted having sex with the boy between 10 and 15 times, according to a complaint charging her with fourth-degree sexual assault. She faces a maximum of nine months in jail, if convicted.

On Wednesday, Alan J. Jepsen, 17, of [Redacted for the same reason], was charged for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girl who he claimed told him she was 16. Jepsen is facing a count of felony second-degree sexual assault, which carries a maximum prison term of 25 years.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch, who filed both complaints, said the misdemeanor charge was filed in part because Guthrie has no prior criminal record. But online court records show Guthrie has a pending charge of misdemeanor battery, filed in October.

Haasch would not say whether Jepsen has a prior juvenile record — which is typically sealed — but the boy has no adult charges listed in online court records.

Haasch also said the cases are different because Guthrie’s boyfriend is “almost 15,” with a birthday in February. Jepsen’s girlfriend turns 15 in April.

Jepsen is in jail in lieu of a $1,000 cash bond, while Guthrie was released on a $1,000 signature bond after her initial court appearance Thursday, jail officials said.

Both Guthrie and Jepsen were charged as adults. [emphasis added]

So, basically, a 17 year old male has sex with a 14 year old female and is charged as an adult, with a felony, carrying a potential prison term of 25 years, and is being held in lieu of a cash bond. On the other hand, a 17 year old female has sex with a 14 year old male and is charged as an adult, with a misdemeanor, carrying a potential prison term of nine months, and was released essentially because she signed a form indicating she would be liable for $1,000 in the event she did not appear for her trial.

Thoughts?

* What? Don't you read the Sheboygan Press?

As a side note: I am not in any way suggesting that females in our society somehow have all the perks. I read Conservapedia, folks, but I don't believe it. No, I just think there's an interesting gender story in here that's worth considering.

7 thoughts on “maybe they should trade”

  1. My thought is how pathetic it is that this is considered a crime at all. 17-14 is not necessarily an unreasonable age difference, even if it would be for many teens; it strikes me as precisely the kind of law that gives DAs the maximum “discretion” to throw away the lives of the most vulnerable kids. I can’t believe that sending these older teens to jail for any length of time is helping anyone.

    I also don’t think the “twist” is surprising, whether you read it as excessive concern for girls’ virginity of trivialization of boys’ sexual exploitation. I tend to read this as the former since I think the law is ridiculous, but in neither case is it really unexpected, IMO.

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  2. This reminds me a bit of the sentencing disparities between male and female public school teachers who have sex with underage students. Actually, now that I type that, I realize that I don’t even *know* if there were sentencing disparities. I do know there was a public opinion disparity.

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  3. @3 – Note that there is a photo of the woman in this story but not of the man. There is a story on CNN.com right now about some sex crime murder thing where the alleged perpetrators are two men and a woman, and again it is the woman whose photo is part of the story. My conjecture is that HS-teacher-and-pupil stories are also more likely to run a photo of the teacher when the teacher is female. When sexual misbehavior happens, people want to see the woman involved.

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  4. 17-year-olds are legally adults in WI for purposes of crime charges and the criminal records AND ADDRESSES of all adults charged with crimes (as well as those involved in civil actions such as divorces) are readily available on the Internet. No kidding. There are some folks who don’t think this is such a good idea who are called “soft on crime” by other people who think the public’s right to know about criminal records trumps everything else. As re the main point, sentencing studies generally find that men get harsher treatment for the same crime, especially violent crimes.

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  5. The 14-year-old girl ran away from home, quite possibly for good reasons, and now she’s pregnant. And what do we do? Threaten to put the her boyfriend, father of her child, in prison for 25 years. Are there other advanced countries that handle these things in a more sensible way? Is it only the US where our automatic response to things we don’t like is to invoke criminal sanctions?

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  6. I suspect the disparity is piggybacking on the notion that girls are inherently weak and disposed to victimhood. So the gears are grinding a bit here. In terms of the gender status/power scale, her being three years older is barely enough to equalize them and not enough to turn her into a harpy predator.

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