Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sign of the Apocalypse #16: Love or statutory rape?

Two SOTA in a row!

But there's something sad about this one. As reported in the Times:

On Sunday evening, Matthew Koso tipped three ounces of formula into his 5-day-old daughter's mouth, then hoisted her atop his shoulder in hope of a burp. On Tuesday morning, he is scheduled to be arraigned on charges for which the newborn is the state's prime piece of evidence.

Mr. Koso is 22. The baby's mother, Crystal, is 14. He is charged with statutory rape, even though they were wed with their parents' blessing in May, crossing into Kansas because their own state prohibits marriages of people under 17.

The Nebraska attorney general accuses Mr. Koso of being a pedophile; they say it is true love...

Outrage over the case has rippled through this town of 4,800 about 100 miles from both Omaha and Kansas City, and to two state capitals. The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, embarrassed by her state's status as one of the few allowing children as young as 12 to marry, has said she will propose a raise in the minimum age when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Meanwhile, [Attorney General] Jon Bruning's office has been deluged with letters, the vast majority angrily urging that he leave the couple alone. One, from a woman named Patricia, said, "I'm sure your time can be better spent putting away real criminals."

With respect to this particular case, my instinct, prior to reflection on the merits of the case, is to side with the couple and to oppose prosecution. But, of course, the law was broken, and I'm not sure I want to see laws prohibiting sex with minors to be ignored or repealed. Such laws, after all, are meant to protect minors, who are too young to consent to sex, from predators. But was Matthew Koso a predator? Did he take advantage of Crystal? I'm not sure, but his recent actions suggest that he means to take responsibility for his actions and otherwise to support his new family. He must be prosecuted, perhaps, but this may be a case where the state would be best advised to go lightly. Indeed, "experts said it was extremely rare for a man to be prosecuted for statutory rape when he has married his minor partner". Probation seems reasonable, along with continued monitoring of the situation, perhaps until Crystal turns 16.

But this may also be an exceptional case that deserves exceptional treatment. Here's the bigger problem (and the SOTA):

Studies show that one in five teenagers have sex before they turn 15, and about 150,000 babies are born each year to a minor parent. In Nebraska, there were 25 births to mothers under 15 in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available. In Kansas, five girls under 15 were married in 2003, three in 2002 and six in 2001.

These statistics are a mere footnote to what has become a widely-circulated human-interest story, but they tell us something about the state of America's youth -- or, at least, about the state of youth in Kansas and Nebraska. And that something isn't good.

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