UNDERAGE SEX: Legal Offense In California
A California appeals court ruling giving "prosecutors the 'theoretical mechanism' to criminally charge children for consensual sex" worries some adults that teenagers may shy from "seeking sexual advice, contraceptives or prenatal care." The Oakland Tribune reports that in a recent case involving "a 16-year-old Alameda County boy caught having sex with a 14-year-old girl," a juvenile court judge dismissed a forcible rape count, but upheld a statutory rape conviction. In affirming the lower court's decision, the California Court of Appeals did not reconsider the issue of forcible rape. J. Bradley O'Connell, the boy's attorney, voiced concern over the precedent, saying the decision "lets prosecutors step into the domain of teachers and parents." He said, "It's one thing to use education, public service advertisements or other means to encourage teenage abstinence, but using criminal penalties is wrong." He added, "Do we want police, prosecutors, courts and jails to be the group of institutions which intrude upon that matter?" Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Andrew Sweet, who argued for the state, contended that the court's ruling that "there's no constitutional privacy right for minors to have consensual sex" is not "the same as saying, 'minors can't have sex anymore'" (Richman, 4/19).
California Clamps Down
"Gov. Pete Wilson (R) has been instrumental in publicizing statutory rape" as a social issue, the Sacramento Bee reports, in light of recent statistics showing "that two-thirds of the 70,000 babies born annually to teen mothers in California are fathered by men 20 years old or older." Wilson's $6 million campaign to "step up statutory-rape prosecutions" has reached many Californians with a "warning that sex with minors is a major crime." Sexually active minors, however, "often refuse to testify" or continually run away from home when parents try to intervene. Nonetheless, in the program's second year, 53 counties have prosecuted 1,916 cases, with 1,137 resulting in convictions -- "or about three per calendar day." Thirty cases of statutory rape "were filed in the first six months of this fiscal year" in Sacramento County alone (Erwin, 4/19).