Kaitlyn Hunt's parents knew their 18-year-old daughter was dating a 15-year-old girl whom she met through classes and varsity sports at the Florida high school the two attended. But when the younger girl's parents learned about the relationship, they had Kaitlyn arrested on two counts of felony lewd and lascivious battery on a child ages 12 to 16. Kaitlyn must now choose whether to go to trial — if found guilty, she'd have to register as a sex offender and could serve up to 15 years in prison — or accept a plea deal of two years' house arrest and one year of probation. The Hunts hope growing publicity will pressure the state to drop her case and focus on protecting and educating teenagers instead of prosecuting them for falling in consensual love.
Steven Hunt told Jezebel in a phone interview that his daughter Kaitlyn, whom friends and family call "Kate," grew close with her 15-year-old former girlfriend through classes and the varsity basketball team the two played on at Sebastian River High School in Sebastian, Fla; the younger girl was a freshman student enrolled in International Baccalaureate courses with upperclassmen, so they were peers in the same social circle. Kate's mother, Kelley Hunt Smith, wrote on Facebook that the two girls hung out with the family at their home and before basketball games. Since Kelley had seen the girl's father at sporting events, she assumed her family knew about and accepted the relationship. Kate had always dated boys, but when she told her mother she was dating a girl, Kelley "didn’t want to make it a big deal," she wrote. "I talked to her about it, and figured it was just a social thing, times have changed and a lot of kids are experimenting, so I didn’t make much of it."
"We knew about her sexual preference for a long time," Steve said. "It wasn't an issue for us."
But it was an issue for her former girlfriend's parents. When the girls' basketball coach found out the two were dating, she kicked Kate off the team and told the younger girl's parents, who told police. That's when Kate was arrested. According to Kelley:
On Saturday February 16th our families world was shattered and our daughters nightmare begun. The police came to our home and arrested my daughter, put her in hand cuffs and we had no idea why. They refused to tell us anything at first because she had turned 18. Kate was ripped out of our arms, terrified, crying hysterically. My younger daughter was there at the time, my husband and myself, we were mortified. They finally told us she was being arrested on “probable cause”. I asked them probable cause of what, they said sexual battery on a person 12-16 years old. My heart dropped, I knew then that it had to have been her girlfriend's parents. These people never came to us as parents, never tried to speak to us, didn’t try to get the school involved to speak to us and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating, not one single word. Instead, they set out their vengeance and had my child arrested on FELONY charges.
Kate, who agreed to cut off contact with her former girlfriend and was subsequently expelled weeks before graduation to boot, has until Friday to decide whether to go to trial or take the plea deal. Her parents don't want her to choose either option.
“The (assistant) state attorney, Brian Workman needs to use taxpayers money to prosecute REAL criminals, not a high school student who has never been in trouble a day in her young life, all because she had a mutual consenting relationship with someone who has bigoted parents,” wrote Hunt Smith. "...they feel like my daughter “made” their daughter gay. They are bigoted, religious zeolites that see being gay as a sin and wrong, and they blame my daughter."
Kate's father said this case highlights glaring problems with age-of-consent laws and sex-education. The age of consent in Florida is 18, but should 18-year-old high schoolers really be responsible for setting boundaries with the 14 to 17-year-olds who take the same classes and participate in the same after-school activities as they do? "There's no education at her school that describes what to do and what not to do within a consensual relationship in terms of age," Steve said. "The fact that this was a same-sex relationship was clearly the motivation factor [behind the arrest]. But this law is ridiculous regardless of whether teenagers are gay or straight."
From the "Free Kate" Facebook page:
The law needs to change, not only to protect Kate, but to protect the millions of teenagers, boys and girls, straight and gay, whose lives are regularly ruined because parents disapprove of their children's sexual choices. We want justice for all 18-year-old high school seniors who have undergone criminal prosecution for exercising poor judgement in their dating life. Such students are not predators. They're just kids. Likewise, we believe the law should not be arbitrarily enforced based on a parent's anger. Parents should be empowered to protect their children, but not at the price of destroying another young person's life forever.
The Hunts have launched a Change.org petition, which has over 52K signatures, and a fundraising site to help with extensive legal fees. "Kate is strong but scared," Steve said. "We hope she gets her freedom soon."
Image via Facebook.