Statutory Rape? Or Mere Rite Of Passage?

I keep thinking about the little bits of heaven I tasted in the summer of 1971. I was fifteen, working as one of four males at a girl’s summer camp in northern Michigan. I built a horse corral out of cedar logs we felled and stripped in a nearby swamp. I spent several weeks as a chaperone of sorts on canoe trips down the Au Sable River. And, one memorable night, I lost my virginity to M., a counselor aged 18 at the time.

How did the sparks first began to fly between us? We’d meet sometimes after the rest of the camp was asleep. M. would desert her tent full of charges and find me near a campfire at a distant part of the camp. I often slept there, trying to count the stars and breathing free and deep. I had spent the whole of my life before that summer in tenements and cramped quarters in Chicago and Detroit. A world without doors and locks was a wonder; M., however, was a miracle, my miracle.

The camp was devoted to providing young girls and women with a wholesome and Christian experience. A church youth-group director who knew that my home was filled with trouble arranged my employment. I wasn’t practicing what was preached.

I think of M. now not with longing, but with sorrow. Had what we shared that summer become known to law enforcement, she could well be prosecuted for statutory rape. She was more than two years my senior; I was under the age of 16. As a matter of law, at least under Connecticut law, I could not give consent to what we shared. Were M. sentenced for this "crime" today, she’d face a mandatory minimum of nine months in prison. This is madness.

Was I a crime victim? My will was not overborne, although my hormones certainly were. I will never forget a certain night, the night M. went back to her tent in tears, and I went skulking deep into the forest, awaiting a thunderbolt to extinguish me. Surely I had sinned and fallen far short of the glory of God. I shuddered in the twilight, hovering somewhere between despair and exultation. As guilt yielded to pure fatigue, I drifted off to sleep with the abiding conviction that whatever I had done that night, I was not truly sorrowful: I had crossed a threshold and entered a place to which I would return.

The summer ended. M. went off to college to study microbiology. I returned to high school. I still recall long afternoons when M. and I would walk along sand dunes, sometimes sitting together for hours dreaming of a future we would never share. And I laugh now, too, at how naive we were. We spent time off together deep in the woods. When we returned to camp once, someone noticed with something like shock that M. was wearing my jeans and I had on hers. How could that have happened? A lawyer might call it circumstantial evidence.

I never saw M. after that summer. I don’t know what became of her, although I do know she was affianced and planned to marry. She told me she did not want to marry. What was she trying to bury with me? What was I trying to find with her?

I tell this tale not to engage in unseemly exhibitionism. I am neither proud nor ashamed of the summer of 1971. I tell the story because whatever happened that summer between M. and me was not criminal. I was not a crime victim; M. was not a rapist. We were two kids, experimenting with fire and behaving irresponsibly, risking all in the sort of routine passion play that has for millennia been a rite of passage.

My tale is little different from the stories I hear from clients. An eighteen year old makes love to a fifteen year old. Lawmakers demand that a prison cell be filled. It is wrong, wasteful and hypocritical. Judges smirk sometimes during pre-trials in these cases. "My hands are tied," they say, relying on a mandatory minimum sentence set by lawmakers. And so folks are sentenced to prison as felons, become registered sex offenders and endure the indignity of sex offender treatment. How many other lawyers, judges and lawmakers can tell stories similar to mine? How many sins have gone unconfessed and so-called crimes gone undetected?

I thought I loved M., although, truth be told, I was a but a boy. She thought she loved me, but she, too, was really still a child. We experimented, and there was pain. But I will go to my grave knowing there was no crime. I wonder what Puritanical impulse requires us to count such behavior criminal now.

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Comments: (2)

  • The real tragedy is that our country has a growing...
    The real tragedy is that our country has a growing number of District Attorneys prosecuting cases with insane legal outcomes, especially in alleged consensual sex cases.
    What is most disturbing as a parent and concerned citizen is that prosecutors are able mask this insanity, including gender and other unlawful biases under “broad prosecutorial discretion”, which shields these unlawful practices from judicial review and prevents public knowledge and/or scrutiny, especially in cases involving juveniles.
    You may find this difficult to believe, I did at first, but there are kids as young as 10 on the sex offender registry for “playing doctor” no violence involved. Kids as young as 12 for pinching another kid on the butt just joking around, and a long list of teens and young men for “consensual sexual activity” as a result of girls who lied about their age and sought out sexual activity. And men for public urination on the golf course; how many men would this one put on the list. THIS IS INSANITY!!
    As a tragic result, there is now an alarming increase in the number of prosecutions across the U.S. where, but for age, otherwise innocent people, including juveniles, face a life of ruin and potential life-time registration as a sex offender. Then, adding insult to injury, there are no consequences for equally illegal acts and heinous character assassinating complaints, even when the allegations are proven false.
    How many people, including kids as young as 14, will we allow to be incarcerated, subjected to barbaric and abusive treatment (see Plethysmographs, Masturbatory Satiation, Arousal Reconditioning, Cognitive Restructuring of juveniles) and then forced to register as Sex Offenders for the rest of their lives before we bring an end to this insanity?
    The current legislation, although very well intended, has seriously failed the true victims of violent sexual assault crimes and their families! And, it has resulted in what I believe were unintended consequences for potentially >95% of all youth and young adults who statistically could be convicted as sex offenders.
    This insannity must be stopped!!
    Posted on August 18, 2009 at 4:05 pm by Anonymous
  • Thanks for posting this, Norm. My first sexual exp...
    Thanks for posting this, Norm. My first sexual experience took place when I was below the age of consent and my boyfriend was a freshman in college. Technically, it was a crime. Today he is a distinguished paleontologist who teaches and writes at an important instution. Would society have been better served if he had gone to prison instead of Columbia and Yale?
    Posted on August 19, 2009 at 7:01 am by Anonymous

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