Jailbait

When 16-year-old Gwyneth* ’09 first had sex with her boyfriend she wasn’t sure if it was legal.
She had considered her chances of getting pregnant, and she had talked to her 18-year-old boyfriend Josh* ’07 about how ready they both were.

But Gwyneth was never clear about or concerned with the California Penal Code section which defines unlawful sexual intercourse as “accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor.”

She still really isn’t.

“We’ve talked about the law, but we don’t really worry about it. It’s kind of fuzzy. I don’t really know,” Gwyneth said. “I think my parents told me that it only applies if the parents press charges, or it only applies if we get caught.”

Gwyneth, in fact, is wrong.

The unlawful sexual intercourse law applies to every situation. Any kind of sex, including oral, involving a minor is always illegal even if it is wholly consensual, and even if the parents approve of it.

Depending on the age gap or number of “repeat violations” the punishments vary. In more extreme conditions, an adult could be convicted of a felony or fined up to $25,000.

Because Josh is only two years older than Gwyneth, he could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $5,000. But basically, for a person under 18, any sex is illegal sex.

“The law sets those limits very strictly,” school psychologist Luba Bek said. “So what happens the day when you turn 18? Does something major happen and you wake up an adult? This is really not the case, but the law really has to draw the line somewhere.”

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Lizette Makarenko works in the Juvenile division and has been a law officer for the past 13 years.

But Makarenko has “no idea” why the law draws the line at 18.

“It’s just the magic number. It’s the age to vote, to buy cigarettes,” Makarenko said.

And though her understanding of the lawmakers’ reasoning is unclear, her enforcement of the law is just the opposite.

Legally, any kind of consent given by a minor for any kind of sexual intercourse is invalid and Makarenko abides by this assertion.

“There is no such thing as consensual sex with a minor,” Makarenko said.

Law enforcement officers like Makarenko are not the only ones who are required to enforce this law. The law labels certain professionals as “mandated reporters” and they are obligated to report any type of unlawful intercourse.

According to the letter of the law, every member of a school administration is required to report.
Bek acknowledges that she is a “mandated reporter of certain things.” But Bek does not actively call in students in sexual relationships with the adult-minor age gap.

“It’s not my business unless they came to me and said they were having doubts or if the sex was really, really intoxicated,” Bek said.

Bek has had girls come to her office and tell her in confidence that they were raped. But because they would not reveal the identity of the perpetrator and would likely not open up to law enforcement, Bek did not act on it.

“My reporting duties are reporting sex under 14 and rape,” Bek said. “And for rape, a person has to admit that she or he was raped otherwise it was not rape.  I think that leaving the door open is a good thing, and I only call people in for extreme situations.”

School Chaplain Father J. Young also says that reporting every count of unlawful sexual intercourse is not helpful.

“I wouldn’t feel it necessary or even wanted by the administration for me to report every instance of sexual activity I was aware of,” Young said. “If I were to report something that was of a sexual nature, in my book it would have to be something outside of the norm of regular, healthy teenage behavior.”

Outside the norm of regular behavior for Young is instances of rape and rampant promiscuity.

Although Bek and Young would not easily call in law enforcement, they both have qualms with relationships with large grade divisions because to them, the campus is largely stratified by grades. 

For example, neither would be entirely comfortable with a relationship between a sophomore and a senior. This is a “gray area” for Young.

Bek sees that manipulation can play a potentially heightened role for sophomores and the decisions they make during their first semester on campus.

“I have a problem when 10th grade girls get involved [sexually] with senior boys first semester because I don’t see this mutual love affection and interest,” Bek said. “I see manipulation and wanting to fit in to the upper school life.”

Gwyneth, who got involved with Josh while she was a sophomore, assumed that much of the senior class already had sex, and was surprised to find otherwise.

“He was only the second one of his friends to have sex. I was so surprised,” Gwyneth said. “But getting into the relationship didn’t have much to do with being part of something, or part of that trend. It was more just about him.”

Cassie* ’09, 16 years old, said that she would be able to recognize manipulation and immediately avoid that.

And though both Cassie and her 17-year-old boyfriend Lance* ’08  are both minors, their sex is illegal. Any kind of sexual activity between two minors is illegal. Again, punishments can vary based on the width of the age gap or number of repeat violations.

But on their intimate one-year anniversary, neither Cassie nor Lance really paid heed to the illegality of their sexual activity.

“I joke about it with him,” Cassie said. “We’re not going to actually take that seriously.”

Cassie is really unsure whether or not her parents know that she and Lance are having sex. But if either of Cassie’s or Lance’s parents decide that the relationship has gone too far, after a phone call to the police department, law officers would enforce their definition of unlawful sexual intercourse.

Officers like Makarenko would automatically take the case to juvenile court and the sex between Lance and Cassie could be declared a misdemeanor offense. The law officers find lots of cases of unlawful sex between adults and minors with small age gaps come from parents. Once brought into their scope of vision, however, the officers will enforce the law to its final letter, Makarenko said.

“We’re not going to look for it, knock on everyone’s house doors. It’s whatever comes to our attention,” Makarenko said. “If we went out to look for all of it, it would take too much effort; it would take every detective on the planet.”

Young sees that this law is “pretty unenforceable” unless someone like a parent has a problem with it or the sex happens in public.

But he still encourages keeping a tight gap between partners in a sexual relationship. However, Young would rather measure the gap based on each of the partners’ maturity.

In each of his Choices and Challenges classes, Young tells his students that losing one’s virginity is an extremely emotional and vulnerable moment.

Many people have adapted a dangerously cavalier attitude towards losing their virginity, Young said.
For Cassie, the sex is “all out of love, obviously.”

She took a year to make sure she was ready and Lance, because he is an independent thinker did not fall into peer pressure, Cassie said. The only reason she feels comfortable while having sex is because they are such good friends, Cassie said.

“It’s like a fun thing. I don’t know, I can’t really explain it,” Cassie said.

*These names have been changed because subjects wish to remain anonymous

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