Saturday, July 30, 2005

Marriage or Rape?

We were resisting the urge to write about the story of this Fall City couple, but Ryne McClaren's blog post tipped us over the edge. Ryne quotes the Omaha World Herald story. Here's a link to the Lincoln Journal Star article on the same topic.

The basic facts are:
  1. She's 13 and pregnant
  2. He's 22
  3. They married with her mother's consent in Kansas, which allows that sort of thing
  4. She was pregnant before they married, and they plan to keep the baby
  5. He has been arrested for statutory rape
The Journal Star reports:
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning says at a press conference at the Capitol in Lincoln that he's charged Matt with first-degree sexual assault, which carries a penalty of up to 50 years in prison.

"I'm not going to stand by while a grown man has a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old."

The attorney general says his office learned about the relationship from "citizens in Falls City who were shocked by it."

He says he's confident of a conviction.

In Nebraska, anyone older than 19 can't have sex with anyone younger than 16. And no one younger than 16 can marry.

Bruning says it doesn't matter that they got married in Kansas, where a 12-year-old can marry with a parent's permission.

Or that the girl's mother gave her permission.

Or that the girl says it's love, not rape.

Says the attorney general: "She'll be married to a guy who is in prison."
This is such a mess, and you probably will not be surprised to find out the mother of the girl is a single parent with some past problems of her own (an assault by ex-boyfriend is mentioned).

Rationally, the child should be put up for adoption, but instead the family opted for a risky marriage. One hopes for the best, but the odds are long against this marriage lasting. The girl is not even prepared to take care of herself, let alone a baby. The husband is obviously not exactly mature, either. The circumstances suggest the grandmother is lacking some basic parenting skills, too.

Like Ryne, we have mixed feelings about prosecution in this case. On the one hand, they are legally married now. Kansas marriages are legal in Nebraska and other states, whatever one may think about the wisdom of allowing marriage at such a young age. Marriage should be an absolute defense against statutory rape. It seems to us that, if the girl can consent to marriage, she can consent to sex with her husband.

On the other hand, sex between an adult and a minor outside of marriage is the definition of statutory rape. If it can be proven that this occurred, a later marriage should not be exonerating. Being "in love" is not a defense, and the child cannot legally give consent. It is a crime for a 22 yr old to have sex with a 12 or 13 yr old, and it should be illegal for adults to have sex with children.

Sadly, the child already faces poor prospects for a successful life. Sending the father to prison is not going to improve those prospects.

There are some interesting differences in the two newspaper accounts. The World Herald doesn't name the girl, who is a minor in a sex abuse case, afterall, but the Journal Star does.
According to the Lincoln Journal Star story, the girl is quite good at math, although not a great student in other subjects. The husband calls her "Einstein." The World Herald says she's in special ed.

In 1996 there was a case in Lincoln of two Iraqi men, 28 and 34, who "married" 13 and 14 yr old Iraqi girls in arranged marriages. One girl ran away with her boyfriend. The men were arrested, and the girls were removed from their parents' home, their father charged with child abuse. This was a cultural issue as well as a legal one.

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