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‘She said she was 18’ is no defense for statutory rape

What happens in a rape kit exam?

A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.
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A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.

Perhaps the soldier should have asked to see some ID, before he had sex with a 14-year-old girl in her mother’s apartment.

Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t be facing up to 20 years in prison for statutory rape.

But he did not, on May 30, 2016, when via email he arranged to meet the girl who responded to his ad on Craigslist. She invited him over. She told him she was 18. She said they had to have sex quietly because her kids were asleep.

It was not her children who were asleep. It was her mother. And their sex was not quiet. The mother heard a noise downstairs, and came down to find a naked man on the couch with her naked daughter.

He grabbed his clothes and ran, and the mother called Columbus police.

Initially the girl told investigators she heard someone outside, saw the man, cracked the door to ask what he wanted, and he forced his way in and raped her. Later she admitted she lied, and told how they met online.

The suspect soon was identified because he had “sexted” the girl an image of himself, nude, with an erection, and his last name clearly tattooed across his abdomen.

Upon his arrest, he told police he “physically did ask” the girl’s age “on two separate occasions,” and she assured him she was 18. Checking his cell phone, officers found a message to a relative in which the suspect wrote, “I was tricked. She didn’t look 14 and told me she was 18.”

He has pleaded guilty, and is to be sentenced Monday in Muscogee Superior Court.

The law

In this age of online flirting when the romantically inclined may not see each other in person until their tryst, the case invites inquiries into Georgia’s statutory rape law.

For example: “She told me she was 18” is no excuse.

“It is … well-established law in Georgia that knowledge of the victim’s age is not an element of the crime of statutory rape,” a prosecutor wrote in a motion asking the court to disallow evidence of the soldier’s remarks regarding how old the girl told him she was.

The motion cited the 2007 decision Haywood v. State, in which the Georgia Court of Appeals wrote: “The defendant’s knowledge of the age of the female is not an essential element of the crime … and therefore it is no defense that the accused reasonably believed that the (victim) was of the age of consent.”

The law says a suspect “commits the offense of statutory rape when he or she engages in sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 years and not his or her spouse.” That’s based on the principle that anyone younger is too immature to make a sound decision regarding sex.

But under specific circumstances, the offense may be a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Some call it the “Romeo and Juliet” clause:

“If the victim is at least 14 but less than 16 years of age and the person convicted of statutory rape is 18 years of age or younger and is no more than four years older than the victim, such person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,” it says.

So, the state does not aim to imprison high school sweethearts for consensual sexual relationships.

This clause is of no benefit to the soldier, who was 34 when he had sex with the teenager.

In fact, the law ups the sentence range for anyone 21 or older. Anyone younger than 21, who’s not covered by the so-called Romeo and Juliet clause faces one to 20 years in prison. Anyone older must serve 10 to 20 years.

Another clause in the law says no one can be convicted of statutory rape based solely on “the unsupported testimony of the victim.” Other evidence is needed.

That’s of no benefit to the soldier either, as the girl’s mother found him naked on the couch with her daughter, and he sent the teen a photo of his nude torso with his last name tattooed on it, and he told police she assured him she was 18.

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