Petition Supports FL Cheerleader Arrested for Dating Younger Girl
An 18-year-old Florida teen has made headlines after being charged with sexual contact felonies for her consensual same-sex relationship with a 15-year-old girl. Kaitlyn Hunt refused a recent plea deal offered by the state attorney's office, and has received support via Facebook groups and a Change.org online petition.
"Our client is a courageous teenager who is choosing not to accept the current plea offer by the state of Florida," said Julia Graves, the attorney for the Hunts. "It's a situation of two teenagers who happen to be of the same sex involved in a relationship. If this case involved a boy and a girl, we don't believe there'd be the media attention to this case."
Hunt was romantically involved with a younger teammate from her high school basketball team last year when the other girl's parents pressed charges against her. (The alleged victim is identified only by her initials in court documents). Hunt was arrested in February, kicked off the basketball team and eventually expelled from Sebastian High School. She faces two felony counts of "lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16."
Some have implied that the other girl's parents waited until Hunt turned 18 to press charges. Hunt's family claims the now 15-year-old's parents turned Hunt in because they were angry about the same-sex relationship. They allege that the day before their daughter was arrested, police and the other girl's parents secretly recorded a phone conversation in which the two girls discussed kissing in the school bathroom.
"These people never came to us as parents, never tried to speak to us and tell us they had a problem with the girls dating," Hunt's mother, Kelley Hunt-Smith, wrote. "They were out to destroy my daughter. [They] feel like my daughter 'made' their daughter gay."
But according to the victim's parents, who spoke to a Florida TV reporter on May 24, they "had no choice" but to turn to authorities, after they had twice told Hunt that "this was wrong" and after their daughter ran away from home, only to be discovered safe at Hunt's house.
State Attorney Bruce Colton said he would have brought charges regardless of the defendant's sexual preference because Hunt violated a law that prohibits adults from having sexual contact with underage children.
Accept the Plea, Be Forever Branded a Sex Offender
Had she accepted the plea deal, Hunt would have been labeled as sex offender and placed on house arrest for two years. By refusing, she now faces 15 years in prison if convicted. Hunt’s family said that a plea deal would only be accepted if the charges were reduced to a misdemeanor.
Charles Sullivan, who’s representing the family of the other teen, told WPBF 25 News’ Angela Rozier on Friday that the family is not available for comment. He said that the lawbreaking was the issue, not the state’s treatment of Hunt.
"The statute clearly prohibits minors from having sexual relations with adults. The consent of the minor is not an issue, nor should it be an issue. That’s the message in this case, that a crime was committed, and it’s being prosecuted," Sullivan told WPTV News. He also said he thought the plea deal was a reasonable one and that he was surprised Hunt didn’t take it.
But Hunt’s attorney Graves pointed out that, "There are colleges that will not let felons do certain things, or child abuse charges where you can’t supervise field trips or your own children later, you can’t participate in things. These are things that will certainly affect her future if she takes this current plea offer."
Graves also filed a motion asking Circuit Judge Robert Pegg to remove himself from the case. She said that she was never notified of the trial date scheduled for this September, and alleged that the judge moved the case ahead of 200 other pending criminal cases because he is biased against gays. Graves pointed out a similar case with a male defendant and female victim, which took 19 months to conclude. The judge has not replied to the request.
Attorney, State Legislator Say Law is Unfair
Hunt’s attorney Graves said that the law is unfair, creating criminal penalties for consensual high school romances. And she is not the only one who feels this way.
"Our client’s a model citizen," said Graves. "She’s been placed in an environment of school with her classmates where they go to school together, they have lunch together and play on the same team (and are) allowed to have communication and contact without barriers. Then when something develops between the two of them as a result of this environment which is created by the state, it leads to criminal prosecution."
Florida State Senator Thad Altman, a Republican who represents Sebastian, FL, where Hunt is from, agreed with the Hunt family. He said that while he empathized with both families, the situation was "tragic" and the laws needed to change.
Not known to be a liberal on issues, Altman has lent his support to a bill authorizing open displays of firearms, student-led prayer in schools and an amendment that requires physicians to perform ultrasounds before abortions. But he has stood firm against the charges that would turn the former cheerleader into a convicted felon for a consensual relationship with a teammate.
"You would like to think this wouldn’t happen in this country, two teenagers in a moment of passion do something consensual and suddenly one is facing fifteen years in prison," Altman told the station, adding that he will propose dealing with age limits in Florida sex laws next year. Altman said that judges should be able to exercise more discretion, but other Indian River legislators are fine with the laws as they stand. Previous attempts to amend the law have failed.
The polarizing case has drawn interest from national groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. Some local observers argue that the law is the law and Hunt should be prosecuted. Others believe her status as a high school student should be considered.
The ACLU of Florida has also come out on Hunt’s side, condemning the state’s prosecution of Hunt for engaging in natural teen behaviors.
"This is a life sentence for behavior by teenagers that is all too common, whether they are male or female, gay or straight," said the ACLU in a statement. "High-school relationships may be fleeting, but felony convictions are not."
But the president of the Vero Beach, FL, PFLAG chapter issued a statement on May 29 saying it could not enter the controversy, calling it a matter of law rather than an issue of homophobia.
"We have not been able to find where the charges brought against this unfortunate young lady are inspired by homophobia, or are in any way anti-LGBTQ," wrote David McKinnon, president of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Vero Beach. "The problem is that there is a law, and it appears the law was broken. The arrest and subsequent penalties are based on a statute that is current. The cry of discrimination, unless more facts come out, does not seem to apply here."
Case Draws Tremendous Online Support
The case against Hunt has drawn tremendous online support from Facebook forums and a Change.org online petition. More than 310,000 people signed the petition asking the Florida state assistant attorney to stop the prosecution of Hunt. LGBT Americans view Hunt as the victim of her former lover’s homophobic parents. Hunt’s former girlfriend said the relationship was consensual, and that Hunt did not coerce or pressure her at all.
"The law is designed to protect our children, but the law does not serve its purpose when it is applied to consensual behavior between peers," reads the petition. "Please help stop this misuse and abuse of the law!"
The girl’s parents, Steve and Kelly Hunt-Smith, have also launched the Facebook social media campaign "Free Kate," which now has more than 500,000 members.
They have been vocal with their feeling that Hunt’s family is on an anti-gay "witch hunt," and insists that these laws criminalize sexual contact between minors only if both parties are of the same gender, reflecting the biases of individual judges and prosecutors.
Hunt’s lawyers agree, saying, "This situation involves two teenagers who are the same sex, involved in a relationship. If this incident occurred 108 days earlier, when Kaitlyn Hunt was 17, we would not be here with our client facing criminal prosecution. Criminal prosecution of Kaitlyn Hunt is not logical. The State is attempting to take this teenager’s life away over 108 days."
Lesbian in Similar Case Urges Hunt to Reject Plea
They point to the similar case of Jackie Lynn Anthony, whose daughter, Paige Johnson is serving a three- to five-year sentence in a county jail in Warren, Pa., for a brief consensual physical relationship with another girl on her cheerleading squad.
Johnson was 18 and the girl was 14. When the relationship ended, the younger girl’s parents had Johnson arrested and charged with a felony for taking their daughter across state lines, after the team traveled to another state for a cheerleading competition. Unlike Hunt, though, Johnson accepted the state’s plea deal and was slapped with two misdemeanor counts of corruption of a minor.
Anthony contends that accepting the plea deal prevented her daughter from telling her side of the story to a judge and correcting allegations Anthony says were false.
Because of this, Anthony has been vocal in encouraging the Hunt family to reject the plea deal -- a relatively uncommon tack in age-of-consent cases. And while she recognizes similarities between her daughter’s case and Hunt’s, she’s also taken note of the overwhelming social media support for Hunt, which she says was nowhere to be found when her daughter was facing similar charges.
"I don’t think society as a whole was ready to face this issue," said Anthony. "And I’m not sure that the LGBT community and Lambda Legal and the ACLU, I’m not sure they wanted to jump on that bandwagon four years ago.
But Anthony said her daughter recently told her, "You’ve got to let [Hunt’s] parents know. Please don’t take the plea. Give her a chance in front of a jury."