The whole thing went down like this:
Someone threw a really awesome party -- the kind you want to go to when you're 15, and the kind your parents don't want you going to ever. People were drinking, smoking up, and having sex -- and there was a video camera. Genarlow Wilson, the young man in question, was caught on tape having sex with a 17 year old who appears very drunk, or at least very sleepy. Later, he and several other young men are seen receiving oral sex from a 15 year old young woman, who says she wasn't drinking that night and that the acts were consensual. The next day, the 17 year old brought rape charges against Wilson and several others. Under Georgia law (and that of many other states), an intoxicated person cannot give consent, so sex acts occurring while a partner is drunk can be considered rape if that person later feels she has been violated and taken advantage of. Wilson was charged, went to trial, and found not guilty of rape in this instance, but found guilty on charges of aggravated child molestation for receiving oral sex from a 15 year old.
So, despite the fact that Wilson was an honor student, high school track and football star, and homecoming king, he wasn't exactly a prince, and there were social factors at play here -- not just the age of the young woman involved, but also her relative social status and the power-dynamics involved there. These factors contribute to sexual manipulation (of people of all ages and genders, although young women are particularly vulnerable) on a daily basis. It isn't surprising that he was charged, given the context in which the sex act took place; because of the way the law was written, the proof that he had in fact received oral sex from a 15 year old (the video, that is) meant that the jury had no choice but to find him guilty. Although he was acquitted of the rape charge in the case of the 17 year old woman, I'm still willing to go out on a limb and say: ew. I don't care if he wasn't convicted, what happened to the 17 year old was absolutely disgusting and a poor decision on his part. It speaks volumes that this part of the story is being swept under the rug by the media and Wilson is being painted as a hometown hero wrongly accused.
Jessica of Feministing is quite right in pointing out the incredibly sexist implications of the law that Genarlow Wilson, the young man, broke:
Consent laws are overwhelmingly enforced to "protect" young girls, even if some of them don't need protecting. I find it pretty insulting that any teen girl who has sex is an automatic victim.She also points out that charges may not have been brought at all if it had been the young man performing oral sex, and not the other way around. Regardless of the fact that many are manipulated and violated, this particular young woman has not said she felt that way. Law states that she could not legally give consent (because she was 15 at the time), and that law denies that she, as a young woman, is capable of making decisions about her body and her life.
Back in the day, when I was a majorly sexually active minor, the idea that either myself or my partner were doing something illegal was inconceivable. What I was doing was punishable in the court of My Mother's House, sure, but in a court of Law? According to this article in The Sunday Times (UK-Scotland edition), many young people are startled to learn their randy behavior is punishable by law:
When Paul lost his virginity to an older girl, he never thought he might be committing a crime. Emma, his first girlfriend, was a year older than him at 15 and already sexually experienced. But when her parents discovered the nature of their relationship, it was 14-year-old Paul who was threatened with the law.For the record, Paul was not charged, but under Scottish law he could have been.
In Georgia, Wilson recently lost his appeal. Meanwhile, Georgia lawmakers are in the process of rewriting the law under which he was convicted to match that which applies to intercourse. Under the new "Romeo and Juliet" law, teens within 3 years of each other in age will not be able to be charged for oral sex (unless, of course, it isn't consensual, but that's a whole other law).
In the meantime, a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 9 out of 10 US citizens have engaged in premarital sex. I wonder how many of them were committing a crime at the time? In any case, the study provides ample evidence that abstinence only until marriage might not be the wisest of choices when it comes to sex education.
Wilson's Attorney Answers Questions
NY Times Op-Ed: Free Genarlow Wilson Now
Why is Genarlow Wilson in Jail?
Interesting Debate in the Feministing Comments