A Houston-area seventh-grade boy has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child because he engaged in consensual sex with his sixth-grade girlfriend.
Unless a judge decides to show leniency, he could be forced to register as a sex offender.
That's according to the Houston Chronicle, which redacted the names of both kids. The boy is 14, the girl, 12. Are they too young to be engaged in a sexual relationship? Sure. But what business is it of the state's? Who is well-served by criminalizing this kind of thing? Certainly not the boy, who will face significant difficulties finishing school, getting into college, finding a job, and even just finding a place to live, if he is placed on the sex offender registry.
"The idea that a 14-year-old who has sex with a person just a little bit younger then him or her would be treated as the worst of the worst in our society and placed on the sex offender registry is really sick," the teen's attorney, Joseph Gutheinz, told the Chronicle.
It's as sick as the law is arbitrary. In Texas, teens are immune from prosecution for underage sex if they are within 3 years of age of each other. But this does not apply if either party is over the age of 18, or under the age of 14. If the sexual encounter had taken place two months earlier, before the boy's 14th birthday, it would not have been a crime.
We don't know the whole story: it's certainly possible the boy did something worse, something that merits police intervention. But it doesn't sound like that's the case:
"He had consensual sex with his little girlfriend and he loved her. They were boyfriend-girlfriend," the teen's mother told the Chronicle. "And because he turned 14, they want to make him a sex offender, put him on the registry with pedophiles and child molesters—really sick and dangerous people."
Actually, the sex offender registry is not just for pedophiles and child molesters. Plenty of perfectly non-dangerous individuals—including kids—end up on the registry for the kind of crime this mother's son is accused of committing. It's wrong, and the laws sustaining this sort of moral panic need to change.
In the meantime, maybe Harris County could go easy on Romeo and Juliet.