Sunday, October 28, 2007

Lessons Learned

As reported by the New York Times, Genarlow Wilson was released from a Georgia correctional center on Friday after serving more than two years of a 10 year sentence for having consensual sex with a 15 year-old while he was 17 at what the Times describes as a "drug- and alcohol-fulled New Year's Eve party." As more evidence that today's teens and twenty-somethings wish to live as if they are starring in their own version of The Truman Show, Mr. Wilson's engagement with his teenage inamorata was captured on videotape.

As the other party was not of the legal age of consent, Mr. Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation, and under Georgia's Child Protection Act of 1995 (CPA), he was subject to a mandatory minimum prison term. Following Wilson's conviction, the General Assembly amended the CPA to include a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" exemption that makes consensual sex between teens a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison - although the legislature declined to make the new law retroactive.

legislature's action paved the way for a the Georgia Supreme Court to issue a 4-3 ruling which judged Wilson's sentence as "grossly disproportionate" to the crime. And while I generally concur that 10 years in prison and a charge of aggravated child molestation is perhaps a bit much, if I were forced to choose between locking up 17 year-olds for receiving oral sex from other teens and having adult sexual predators escape the bounds of the law entirely unpunished, I would opt for the former.

By all indications the former high school athlete appears no worse for wear, at least physically. But beyond appearances, I hope that Mr. Wilson acquired new knowledge about a few things during his time in stir. Namely:

1) I hope Wilson has learned that "safe sex" outside of marriage - even if it is consensual (and the other party initiates) - is a fiction on the order of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.
The entreaties of feminists, gay activists and assorted liberals of other stripes notwithstanding, sex has always been fraught with considerable risk. And much like any human activity, sex has associated legal risks (especially for those who are so obtuse as to create a video record of their exploits.) My sense is that, if nothing else, Mr. Wilson has learned that any male with a functioning phallus can have sex, but it takes a man to assess the risks and perhaps conclude that abstinence is the better part of wisdom.

2) I trust that Mr. Wilson has learned that being a star high school football player does not place him beyond the bounds of the law vis-a-vis sex. (If he is still unsure on the matter, he need only point his web browser to Wikipedia and look under Tyson, Mike.) And I kinda' hope that Wilson is ready to just say no to drugs, as well as any association with those who use them.

3) Most importantly, my desire is that Genarlow Wilson understands that after the "Jesse and Al Show" is over, he will be responsible for making his own decisions about whom to associate with and how to occupy his time. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton both have long trails of brief and convenient associations that benefited them individually more so than their supposed "client" or their race more generally. To say that Jackson and Sharpton are easily distracted would be putting things charitably; after the Jackson/Sharpton circus leaves town, Wilson will need to rely on those who have cared about him before his name was associated with an infamous sex tape.

Doubtless, there is at least one lesson for all of us to take away from this episode.
One of the penultimate imbecilities that has taken hold at present is that young people can be encouraged to be good stewards of the planet, engaged political participants and informed consumers among other things, but are completely refractory to any suggestion of delaying sexual intercourse let alone abstinence. In writing for the Georgia Supreme Court majority, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears commented that the changes to the CPA (such as the "Romeo and Juliet" clause) offer the best evidence of "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" (as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

Perhaps Justice Sears would deign to clarify for a lowly scribbler to what "evolving standards" she's referring. Her remark bespeaks a belief that the law is but a collective hunch on the part of the majority, and not anything that is rooted in longstanding and largely fixed tenets of civilized behavior; such is hardly a position that one would expect a jurist to assume. (I'd also appreciate it if Ms. Sears would provide me
a forewarning as to when she anticipates another evolution of decency, as such information might come in handy.)

But beyond the Darwinism of decency, Justice Sears' comment speaks to the fairly widespread idea that the easing of sexual mores represents a "maturing society." Left unsaid is what our society is maturing into. I will concede the benefit in creating a clause in the law by which teens having sex can avoid doing more prison time than rapists. But I will also plead an irretrievable ignorance as to how doing such a thing represents societal maturation.

The dubiously titled
"Romeo and Juliet" clause - no more Orwellian nomenclature of double-speak has reared its head in the annals of American legislation - creates visions of teens who have sex as a manifestation of a love that defies familial alliances, even unto death. The momentary collisions of orifices and genitalia experienced by today's teens may rightly be judged as not the cause for a lengthy prison sentence. But to be sure, 15 year-olds performing fellatio in a hotel room on New Year's Eve represents anything but a maturing society. The same can be said for legislative attempts to align punishment with offense.

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