Age Inappropriate

A casual fling can earn a lifetime label as a sex offender.

"I look back on the past two years and just wonder what happened," Curtis, a tall man with a long face and well-trimmed goatee, says today from his current place of residence, the Fremont Correctional Facility. "I wasn't in a right state of mind, I admit that. But for making a bad judgment, I'm supposed to be a sexual offender who's attracted to little kids? It just kills me that they've put me in the category they have."

The term "sex offender" conjures up disturbing images of leering, trenchcoat-wearing perverts lurking around playgrounds. Legally, though, it's a broad term. In 1992, Colorado formed the Sex Offender Management Board to oversee treatment of the state's sex criminals. The board lists nineteen separate laws that, if violated, can get one labeled as a sex offender. These range from rape -- a forcible sexual assault -- to incest, keeping a place of child prostitution, sex assault on a client by a psychotherapist, and indecent exposure.

Greig Veeder, executive director of Teaching Humane 
Existence, a private treatment program for sex 
Anthony Camera
Greig Veeder, executive director of Teaching Humane Existence, a private treatment program for sex offenders.

That said, most of the listed sex offenses are aimed at those who commit crimes against children. Of the nineteen laws, fifteen specifically mention children in their titles. Still, even the word "child" can be confusing when trying to legislate sexual behavior.

The law says a child is a person under the age of eighteen. But at a certain age, children can legally give their permission to have sex, although there is no firm agreement on what that age should be. The so-called age of consent varies from state to state, with fourteen being the youngest and eighteen the oldest. In Colorado, the age of consent currently rests at seventeen.

Additional laws try to control who children may have sex with by threatening to punish those it considers inappropriate partners. Generally speaking, these criminal statutes aim to protect young teenagers from the potential abuse of power by an older person in a "position of trust." In Colorado, it is considered sexual assault on a child when a man or woman who is eighteen years old or older has sex with a child who is fourteen years old or younger. When the child turns fifteen, another set of rules kicks in. At that point the sex becomes illegal only if the age gap is ten years or greater.

All laws must make distinctions. But the lines can seem arbitrary. What makes a fifteen-year-old girl mature enough to give her permission to have sex with a 24-year-old man -- but not a 25-year-old?

Individual maturity levels vary, too. Some fourteen-year-old girls know what they're doing when it comes to having sex -- and some seventeen-year-olds have no business consenting to an intimate relationship. Cultural differences, too, can complicate matters. In some countries, the age of sexual maturity is younger than it is in the United States.

How about differences between the sexes? Even with statutory rape that involves two willing parties, it can be easy to categorize cases like Curtis's as sexual assault. Young girls have complex and often contradictory views on sex; they can also get pregnant. When an older boy or young man gets into an intimate relationship with a girl, there is also the very real issue of physical power to consider. Curtis is nearly six feet tall and 160 pounds -- bigger by far than the girl he was arrested for having sex with.

Yet not all statutory rape cases involve Lolitas. The same age restrictions on sexual partners apply to boys as well as girls -- even though it is probably safe to say that relatively few fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys would refuse the chance to have sex with an older woman. Still, it's a crime.

In 1998, Tina Martin, a handsome black woman with big eyes and a wide smile, was living in an Aurora duplex. She was 28 years old and lonely. She'd married young and in short order had given birth to three daughters. Tina had been a single mother almost from the start.

"Their father was a disaster," she says. "I had to take care of him; he needed another mama. I needed a partner, not a son. He's a little punk." The family split up for good when Tina followed one of several short-lived boyfriends from Texas to Colorado.

At the time, her daughters were nine, ten and eleven. Tina's house was one of the few in the area that had cable, so neighborhood kids came over all the time to watch TV or play video games. One of them was Timothy, who lived next door with his aunt.

"He was more mature than the other kids hanging around," Tina remembers. "The others were kids, but he hung around with adults." Legally, though, Timothy still had a few years to go. By the time he and Tina had begun having sex, he was a few weeks shy of his fifteenth birthday.

Tina says that Timothy started it. They'd known each other for a couple of months by then, and he and Tina had already become physical. "We'd play around all the time; he'd body-slam me and I'd poke punches at him, or he'd tickle me," she recalls. "But that night was different. I was lying on the couch. He bent down and kissed me. And I let him.

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The criminal justice system has also been getting ridiculously tough lately on adult men who marry teenage girls.>>>>>click onto

Not like the good old days when it didn't even matter how much older the groom was than the teenage bride.  So long as nobody was being forced into anything they didn't want to be in, the marriage was just as legal as two same-aged sweethearts.>>>>

Eric Dexheimer?  You should do your next story on something like this.  That is, adult grooms marrying teen brides.  In the United States of America, of course.  In non-Mormon and non-Muslim communities, that is.  Forget about the Middle East.  Too many wackjobs over there.