Genarlow Wilson needs to go free now. Period.
Teenagers will fool around sometimes. I'm not saying that's a good thing, and I advise my own kids to wait, and warn them about the dangers of AIDS, other STD's and the potential for pregnancy. I tell them about safe sex, but also tell them that I hope they wait. But the fact is, high school sex does happen, and when it does, it's not a felony.
Except that it was a felony when Genarlow Wilson, then seventeen, had consensual sexual relations with a fifteen year old girl who went to the same high school as he did.
Under Georgia's strict sexual predator act, he was charged four years ago with sexual assault on a teenager and slapped with a ten year prison sentence (where he is today) and told that when he gets out, he will have to register as a sex offender.
Largely because of his case, Georgia legislators softened the law and made it a misdemeanor when two minors engage in sexual relations with each other. But that doesn't help Wilson, who was convicted under the old law.
One man has been instrumental in keeping Wilson behind bars: Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker. Whether he is trying to prove he is tough on crime, or whether he is trying to curry favor with those 'values' voters who feel that any kind of teenage sex is so evil that it is worth throwing a man's future away in order to make a point, Baker has refused to budge and insists that Wilson serve out his entire term, and then register as a pedophile.
I'm not going to go into the racial angle here, as it has been reported on ad nauseum (Wilson, the girl he was with and Baker are all black; it is fair though to ask whether those voters who are so concerned about the 'morality' aspect of this would be as insistent on keeping him there if he were white.) I also will resist the urge to speculate on whether this case would ever have gone to trial if the girl were the seventeen year old and the boy was fifteen.
Instead I am going to focus on the substance of the charges. The Georgia legislature frankly didn't go far enough in 'fixing' their law. If the pair had waited for a few months, then she would have been sixteen and he would have been eighteen and even under the new law he would have been considered guilty of a felony. The fact is that this case cheapens sexual predator laws. We need tough sexual predator laws to protect children (both teenagers and younger kids) from 45 year old perverts hanging out on the internet, or the really nice guy who gives candy out down the street, or Uncle Lester who is always volunteering to watch the kids when the parents are gone. We know intuitively what a sexual predator is. It is a much older adult who takes advantage of a child who is not yet mentally or emotionally mature enough to comprehend the consequences of sex. Maybe it is a rapist, or maybe it is someone who likes to touch the girls where they ought not to be touched. But we know what one is.
We should also know what one isn't. Two years difference in age doesn't qualify for slapping the 'pedophile' label on someone for the rest of their life. Heck, I'm two years older than my wife. Does that make me a pervert? No? What if we'd met in high school? We didn't, but I know people, now happily married, who did meet in high school. And guess what? One of them is always a little older. I know, that sounds astonishing, but it's true.
Frankly, labelling Genarlow Wilson as a sex predator will, if it happens, make sex predators sound not as threatening as they should.
I realize that there is a need to draw a line somewhere, but it seems as though Canadians and some others have the right idea when they have written in a 'near-age exemption' into their laws. Three to five years seems reasonable. True, that could lead in a worst case scenario to an eighteen year old adult legally having sexual relations with a thirteen year old, but anything less than that seems to risk repeating what has happened here.