By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
Sex without consent can land you in prison for the rest of your life.
When a minor is a participant, even sex with consent can put you away for years.
Two Ohio high school athletes face prison time after last week’s guilty verdict that they repeatedly sexually assaulted a teenage female so drunk that they carried her from party to party like a beer cooler.
Some trial watchers asked rhetorically if the young men ever considered that what they were about to do was wrong, morally or legally.
“Sex without consent is a serious crime,” said District Attorney Trent Kelly.
As a longtime attorney, prosecutor and military man, Kelly knows about the consequences.
But he wonders aloud whether the public knows, especially volatile teenagers.
Jima Alexander, who oversees the sex education programs for Tupelo and Lee County schools, said their students absolutely are told they can go to prison for non-consensual sex.
She said when students ask about punishment for such acts, “We say you can go to prison … that it can affect them for the rest of their lives.”
In March 2011, the Mississippi Legislature passed a dual-option sex education bill requiring all school districts to teach human sexuality instruction. Each school board adopted either an “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” education policy.
Both programs are mandated to teach current state law related to sexual conduct, including forcible rape and statutory rape.
Tupelo adopted the “abstinence-only” program, which Alexander’s colleague Jill Waycaster West says is aimed at sixth- through eighth-graders.
Program discussions “briefly” offer information about sexual abuse and the need for victims to report it to authorities, she notes, as well, that it’s a crime to force someone into sex against their will.
“We find there are some things you’d think they would know but don’t know,” West said.
In Mississippi, sex without consent once was called rape. For various legal reasons, that term was changed to sexual battery.
A sexual battery conviction is punishable by imprisonment up to life.
If you are under 21, the penalty is no more than 5 years in prison. If the victim is under the age of 12, the punishment increases.
These laws are not theoretical. The region’s circuit court dockets are littered with sexual battery cases, some whose victims are as young as infants.
The arrests of teachers or coaches make the headlines.
In 2011, a former Tupelo schools physical education assistant pleaded guilty to sex with a 14-year-old female student participating in a summer program for at-risk youth. His prison release date is August 2017.
A male, former Lee County substitute teacher, faces charges of an illegal sexual relationship with a female student.
And recently in Lee County, a 30-year-old Saltillo woman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, with two years suspended, for forcing a 14-year-old male to engage in various sex acts with her.
According to the law, the sexual contact is not limited to those types of physical acts.
Three males ages 17-21 and a 17-year-old female were indicted in Monroe County on charges surrounding the sexual assault with a hammer and a plunger on another teenage woman, who reportedly was so drunk she could not recall what happened to her on the night of Jan. 22, 2010.
Last October, two of the men pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery and are in jail awaiting sentence.
The third man, 21 at the time, was arrested and has yet to go to trial on one count of sexual battery.
The indicted woman, now 20, awaits trial on a charge that she hindered the men’s prosecution by destroying video footage shot during the alleged attack.
The legal consequences can hang over an offender for a long time – there is no statute of limitations to prosecute the sexual battery of a child, which pertains to children, but also to victims at least 14 and under 18.
People convicted of sexual battery also face a lifetime of regular updates on sex offender registries, which can be searched easily by the public on the Internet.
Kelly says he is troubled when he deals with these cases, and he wonders why anyone would not think twice about the consequences of such behavior.
“It makes me want to call up our school superintendents and ask them if we can come speak to their students,” he said.
“I just may do that.”