Back-to-School Bias

''Sexting'' opens a legal minefield where gays better tread lightly

It’s back-to-school time. At my advanced age, I’m not sure what that means. Are school supplies still the same, or have Trapper Keepers been replaced with iPads? Thanks to standardized testing, I’m fairly certain there’s still a market for No. 2 pencils, but I could be wrong. What I am sure of, however, is that kids are having sex. Or, at least, feeling the urge.

This time of year always reminds me of my school days. And the sentencing of Anthony Stancl earlier this year, as reported by Wired, reminds me particularly of one of my high school anxieties: a fear of being charged with statutory rape.

Certainly, I was no Stancl. Between spring of 2007 and fall of 2008, Stancl was busy trolling Facebook – as his female alter ego, Kayla – trying to get adolescent boys to send nude pics of themselves. They often did. With the potentially embarrassing photos secured, ”Kayla” resorted to extortion, telling her teen titans that they must meet with a male friend of hers, Stancl himself, or face exposure of their ”dick pics.” Upon meeting the boys, Stancl would advise that Kayla had further requests, such as him performing for oral sex on them – and act that would need to be photographed for Kayla’s satisfaction.

Brought up on 12 charges – only two of which were ”sexual assault of a child under 16 years of age” – the state of Wisconsin sentenced Stancl to 15 years imprisonment.

Granted, there was also a bomb threat. (Believe me, this case is totally Gossip Girl gold.) And Stancl certainly seems to have a screw loose. I can’t help but suspect, however, that if Stancl had been female and this had been a case of heterosexual dangerous liaisons, the court might not have been so scandalized. After all, while he preyed on guys as young as 15, Stancl was only 18 himself.

It’s a magic number of which I am very aware.

When I met my first boyfriend, Mark, I was 17 and he was 15. We went to neighboring high schools. Mark was the first boy I had sex with – the only boy I had sex with before turning 18 – if even only a couple times. After I turned 18, I was rightly terrified of touching him.

My fear was justified during a phone call on a landline (cell phones did not yet exist). I was explaining to him that I didn’t want to be charged with statutory rape and God knows what else a Florida prosecutor could pull out of his or her bag of tricks. Then his mother’s voice interrupted the call, telling Mark to hang up. She’d been listening the whole time. Thank heavens Mark got his girlfriend pregnant not long after, and then his father came out of the closet. Turned out I was the least of his mother’s problems and allowed to fall off the radar.

I may not have been Stancl, but in late 1980s Florida, I would’ve been judged roughly the same. After all, if Mark also had a girlfriend, I must’ve somehow been corrupting him, regardless of any other circumstances.

But while I wouldn’t argue that Stancl’s not a predator, I can’t help but suspect – based on my own experience – that’s he’s being held to a biased standard because he and his victims are the same sex. And with state legislatures trying to figure out what to make of ”sexting” – whether one 16-year-old’s texting a topless picture of herself to another 16-year-old leaves them both vulnerable to child-pornography charges, for example – adolescent sexuality is taking center stage. And maybe Guy X messaging you on that ”social-networking app” is an adult. Or maybe he’s 16. If he’s asking you to send a salacious photo, you’d better be sure, lest you find yourself charged with ”child enticement.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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