Our family will reflect upon 2005 with mixed emotions. It was a year of worry, anger, frustration and helplessness as our youngest child was separated from us.
this past year was the culmination of 2 1/2 years of lost opportunities for our son. His crime was not one of greed, not of malice or of dishonesty, but one of youthful indiscretion. Not he, nor his parents nor even the majority of society was aware of the gray area of the law to which he would soon fall prey.
Fortunately, 2005 also brought much joy to our family, as our son was finally reunited with us and able to meet his future brother-in-law for the very first time. Having lost faith in the current judicial system, we held our breath and prayed that our only son would be home to attend his sister's recent wedding. We thank God every day for allowing this.
Unfortunately, our story is not uncommon. Many families have been devastated and are still suffering because of ignorance and confusion concerning the law as it pertains to teenagers and sex.
Looking back, we realize just how ill-informed we were. As parents we thought we were proactive. We were extremely involved in our children's education and extra-curricular activities. We made ourselves available and accessible to our children. Our family was active in church. Each of our children completed "True Love Waits" abstinence programs. We had open and honest discussions about all the reasons to wait to have a sexual relationship. Our reasons were scriptural and morally based. We discussed pregnancy, STDs and the emotional consequences of engaging in sexual acts prior to marriage.
We thought we had given our children all the available information in order to protect them. We were wrong. We learned the hard way that the law shows no discretion or forgiveness when teens engage in consensual sex. We learned that there is a legal age of consent in the state of Georgia. We learned that oral sex is legally defined as sodomy under Georgia law. We unwisely believed that a young man was safe until the age of 18, at which time he was legally considered an adult.
Countless numbers of freshman and sophomore girls date junior and senior boys every year. These are classmates and peers who socialize and date with the approval and encouragement of their parents and society. When these same couples make the decision to engage in a sexual relationship, they can now face criminal charges. Even in the case of oral sex, where the teenage girl is a willing participant, the boy is almost always labeled as the perpetrator. The boy involved assumes the label of a child molester under Georgia state law while the active participant, the young lady, assumes only the label of victim. He can now be charged as an adult and face a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for aggravated child molestation and must register as a child molester for the remainder of his life.
Imagine your teenager walking into an adult prison system, labeled as a child molester with no possibility of parole for 10 long years. Like many parents, we were unaware of the prevalence of oral sex between teenagers. It is the most common form of sexual acts among teens today. Teens consider oral sex to be safe and casual, as opposed to sexual intercourse where pregnancy and loss of virginity come into question.
Society sat by quietly as a former president stated under oath that he did not consider oral sex to be "real sex." We now reap the consequences of such a regrettable remark.
For our family much has been lost over the past few years, yet much has been gained. Our son lost precious time from his young life, but he gained wisdom and strength that awes and inspires us every day! God has blessed us by opening doors to an amazing future. He has directed us along a path that 2 1/2 years ago we would have never dreamed of.
We have also found that we are not alone on this journey. This very hour, many young men across the state of Georgia are sitting in jail cells stamped with the labels "child molester" and "sexual predator." Their families are paying monumental financial costs as well as immeasurable emotional costs. These young men are suffering for one simple crime: engaging in consensual sex with one of their peers. These are not older men who prey upon innocent young victims. These are boys who play sports and are honor students. These are boys who live in your neighborhood. These are your child's friends, or maybe even your own child.
This was our child.
The Georgia Legislature will soon consider a bill that deals directly with sexual predators. The purpose of this bill is to enact the toughest child molestation laws in the country. It is designed to create legal penalties that will discourage child molesters from trying to commit crimes or reside within the state of Georgia.
We agree 100 percent with the intent of this legislation; however, this bill must include clear and precise language so that our young men will not suffer even more for a consensual, youthful indiscretion. This law is intended to protect the children of the state of Georgia and this should include all children regardless of race or sex.
Consensual sexual acts between fellow teenagers should not face the same penalties of those of an adult perpetrator violating a child. Our children must receive mandatory education of the law and how easily they can be affected by it. Current Georgia curriculum mandates classroom education in the areas of drunken driving laws, sexual assault, personal hygiene, STDs and sexual abstinence and reproduction. The laws pertaining to sexual responsibilities and consequences, however, are not.
Accountability must be mandated for all parties involved in youthful sexual acts, not just the young men. Until this is done, young men in particular should be very careful of their actions and acquaintances. Teen girls are finally becoming more accountable for their role in these relationships; however, the law still lays a much heavier penalty upon young men. We urge you to contact your representative. Voice your concern that in an attempt to enact tough laws, the legislature cannot allow our teenagers who engage in consensual sex to be put in the same category as adult sexual predators.
A new year is upon us. Not one of us can alter the past, but all of us can learn from it. We as parents must be involved and informed. We must hold our children accountable for their actions. Step in, ask questions and set limits. One discussion could save the life and future of your teenager.
As parents who have experienced this heartache first hand, we do not wish another child to suffer because they were not given the information that they needed to protect themselves and their future. Unfortunately, we did not have the information we needed 2 1/2 years ago to protect our child. We never want to see that happen to another child again.
Our son is not defined by one regrettable event in his life; however, he has become refined as a result of it. He is a fine young man who has risen above the circumstances placed upon him. Our son faces 2006 like most of us, with renewed hope and excited. His story will save lives. His story is making a difference. From our home to yours we wish you a blessed, safe, and Happy New Year.
(Lee and Kim Muns are Martinez residents. A former member of the Columbia County School Board, Lee is chairman of the county's Republican Party. Kim recently addressed this issue at a legislative committee hearing in Atlanta.)
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