Thursday, 30 May 2013

Kate Hunt, The Internet, and Rationality

The Kaitlyn Hunt case haunts me. Never more than a few moments out of my mind. I read every word I can find on the subject. And I search for similar cases. How many of our young people are caught up a legal web of irrationality? I devour information, details, and opinions. The narrative builds, lines become drawn, hard and fast, right and wrong. Has anything ever been so black and white? I'm thrown by the passionate responses.

But I'm not caught up in details. Fourteen, fifteen, seventeen, eighteen, days, months, phone calls, texts, different states, past cases, precedents. It all just melds together and I don't care. What I see is teenagers, young people in a transitional stage between children and adults, making choices, some good, some bad, none of which should involve stealing away years of their lives.

We assume at 14, 15, 16 years of age that youth, particularly females, cannot make choices about their own bodies and sexuality. The state becomes paternal, a fatherly figure charged with the responsibility of protecting their virtue. And yet, when those same 14, 15, and 16 year olds commit other crimes we forget that they are just children. Handcuffed and housed in prisons we charge them as adults. This month, also in Florida, a 16 year old girl is charged as an adult with two felonies for mixing household chemicals together in a bottle causing the top to blow off and smoke to billow out. No damage was done. Nobody was injured. Was her choice a poor one? Clearly. But two adult felony charges? Where does this discrepancy on what constitutes a child come from?

So I blog about the Kate Hunt case. And when I share it on twitter I use the hashtag #FreeKate. Except that I didn't realize that it had been co-opted by a group of grown-ups bent on seeing the destruction of her young life. They are a small group but they are fierce in their obsession.  Suddenly they are tweeting and messaging me. Calling me a pedophile. And a pedophile enabler.  They accuse me of pushing the homosexual agenda. And I wonder what exactly that means? So I hit "block user" and move on.

They claim to be "telling the truth" and "stating the facts." They focus on days and months and birth dates. A few pages on the calendar flip and suddenly we should all be sharpening our pitch forks and cheering to see a young life destroyed. We all know it's not that simple don't we?

And in the midst of it all they throw around words like pedophile without any understanding of the definition. Pedophilia is a medical diagnosis. It refers to persons over the age of 16 who have a primary or exclusive interest in pre-pubescent children (generally 11 years or younger, sometimes 13). And although the age cut-off is 16 those persons also need to be AT LEAST 5 YEARS OLDER than the youths in question to qualify for the diagnosis.

But it has become a game to these adults sitting comfortably behind their keyboards. Click click clicking away. Real people with real lives hanging in the balance cease to exist and those involved appear as characters, scripted heroes and villains playing out their roles on national TV. And Facebook. And Twitter. In this high stakes game it is understood that there are winners and losers. Each side fights for the flag as if once grabbed the other side must admit defeat. Like most games it becomes fun. There is camaraderie. And exhilaration. There are small battles and victories along the way that bolster confidence. And losses that feed the fire of determination.

But someone needs to take a step back from the soft light of the glowing computer monitor and realize that IRL (in real life) isn't a simple acronym that distinguishes "real life" from "online life." When you call a teenager who had a loving relationship with her peer a pedophile there is a real mother who is forced to read that about her child. When you call her a rapist and cheer for her to be thrown in jail there is a real person with a real life that could be ruined. These aren't games. These are adolescents. Our adolescents. The young people of this world that we are expected to nurture and support. Young people that we assume are too naive to drink alcohol and yet some people would like to see these same youth incarcerated for years because of choices made, in high school, to form relationships with other students, also in high school.

The internet can be an amazing and scary place. It can provide a voice for the voiceless. There are soapboxes to be found on every corner from which one can argue a point, defend justice, and be heard. And from which one can also bully and ruin lives. But for the real lives that hang in the balance I hope that we see a big dose of rationality injected before it's too late.

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