Teen sex on trial in Kansas

The state's attorney general seeks to define any sexual contact between youths as rape.

Published February 11, 2006 12:42AM (EST)

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick details the insanity that is the Kansas teen-sex trial, which has devolved into "asinine game playing." And those are the frank words of U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, who's overseeing the case.

The trial hinges on Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline's interpretation of state law as requiring "all health-care workers, doctors, counselors, social workers, and others to report every single instance of intimate contact between consenting teens under 16, on the theory that each such incident constitutes a rape, regardless of the parties' mutual consent." This means that nurses or doctors would be required to report any cases involving a pregnant patient under age 16, including those seeking an abortion.

The Wichita Eagle has an amusing account of the absurd courtroom back-and-fourth last week between Kline and lawyer Bonnie Scott Jones. (You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.) Some highlights include Kline's attempt to define "fondling," and his conviction that it would be injurious for a 15-year-old boy to perform oral sex on a 15-year-old girl, but uncertainty as to whether the reverse would be true.

Kline initially defined sexual abuse as "any lewd fondling or touching of the person of either the child or the offender, done or submitted to with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires." As Lithwick points out, "That would, in theory, include what my high-school friends would have called 'kissing.'" During last week's testimony, Kline redefined criminal sexual behavior between minors as that "which is so clearly offensive as to shock the moral conscience of a reasonable person." Kline, I'm assuming, being the model of a reasonable person?

While Kline himself might seem a bit confused, his cohorts' understanding of what constitutes criminal sexual acts between minors isn't any more cogent. Assistant Attorney General Camille Nohe defined it as sexual intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. As to whether fondling, kissing and nuzzling were inappropriate, Nohe said that that "should be allowed [to be] the clinical judgment of the reporter." On the other hand, Sedgwick County district attorney Nola Foulston deemed "a boy touching the breast of a girl or either adolescent touching the genitals of the other" as criminal. Cathy Hubbard, program administrator for the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Service's Child Protection Unit, said that her understanding of Kline's stance has changed from a definition of sexual abuse as all sexual activity between minors to one of strictly sexual intercourse.

So. As Lithwick nicely summarizes," Over a two-week trial, four government officials have now offered five different interpretations of what abusive sex is in Kansas, and even that definition changes with time."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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