When teenagers have sex, is it romance or rape? Under the law, it's called "carnal knowledge".
"I was duped by a 13-year-old girl." Jason Pillow spent a weekend with a girl he met on the internet. She told him she was 23. She wasn't. And that got him in big trouble. At a hearing, he heard the charge against him. "Mr. Pillow, you are charged with carnal knowledge of a minor."
In other words, statutory rape. "I made a mistake, you know? I didn't check the girl's ID at the door," Pillow admits. That mistake cost Jason Pillow 17 months in jail on a lesser misdemeanor conviction.
But many carnal knowledge cases involve two adolescents "In reality, most of them are situations where maybe a teenage girl and her boyfriend, who may be a little bit older, have been having consensual sex," said Detective Dave Brechtel of the Chesapeake police department's sex crimes division.
City police investigated 23 statutory rape cases in one year. But Brechtel said just a few of them actually made it to trial. "The overwhelming majority of the time, it's the parents who are pushing it," he said.
Three years difference in age can be the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. "Sometimes it gets down to actually calculating the date of birth," said Bernard Curry. The family counselor says sexually active teens, especially the boys, rarely think about the consequences. "You would never think, as a teenager, having sex with a teenage girl, that you could wind up on a state registry as a sex offender," Curry said.
19-year-old Bradley McManus is sexually active and is careful not to date anyone under 17. He says some people aren't. "A lot of people, guys look at it, like there's nothing wrong with it, because it was consensual." McManus admits he's been in a position where he could have gotten in trouble.
The social scene can contribute to the problem -- alcohol, party drugs, lowered inhibitions. Curry says there is a way to keep out of trouble. "And when I talk to a bunch of guys, I say, ask for ID."
One obvious way to avoid these issues is to not have sex before you're 18. A lot of kids are signing pledges now, promising to save sex for marriage. Bernard Curry also encourages parents to talk to their kids about sex before it's an issue in his office or in court.