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Saturday, September 9, 2000

Big Isle officials
want age of
consent raised

The prosecutor's office will
ask the Legislature to raise
the age from 14

By Harold Morse

The Big Island prosecutor's office will ask the state Legislature to raise the age of consent in sex cases from 14.

That office is pressing the campaign after a jury decision on Tuesday in which Charles Timothy Clute, 44, of Milolii Village, was found guilty of two counts of second-degree sex assault and two counts of fourth-degree sex assault.

As 14, Hawaii's age of consent, is the nation's lowest, several potential jurors were excused from the case when they voiced strong opposition to a consensual age that young, according to the prosecutor's office.

The victim was a minor who testified she was assaulted by Clute in the summer of 1998 and again on Feb. 2, 2000.

Clute testified the minor consented. She was at least 14 when the first incident took place; therefore, whether there was consent was the primary issue.

Other evidence included expert testimony from a sex assault nurse examiner, who testified a Feb. 5 examination corroborated the report of a sex assault.

In the past, Senate Judiciary Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley (D-East Maui, North Kauai) said he has favored raising the age of consent to 16, and bills are introduced each year. Some would raise it to age 18, others to 16.

Jennifer Ching, deputy Honolulu prosecutor and captain of the juvenile offender team, said she likely would support raising the consensual age.

"You know, the law used to be that if there was a certain age differential, I think it was four years difference between the victim and the perpetrator, that was one of the things you looked at also."

Meda Chesney-Lind, University of Hawaii professor and principal investigator in a related study, said the Big Island case highlights age difference.

"What model legislation on the mainland suggests is that we really need to think about doing two things. One is to raise the age of consent, but so as to avoid criminalizing teen-aged sexual experimentation, we also need to establish that the perpetrator was significantly older than the victim. I think that's essential. Otherwise, we have a very different set of facts and problems," she said.

The key is there are older men who prey on very young girls, she said. "We don't approve of that behavior and are concerned about it."

Nancy Kreidman, executive director of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline, reacted similarly.

"What the move across the country has been has been to criminalize those acts where the offender is older, much older -- of a certain age which could be arbitrary -- and the minor is much younger. So in other works, if a 44-year-old man is having sex with a 14-year-old, that's completely inappropriate. But if a 14-year-old is having sex with a 14-year-old, we don't want to criminalize. We may not like it. We may think it's inappropriate for kids that young to engage in sexual activity. But do we want to make criminals out of them? I don't think so."

But a 44-year-old man should be accountable if he's having sex with a 14-year-old, she said.

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