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Idaho Senate votes to amend rape law

BOISE - If a 16- or 17-year-old girl has consensual sex with her 18- or 19-year-old boyfriend, the boy shouldn’t have to fear felony charges and being branded a sex offender for life, an Idaho senator says - but that’s the current law in Idaho, and Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, says it’s been ruining young men’s lives.

“In most states, in fact 35 states, the age of consent is 16,” Hill told the Idaho Senate. In Idaho, it’s 18. Under his bill, SB 1385, the age of consent would remain 18, except in cases where the girl’s partner is less than three years older than her. The change also would apply to boys.

“It doesn’t protect anybody over 20 years old, nobody,” Hill told the Senate on Monday. “It doesn’t protect anybody who uses force.” Also left untouched is the law that makes plying the girl with alcohol or drugs and then having sex the same as forcible rape, at any age.

Hill said he’s accumulated a thick file of cases in which consensual, boyfriend-girlfriend relationships have led to such convictions. “He’s branded forever,” he said. “He’s a felon convicted of a sex crime. He can’t choose where he wants to live, in some cases he can’t be around little sisters, nieces, and will have a hard time getting a decent job. I have a whole folder here … of young men who’ve gone through exactly that.”

The Idaho Department of Corrections reports that there are currently 46 offenders under its supervision who wouldn’t have been convicted if Hill’s bill had been in place.

The state prosecuting attorneys association opposed the bill at an earlier committee hearing, saying prosecutors have discretion to use the law in appropriate cases. But Hill said he can’t think of an appropriate case for this particular law.

The 2009 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the state Department of Education, found that 48 percent of Idaho’s high school seniors have had sex at least once.

Holding up the volume of Idaho State Code that includes the current rape law, Hill declared, “We have a book right here that labels almost half the boys in the graduating class of 2010 as rapists, felons, criminals.”

In an interview, he said it wasn’t one particular case that got him started on the law - it was reading the law itself in the Senate Judiciary Committee, “thinking, ’that’s not right.’”

He noted that Idaho still has a fornication law that allows prosecution of any person, of any age, for having sex outside of marriage. That carries a misdemeanor penalty of up to six months in jail.

“There were cases where the parents of the girl just couldn’t keep ’em apart, and they just go to the prosecutor and say, ‘Get rid of this guy,’” Hill said. “You can still.”

Idaho’s felony rape law, by contrast, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison and up to life behind bars.

In Washington, the age of consent is 16, and child-rape statutes apply for victims age 14 or 15 if the perpetrator is at least four years older than the victim.

The Idaho Senate voted unanimously in favor of SB 1385 on Monday; the measure now moves to the House.

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