Like practically anybody blessed with a modicum of self-awareness, twenty-year-old Genarlow Wilson of Douglas, Georgia is ashamed of many things he did when he was younger. In his case that sorry assortment includes abuse of recreational drugs, chiefly alcohol and marijuana, and early promiscuity.
But unlike most people whose mistakes were limited to moral lapses of that kind, Wilson is in prison, where he may remain for eight more years. His “crime” was to engage in a consensual sex act at the age of 17 with a girl two years his junior who had taken the initiative. The act at issue was the same one made infamous by Bill and Monica; it didn't involve intercourse, and so Georgia's statutory rape law didn't apply.
If he and his “partner” (I despise that term) had committed full-on fornication, Wilson would have been charged with a misdemeanor, and been liable for no more than a sentence of eighteen months. He would not have been required to register as a sex offender. The same penalties would be the most Wilson would face were he to commit the same act today, rather than three years ago.
But due to an eccentricity of Georgia state law at that time, the act was defined as “aggravated child molestation,” a felony for which the mandatory minimum sentence included ten years in prison and sex offender registration.
Wilson was one of six young men arrested after a December 2003 New Year's celebration at a Day's Inn off Interstate 20. The “Douglas Six,” as they immediately became known, had been involved in what I would call, had I no discipline at all, a "Bourbon, Buds, and Booty Bash": They rented a couple of rooms and invited some female schoolmates to spend the night.
One of the girls arrived at the Day's Inn with an overnight bag. She got thoroughly drunk, and was just as thoroughly used. The other girl, a friend of Wilson's from the track team, apparently remained sober the entire time. She was the one who, by her own account, initiated the sexual act with Wilson.
While not minimizing the magnitude of the moral offense committed here, I find myself asking: Where were the fathers of those two girls? This episode splendidly illustrates why my wife and I have no intention of sending our children to a government-run High School.
When the first girl awoke the next morning wearing nothing but socks, her first thought was that she had been raped. A call to her mother resulted in a police investigation that turned up a videotape of the previous night's activities. Soon Wilson and his friends were arrested at school and dragged away in handcuffs.
All five of Wilson's associates had criminal records; his own background was clean. He was an honor roll student and football standout who had been recruited by colleges throughout the region. Unfortunately, he had no father in the home to teach and discipline him, which meant that the State – in the form of the local school system – served as a surrogate step-father.
The results of this relationship are in some ways quite predictable to anybody who studies our State-run school system, the petri dish in which our degenerate culture has grown and flourished. And the depraved behavior of Wilson and his buddies is hardly the only – or the most lurid – example one can find in Georgia's recent history.
A little more than a decade ago, the residents of Conyers – a relatively up-scale and nearly all-white exurb of Atlanta and host of some events in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics – were shocked to learn of a syphilis epidemic among local High School and Junior High School students. Seventeen tested positive for the venereal disease; more than 200 students believed to have been exposed to the disease were treated as well. Of that group, 50 admitted to have engaged in exotic sexual behavior that might have seemed excessive to the proprietors of a brothel in Pompeii.
“It was not uncommon, when all these young people would get together, to engage in group sex,” recalled Claire Sterk, a professor at Emory University's School of Public Health, in an interview from the 1999 PBS Frontline documentary “The Lost Children of Rockdale County.” “There was group sex going on in terms of one guy having sex with one of the girls, and then the next guy having sex with the same girl. There was group sex going on in terms of one girl having sex with multiple male partners at the same time, multiple females having sex with each other at the same time. I would say that the only type of group sex that I did not hear about in this overall context was group sex between just guys.”
Some of those involved were as young as 12-13 years of age.
"The parents were off and gone," observed middle school guidance counselor Peggy Cooper. "And they said they were watching the Playboy Channel in the girl’s bedroom. And there would be, like, 10 or 12 of them up there." One young boy described to Cooper the "game" their group had devised in which "you have to imitate what the Playboy people are doing." Another boy told her that "there may be three or four of us at one time. And it doesn’t matter if you’re two guys or two girls or a girl and a guy. It doesn’t matter. You just have to do what they’re doing."
One girl recalled a party at which another girl, equipped with "the bag of condoms we got from the health department," undertook to have sex with every boy in the room. The boys at the party were "lined up … it was like they were from the [bedroom] door to the front door.... And then she came out. She … thought it was the coolest thing."
Health officials learned of at least one 14-year-old Conyers girl who had sexual liaisons with up to 100 different “partners.” Other students attested on-camera for PBS that “a lot of people” they knew from school were involved in group sex.
How many of the acts carried out by these teenagers could have led to prosecutions like the one that landed Genarlow Wilson in prison? We'll never know, because Rockdale County prosecutors -- unlike Douglas District Attorney David McDade and prosecutor Eddie Barker – had a sufficient sense of proportion not to pursue the matter.Behold my mighty jowls of justice! Douglas DA David McDade, the Pecksniffian prosecutor behind Genarlow Wilson's needless imprisonment.
Each of the “Douglas Six” was offered a plea bargain in which the “mandatory” ten-year sentences would be radically reduced if they agreed to register as sex offenders. All but Wilson – the only one who had never actually committed a crime – accepted the deal.
Being a registered sex offender is a life sentence of sorts. Wilson points out that had he accepted the deal, he would have been forbidden to share a home with his young sister, and that he wouldn't be permitted to take part in church or school activities involving children. So he stood trial on charges of false imprisonment, statutory rape, and aggravated child molestation.
The jury acquitted him of everything but the last charge, which – according to the prosecution – was the only legally valid description of the consensual acts documented in the videotape. Not aware that a guilty verdict meant ten years in prison, the jury found Wilson guilty of molestation.
DA McDade insists that Wilson “put himself in [his] predicament,” that the young man craves the status of a “martyr,” and that his hands were tied by state statute – which has since been changed. But he chose to ignore several opportunities to exercise reasonable discretion that would have avoided prison time for a young man whose actions, while morally repulsive, did not involve a crime of violence or seduction (remember – the girl who serviced him admitted that she had been the aggressor).
McDade could have followed the example of Rockdale County prosecutors and simply not prosecuted Wilson's “offense.” That course of action would have been compatible with a similar (but not identical) case involving Marcus Dixon, an 18-year-old Georgian who had sex with a 15-year-old. Dixon's ten-year prison sentence was overturned on appeal.
McDade could have urged the trial judge to grant First Offender status to Wilson, which would have been appropriate in the case of a young man with a bright future and no criminal record. McDade insists that he doesn't “believe” in offering First Offender status in sex cases as a matter of “office policy.” But this didn't prevent his office from offering that status to 26-year-old George Tsimpides, who lured a 15-year-old girl to a shopping mall for the purpose of having sex with her.
Tsimpides, an actual sexual predator, served 20 days in jail.
At the same time Wilson's trial was underway, a local high school teacher who enticed a student more than a decade her junior was found guilty of sex crimes. She served a total of 90 days in jail.
Genarlow Wilson, who engaged in consensual immoral behavior with a peer, has thus far served two years in prison.
McDade's office could set aside Wilson's sentence. In fact, the Georgia legislature changed the law under which Wilson was prosecuted, although for reasons that defy understanding it didn't make the changes retroactive. So as things stand right now, there is no legal, practical, or moral reason for Genarlow Wilson to remain in prison – where before there had merely been no practical or moral reason to send him there.
The only impediment to Wilson's freedom is the omnivorous vanity and malodorous arrogance of McDade and Barker, who insist that the young man has to submit to their will by admitting that he is a child molester.
Displaying the cruel, perversely distorted paternalism we'd expect from a particularly depraved antebellum plantation owner, both McDade and Barker insist that Wilson has to be punished for not “taking his medicine” like the five other defendants who were successfully intimidated into accepting sex offender status.
As a report from ESPN summarizes the matter: “If Wilson would only admit to being a child molester, he could stop receiving the punishment of one. Maybe.”
“The one person who can change things at this point is Genarlow,” smirks Barker. “The ball's in his court.”
To which the appropriate reply would be this:
Wipe that smirk off your overfed, tax-fattened face, Eddie. His name is Mister Wilson. For all of his admittedly loathsome behavior, the character he's displayed by refusing to submit to your extortion makes him more of a man than you will ever be.
It shouldn't be necessary to say so, but I'll say it anyway: Wilson's behavior was horrifying and inexcusable. But the State isn't in the business of redemption, and it shouldn't be in the business of abetting, facilitating, and subsidizing sexual depravity, and then selectively prosecuting some of those who behave more or less as they're been encouraged to by their government-approved tutors.
For more about the Genarlo Wilson case, go here.
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