BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Kaitlyn Hunt, 18, of Florida, who is facing felony charges for her relationship with a 14-year-old girl, is receiving an outpouring of support both locally and abroad. A "Free Kate" Facebook page has garnered more than 35,000 "likes," and a heavily subscribed online petition calling for the charges to be dropped crashed because of the traffic it generated, the UK's Daily Mail reports.
An Orlando Sentinel report says Hunt faces charges of lewd and lascivious activity filed by the 14-year-old's parents. But Hunt's supporters say the relationship was consensual. Both girls were minors when they began dating. The Daily Mail quotes Hunt's mother, Kelley, as saying that her daughter began the consenting relationship with her younger girlfriend, who played on the same basketball team, not long after Kaitlyn turned 18.
According to Florida statutory rape law, anyone younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual activity.
In a video report, Hunt's mother described the situation as "very difficult" and said she "wouldn't wish this on anyone."
Hunt's prosecution has sparked outrage among her advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, which says she is being labelled a criminal for behaviour that "‘occurs every day in tens of thousands of high schools across the country, yet those other students are not facing felony convictions . . . and potential lifelong branding as sex offenders."
Hunt's father believes his daughter is being persecuted because she is gay, the Daily Mail says. "For my daughter's sexual preferences, she's getting two felony charges. It could possibly ruin her future," he told the Associated Press in a phone interview. Kaitlyn reportedly aspires to be a pediatric nurse, a path that could be closed to her if she is registered as a sex offender.
But state attorney Bruce Colton denies that Hunt is being targeted because of her sexuality.
"That has nothing to do with the case, nothing to do with the law, nothing to do with the sheriff's office filing the charges," Colton said, according to The Mail. "The law doesn't make any differentiation. It doesn't matter if it's two girls or two boys, or an older boy and a younger girl or an older girl and a younger boy. Whatever the combination, it doesn't matter," Colton is quoted as saying.
The Mail cites the opinion of another lawyer who has represented people on both sides of this issue, New Jersey defence attorney Gregory Gianforcaro, who says the Hunt case is not a predatory one and is something that prosecutors should take into consideration.
Meanwhile Hunt, who was expelled from Sebastian River High School, is now attending an alternative school but will be permitted to walk with her graduating class next month.