Barnes: Don’t punish young love

Newly elected Speaker of the 35th Guam Legislature Tina Rose Muna Barnes, pictured during her keynote at the Guam Congress Building on inauguration day, Monday, January 7, 2019.

Guam – You are 16 years old and you are engaging in a consensual sexual relationship with a person who is 15 years old: under Guam’s current law, you have just committed the crime of criminal sexual conduct as a second degree felony that carries up to eight years in prison.

But that could all change under Speaker Tina Muna Barnes’ bill that would decriminalize the legally distorted teenage love.

The bill seeks to fix sex crime law as it applies to a relationship that begins in high school continues after one partner reaches the adult age.

“Lovers in high school should not become felons and put on a sex-offender registry” Muna Barnes said.

Attorney General Leevin Camacho agrees. “The law should distinguish between child molesters and teenagers engaged in consensual dating relationships,” Camacho said. “The current law does not promote justice for young individuals in this circumstance. They should not receive the same penalties and consequences as an adult who forcibly rapes someone. That is not justice.”

The AG said under current law, the range of penalties facing a 16-year-old who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old are identical to an adult who forcibly rapes a victim.

Barnes’ seeks to create an age-differential exception, or a close-in-age exception.

Camacho said “if passed, Guam would join at least 24 other states who have similar close-in-age statutory exemptions.”

However, he pointed out that certain and distinct qualifications must be met in order to meet the statutory exception in the proposed bill:

 Consenting sexual relationship

 First-time offender

 Less than four years apart in age from the consenting minor, with a maximum offender age of 19 and minimum age of 16.

This means that a 19-year- old can date a 15-year-old old because it is still within the four-year range proposed in the bill.

Does this mean that the age of consent will change from 16 years old to 14 years old?

“This statute only covers again victims that are 14 and 15 years old that have consented to a relationship with their partners at 16 or 17 years old. It wasn’t intended to call someone who is dating in high school…I think it’s important to realize that this came at the request of the attorney general’s office,” Barnes said.

But the key to this is that the relationship must be consensual. If not, then Camacho said, “All offenses that involve force or coercion- even within this subgroup that the bill addresses- will be prosecuted as felony charges and are ineligible for the protections proposed in the bill.”

He says Barnes’ bill as well as the Safety Valve and mandatory minimum sentences measures introduced in Bill 51-35 and 52-35 aligns with the AG’s quest for restorative justice for our youth.

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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.