Story written by Kim Corsaro for The Advocate.
An 18-year-old high school senior from Vero Beach, Fla., is facing criminal prosecution because she had sexual relations with her girlfriend, a high school freshman. Kaitlyn Hunt was arrested in her home in February, and now faces two felony counts of “lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12-16 years of age.”
By May 24, the Hunt family must decide whether to accept a plea bargain offered by the state that would leave a criminal conviction of felony child abuse on Hunt’s record, and require two years of house arrest, plus another year of probation, or take their chances at trial with a judge and a jury in the small, conservative coastal community. A trial date is tentatively set for June 20.
“My daughter Kaitlyn is a wonderful 18-year-old who is not guilty of anything other than a high school romance,” her father, Steven Hunt, Jr., said in a Change.org petition.
The family kept their situation private until May 17, when they started a “Free Kate” page on Facebook, and a friend launched the petition. In two short days support for Kaitlyn has exploded, with offers to help pouring in from across the country.
Kaitlyn and the younger girl met as teammates on the varsity basketball team at their high school. Kaitlyn’s father reports that Jason Collins’s agent has even called, offering support from the NBA player who recently came out of the closet. Hunt also received a call from a manager at Change.org, who reported that their servers were challenged keeping up with the rapid addition of names to their petition. The petition currently boasts more than 65,000 signatures.
Kaitlyn was a star student, head cheerleader and on the honor roll. She had been voted “most school spirit.” Until her arrest in February, she had never had so much as a high school detention. Sheriff’s deputies knocked on the door of her family home on a Sunday, demanding to speak to her and refusing to tell her mother what they were there for. They cuffed the barely 5-foot-tall Kaitlyn and led her away without explanation.
She remained in jail for the next 22 hours, until a court appearance the following Monday morning. Her mother broke down in the courtroom when she saw her daughter brought in wearing an orange prison jumpsuit reserved for felons, with chains shackled together at her wrists and ankles. Kaitlyn was released on $5,000 bail.
Because both girls played on the high school basketball team and did not hide their affection for each other, their coach became aware of the relationship. According to Steven Hunt, “The coach came up to Kaitlyn during a practice and said
. ‘I heard that you and so and so are in a relationship and I will not have that on my team; therefore you have to quit.’” He said he kicked Kaitlyn off the team because he wanted to avoid “drama.”
Then, Hunt says, the coach went to the other girl’s parents, James and Laurie Smith. They told their daughter to stop seeing Kaitlyn, but she refused. So her parents waited until after Kaitlyn was 18 years old, so she could be prosecuted as an adult, and they reported her to the police.
The Hunt family immediately contacted the Smiths to try to resolve the situation. “We’ve tried every avenue to communicate with them,” says Steven Hunt. “We’ve mailed letters, had phone conversations, asked for mediation. They have refused all and any communication.”
Hunt says eight faculty members from the high school are on their witness list to testify on behalf of Kaitlyn at her trial. Two of them are prepared to state that they witnessed Laurie Smith say that “there’s no way her daughter will be gay and she’ll do whatever she can to prevent that.” At Kaitlyn’s bail hearing, Laurie Smith spoke in court for 15 minutes, accusing Kaitlyn of turning her daughter gay.
James Smith answered a call to the Smith residence for this story. When asked why his family was pursuing criminal prosecution against Kaitlyn, he said, “No comment” and hung up the phone.
While Kaitlyn’s family is not denying that she violated Florida’s age of consent laws, they point out that the entire relationship was consensual. “It is unfair to expect high school students in the same school not to fraternize,” wrote her uncle, Andrew Kenneth Gay, in a lengthy Facebook post. “It certainly shouldn’t be grounds for criminal prosecution.”
He continued: “We do not want to argue that the age difference here is insignificant. The two girls were about 3 years and 7 months apart in age, and Kaitlyn turned 18 in August of last year. Kate, however, is a very small, young-looking senior in high school, and her girlfriend was [a] much taller freshman, older in appearance, an IB student enrolled in courses with upperclassmen, and played on the same varsity basketball team as Kate. They were peers in the same social circle with the same friends. I’m not sure age ever entered into either of their minds.”
Hunt’s parents met at a Christian college in central Florida. Kaitlyn is the oldest of the couple’s four daughters, and although they divorced several years ago, they remain good friends and a close-knit family. Kaitlyn came out to her family 18 months ago. Despite their religious beliefs, Steven Hunt says, “There was no way I was going to lose my relationship with my daughter.”
Meanwhile, Kaitlyn waits. If convicted, Kaitlyn faces a lifetime branded as a sex offender. If she accepts the plea deal, she’ll have a criminal conviction for child abuse on her record, which would severely limit her career options, and should she find herself unable to bear children, would preclude her from adopting.
She’s been expelled from her high school. She’s forbidden by court order from seeing her girlfriend. Her father says that on Saturday morning she told him “she was scared.” He says, “She’s barely five feet tall, she’s absolutely beautiful, and her spirit is so happy and charismatic. Now to see her, it’s heartbreaking.”