Upward Bound incident reveals problems with laws

On October 18, 2011

Earlier this month, sexual battery charges were dropped against former Upward Bound (UB) mentor Herron Gaston, who was accused of having sex with a minor.

When the incident occurred last year during the UB summer program at USF, Gaston was 23 years old and the student was only 17. However, under Florida law, consensual sex is allowed between someone as old as 23 and someone as young as 16.

The incident is certainly regrettable, and while it appears that Gaston did nothing illegal, it highlights problems in Florida's age of consent laws. The case should serve as an impetus for Florida legislators to pass stricter regulations on underage sex.

The allowable age range is too broad, as the thought of a college graduate and a high school minor together will turn many stomachs. There are some restrictions, however, as Gaston's actions would have been considered illegal if he had been in a custodial position over the student.

Mark Cox, a spokesman for the State Attorney's office, said in an interview with The Oracle the charges against Gaston were dropped because he was not in a "custodial type of position over the victim."

While Gaston was in a mentor position in the program at the time, he was apparently not the minor's direct mentor. However, the two must have had some interaction in order to strike up a sexual relationship, and Gaston's status as mentor still put him in a position of authority.

Any relationship between individuals of unequal power - at work, in the classroom or during summer programs - may lead to conflicts of interest or abuses of power, which is why most companies limit or prohibit workplace relationships. When one of the individuals involved is a minor, the power discrepancy is even greater, which is a major reason why statutory rape laws exist in the first place.

It seems too fine of a technicality that Gaston was let off the hook for not being the student's mentor. It was the luck of the draw that the two were not assigned to each other.

If individuals are considered adults at the age of 18, and are given access to a number of rights previously denied to them, limiting underage sex would not be so extreme, as minors are already not considered competent enough to vote or join the military.

Though the UB program has taken some measures toward preventing similar incidents from ever happening again, such as requiring employees to complete moral conduct forms, company policies will only go so far. Florida lawmakers should examine the state's current consent laws to eliminate these gray areas.

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