Skip to comments.When there's no such thing as consent (statutory rape)
Posted on 03/08/2006 10:31:49 PM PST by Coleus
Jennifer Santangelo of Lyndhurst was walking home from school one day, wearing her blue and white uniform, when a 31-year-old man said hello and began chatting with her. He was nice, she said. He gave her a box of pens and offered to let her into his nightclub for free, she said, if she handed out fliers for him. Santangelo, then an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart School, had never been in a nightclub before. So she gave out some fliers in the coming days, threw out the rest and showed up at the club. The man let her in, she said.
The two exchanged phone numbers, began meeting frequently and soon were in a relationship that Santangelo said ended in 2004, a few months after her 18th birthday. She went to the police several months later. Their secret love affair involved sex about twice a week, Santangelo told detectives in a sworn statement. She said the relationship was punctuated by five pregnancies -- four abortions, one miscarriage -- and, later on, countless fights that led to a hostile breakup.
Joseph Picolli, 38, of Rutherford was arrested and later indicted on charges of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl. The indictment also charges him with having sex with a friend of Santangelo's when she, too, was 13. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted at a trial that is scheduled to begin April 17. Santangelo, now 20, is on probation for drug possession, a habit she blames on her troubled adolescence. Her relationship with her family is strained, if not shattered. Although she believes she once loved Picolli, she said she feels used and betrayed.
"I wish I'd never met him," she said. "He took me from an innocent 13-year-old into what I am today. I was still playing with dolls at 13. He totally had me brainwashed. I was in his web and I couldn't get out." The Record ordinarily withholds the identities of alleged sex crime victims. In this case, however, Santangelo agreed to an on-the-record interview. "What I had to go through, I don't want that to happen to another girl," she said.
Cases rarely reported
The crime Picolli stands accused of is more commonly known as statutory rape -- a "consensual" relationship between an adult and a child under the age of consent. More than a third of Bergen County's 300 sex-crimes cases each year involve statutory rape, said Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Baglivi, chief of the sex-crimes unit. In Passaic County, about 15 percent of the 200 sex crimes prosecuted are statutory-rape cases, said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Del Russo, who heads the sex-crimes unit there. In Morris County, 47 of 168 sex-crime cases from July through December 2005 involved charges of statutory rape, said Michelle DiNapoli, a spokeswoman for the county Prosecutor's Office.
Prosecutors believe such numbers represent only a fraction of cases in which a minor is involved in a sexual relationship with an adult. Although many studies show that teens are having sex at a younger age than before -- often with older men -- authorities say such cases are rarely reported because the relationships usually don't involve force or coercion. "They come to our attention only when someone is bragging about their relationship or the parents find out about it, or a hospital calls us when a teenager is delivering a baby," Baglivi said. "Otherwise, these kids are not coming forward on their own." Most states, including New Jersey, allow 13- to 16-year-olds to have sex with partners less than four years older. Perhaps in an attempt not to interfere with high-school dating, the law allows a 17-year-old boy, for instance, to have sex with a 13½-year-old girl -- in effect, condoning the younger teen's exposure to sex. However, the same activity, if conducted a day after the male's 18th birthday, becomes a second-degree crime that carries a prison term of up to 10 years, lifelong parole under Megan's Law and civil liability for personal injury.
Such a distinction is not meant to protect teens from sex -- but, rather, from exploitative sexual relationships with older partners, legal scholars say. What the law does, they say, is enforce societal norms condemning sexual relations where the age disparity is, as one put it, "just not right." "It's the law's way of saying, 'Pick someone your size,' " said Michelle Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., who has written extensively on statutory rape laws. Prosecutors sometimes refrain from aggressive enforcement, saying the law could subject undeserving defendants -- a 20-year-old college sophomore, for instance, who went to bed with a 15-year-old girl thinking she was a year older -- to harsh punishment. "I don't think the law was intended for such defendants," Baglivi said. Prosecutors prefer to resolve such cases through plea agreements, offering deals with no jail time when the age disparity is not that great and the defendant doesn't seem predatory.
"Sometimes we don't even charge in such cases," said Del Russo. "If we do charge, our plea offers are going to be benevolent." In the case of older defendants, however, the pick-someone-your-size rule kicks in. "When the defendants are in their 30s and 40s, that almost always entails a prison term," Baglivi said. Del Russo agrees. "Depending on the quality of proof, that would be dealt with harshly," he said. "I think there is a consensus that with older partners, there is clearly a mismatch -- a social, emotional and sexual mismatch."
Statutory rape is at least as old as 1275, when common law in England outlawed sex with anyone under the age of 12. At different times in subsequent centuries, the age of consent in America fluctuated from 10 to 21. When the New Jersey criminal code was drafted in the late 1970s, some proposed 13 as the age of consent. Public sentiment, however, was resistant. "The people ... were shocked by the fact that the criminal code allowed women to consent to sexual activity at the age of 13," reads a note in the state criminal code explaining the law's history. A balance was then struck, setting the bar at 16 but also allowing 13- to 16-year-olds to be sexually involved with a partner less than four years older. More than half of the states today have settled on 16 as the age of consent.
"Virtually every community on the planet has the notion that a certain portion of the population must be off limits to sexual activity, under the premise that they are not capable of making decisions about sexual conduct," Oberman said. Younger partners can be extremely traumatized, some experts say. "Any time you have this kind of relationship, you are always going to find damage to victims," said William Plantier, director of the state Department of Corrections' division of operations.
"It could be fear of men, lack of trust for adults or inability to enjoy normal sexual relationships," said Plantier, who for 10 years administered the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center, the state's prison for sex offenders, in the Avenel section of Woodbridge. Paul Robinson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading criminal law scholar, agreed.
"A 13-year-old may well believe the older partner is in love with her, not knowing he is only interested in sex," he said. "When she realizes afterward that she had been used and manipulated, that discovery itself can be very damaging."
Others say that is not always true.
Matthew Koso of Nebraska was 21 when he began a relationship with a 13-year-old girl. She gave birth to a baby girl last year, a few months after the couple was married in Kansas. In a case that drew national attention, Koso was charged with aggravated sexual assault and pleaded guilty late last year. At his sentencing last month, Koso's wife implored the judge to set her husband free. "I don't understand what this [punishment] is supposed to do," said Crystal Koso, now 15. The judge sentenced him to 18 to 30 months in prison.
Conversely, Superior Court Judge Bruce Gaeta in Hackensack said he saw no serious harm in the relationship between a former Clifton schoolteacher and a 13-year-old boy, describing it as "just something between two people that clicked beyond the student-teacher relationship." He sentenced the teacher, 40-year-old Pamela Diehl-Moore, to probation. The judge's remarks ignited such public uproar that the sentence was reversed and Diehl-Moore was given three years in prison. Gaeta, meanwhile, was reassigned to another bench.
But the judge wasn't without supporters.
"This is a crime only because the law presumes that a 13-year-old cannot consent to sexual relations. Isn't that a legal contradiction here?" attorney George Orthmann of Ridgewood wrote in a letter to the editor after the September 2002 sentencing. "On other questions of great human consequence -- custody, for example -- the wishes of 13-year-olds are given great weight." Statutory rape laws were meant centuries ago to protect the virginity of girls to ensure their chances of marrying decent husbands. After several evolutions, the same laws are now cited, in part, as a weapon to combat teen pregnancy and reduce the number of unwed young mothers surviving on welfare. A 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding California's statutory rape laws noted that "the prevention of illegitimate pregnancy is at least one of the purposes of the statute."
More recently, a major welfare reform law adopted by Congress in 1996 declared, "States and local jurisdictions should aggressively enforce statutory rape laws." The law also mandates that the U.S. Justice Department study "the linkage between statutory rape and teenage pregnancy, particularly by predatory older men committing repeat offenses." In New Jersey, there were nearly 2,400 births to girls 17 or younger in 2003, according to the state Department of Health. One national study shows that 20 percent of all teenage mothers had a partner six or more years older. Several experts doubt that statutory rape laws meet their stated goals. "These laws have little to do with the problem of teen pregnancy," said Oberman, of Santa Clara University. "I think the laws work best simply as protectors of vulnerable populations."
'My life is on hold' Picolli, who now works as a barber, is married with a child. He and his attorney, John Bruno, would not discuss the case. "Regardless of the outcome, there will be no winners," the lawyer said. "This is a very sad case for both sides. My client's reputation in the community is already ruined." However, at a hearing in Superior Court in Hackensack last week, Bruno told a judge that Santangelo had previously accused others of sexual assault, only to later recant her stories. Prosecutors only recently made that information available, he said. "This critical evidence was hidden from the grand jury [that indicted Picolli]," Bruno said. "This indictment should be dismissed."
The lawyer later said that Santangelo "carries with her more baggage than most victims I have come across in almost 30 years of practice." Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Maria Rockfol countered that victims of sexual assault often recant statements, usually to protect a boyfriend from criminal charges. Rockfol also declined to be interviewed for this story. Santangelo said Picolli, then a local standup comedian, was funny and flatteringly attentive when she met him. He made her feel special, she said, giving her cellphones and buying her gifts, taking her to Giants Stadium and letting her drive his truck in the parking lot. He also attended her eighth-grade graduation and confirmation, she said.
"I was intrigued by that," she said. "He was, like, this older man to me who came off as caring. ... He would finish my sentences for me. He had a way of getting into my mind and knowing every little thing about me." Once an honor student, Santangelo began flunking courses and getting suspended from school for bad behavior. "I just rebelled against everything and everyone," she said. Her mother eventually sent her to the Chancellor Academy in the Pompton Plains section of Pequannock, a school for children with learning disabilities. Santangelo has moved back in with her mother. She stays home most of the time, she said, and is trying to repair their relationship. Sometimes she helps out at her mother's delicatessen.
"There are so many guys out there going after young, vulnerable girls," Santangelo said. "What I have to say to 13-year-olds is: Stay away from older men who try to solicit you, men who are only after one thing. What else can they offer you? What else could a 13-year-old and a 30-year-old possibly have in common?" Santangelo said she has remained drug-free for over six months. She attends psychological counseling once a month. "My life is on hold until this is over," she said. After that, she said, she's going away to college. "My life in New Jersey is nothing but bad things," Santangelo said. "My friends are disgusted with my experience. They think it's horrible. "I just want to go someplace where no one knows me and start afresh. Somewhere far."
One question, where were her (Santangelo's) parents?
..Santangelo, then an eighth-grader at Sacred Heart School, had never been in a nightclub before....
She said the relationship was punctuated by five pregnancies -- four abortions, one miscarriage -- and, later on, countless fights that led to a hostile breakup.
And, the abortionists who murdered her unborn children were under no duty to inform her parents, or the authorities. God knows how many girls are in this same mess - while the babykillers cry "Keep abortion SAFE and LEGAL!"
4 Abortions. Where did a girl this age have an abortion? Was it not reported to authorities? As a teacher, I am obligated to report any suspicion of abuse of a child. We need to go after the abortuaries and get those ovens shut down when they comply/assist with statutory rape.
This is a terrifying story. Why was a 13 year old allowed to go to a night club by her parents?
This is the kind of situation statutory rape laws were designed for. I think her parents should be charged with neglect as well.
Problem is that the statutory rape laws of some states are just silly, making it where, theoretically, you could go to jail for having sex with some a year, or even a day, younger than you. Ex. 18 and 17 year olds in a state with no graduated version of the statutory rape law. I like the 2 or 3 year graduated systems, they make more sense.
Something this article touched on that needs to be a topic of discussion is the fact that these perverted women are getting by with this stuff in all jurisdictions. I personally think it is just as damaging for a 13 year-old boy to have a child by a 30 year-old woman as vice-versa, at least as far as the child is concerned.
BUMP, they aid criminal behavior.
But then Planned Parenthood is a part of the Sex Positive Agenda, the goals of which are to have everyone sexually active at every age and no moral judgements on any sexual pairing.
While abortion is always a bad thing, from a practical standpoint it's much better than this moron pumping out four more clones of herself into society.
Lordy and then some! Who leaves their 13 yo alone enough to have sex multiple times and have abortions on the side?? I watch my kids like a hawk and only let them associate with kids whose parents do the same.
They remind me of the parent's of the Columbine kids. Too worried about their own self-gratifcaton to think about their children?
These parents should be charged with neglect and PP should be charged abuse. Today's liberal society is a sick society.
A few accomplices in that women's health clinic.
This girl's parents were either incredibly naive, stupid, or just incompetant. Maybe all three.
In any event, this girl is NOT a victim. Women her age have been married and boys her age have fought wars. Her parents should have raised her with better sense.
"They come to our attention only when someone is bragging about their relationship or the parents find out about it, or a hospital calls us when a teenager is delivering a baby,"
But if the "hospital" is an abortion clinic, the case is not brought to the attention of the police.....
Need to move to CA.
California Court Overturns Sex Offender Registration for Oral Sex with a Minor
i just find this whole story desperately sad and depressing..talk about never having a chance..jeeze she has lived thru horrors and she is only 20!
i just cant understand how guys like this think...i just cant believe they belong to the same human race as me..what sick perversion makes men act like this...and i just dont buy the 'i was abused therefore i abuse'. surely if you were abused and know how terrible it is you should go the other direction...i cannot reconcile those comments as an excuse, and trust me his defence will line this one up soon enough..
the chasm between normal behaviour and this man...there is something terribly evil here...
Guy is probably a pedophile that should be locked up.
To be honest, this girl did nothing to help herself. She just plays the victim. You think the first abortion or miscarriage would have work her up, huh?
Like someone said earlier, men her age have fought wars, women her age have been married with children.
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