A new law has been passed in the General Assembly in South Carolina titled the S*x Offender Accountability and Protection of Minors Act of 2006. The law was originally intended to make life more difficult for child offenders through harsher sentencing, constant electronic monitoring and the ability to prevent an offender from moving into the same neighborhood as the victim and it has done that and much more.
The new law provides child offenders with an incredible loophole for their defense, by allowing the mistake of age clause. The mistake of age clause allows child offenders to claim they did not know a child was under the legal age to consent for consensual physical relations.
In another unbelievable fact the new law allows 14 year olds to consent physical relations. The last minute addition to this law allowing the mistake of age clause to slip quietly into the final bill without allowing any public debate as to the consensual age of relations for children makes this law a threat to all underage children living in South Carolina.
In other words, an adult having physical relations with a ten or twelve year old child, who looks older than their actual age can use the mistake of age clause in their defense, claiming they felt the child was 14 or older, thus legally able to consent to consensual relations.
Jurors will now have to decide something no juror should be asked to decide: was the physical relations consensual based on the victim's age or physical appearance? When a child and adult have consensual or non-consensual relations it is always the adult who should be held responsible for their actions. The adult must be held accountable for knowing whom they are having relations with and there are no acceptable excuses when it comes to having physical relations with an underage child.
In addition, the new law also has a Romeo clause, making it legal for 18 year olds and 14 year olds to have consensual relations. The law designed to protect minors has failed to keep children safe, and has instead given child offenders a legal escape clause. Making the decision to have physical relations is incredibly difficult for two consenting adults. Children at age 14 are not developed enough emotionally to make a decision that can impact the rest of his or her life. Who will be there to pick up the pieces of young lives shattered by a child offender who ends up walking away due to a loophole in the law?