The Idaho Senate will vote on whether or not to extend Idaho’s age-of-consent law to allow teenagers to have consensual sex without breaking state law. The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee unanimously supported the proposed law change after hearing opposition from prosecutors.

“Right now we have a statute that can literally destroy the life of a young man,” said Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. His legislation to amend Idaho’s rape laws would allow 16-year-old and 17-year-old teenagers to have consensual sex with partners who are up to three years older than they are. Hill said 35 states, including Idaho, all have age-of-consent laws set at 16. “Laws that have the potential to destroy the lives of innocent people need to be changed.”  The state’s forced rape laws would not be changed.

Bonneville County Prosecutor Dane Watkins Jr., president of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, spoke against extending the law. “Non-coerced contact between two adolescents is typically not charged without some aggravating factor,” he said. Watkins said that changing the law would close a window of opportunity for prosecutors. Watkins said that in many incidents, prosecutors have insufficient evidence to charge young men with forcible rape or other abusive behavior. “What we look for in those types of circumstances is exploitive behavior,” he said. He added that his office used discretion earlier this week not to prosecute a case of statutory rape. “I like the statute where it is. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to turn the 48 percent of juveniles that are sexually active into criminals.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, asked why prosecutors should have the discretion to decide the fate of a young man. “A young victim may be in a relationship where consent might not easily be refused, where you are short on the forcible rape statute,” Watkins responded.

Ada County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Fisher said the current law protects wayward young girls who may not have parents looking out for them. “Why make our law less protective just because Washington or Oregon has?” She said prosecutors are clearly using discretion properly. An Idaho Department of Education survey from 2009 showed that 48 percent of high school seniors have had sexual intercourse. “If 48 percent of high school students are having sex, 48 percent of them are not being prosecuted,” Fisher said.

Renee McKenzie, the wife of Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, who described herself as conservative Republican mother, supports expanding the consent law. She said she’s works for her husband’s criminal law practice, which is defending several cases of statutory rape. “These boys’ lives are ending, even before they’ve begun,” she said. “I don’t think we should condone sexual acts between teens. But sending teens boys to prison isn’t the answer either.”

Read’s first story on Hill’s change to state rape laws here. The text of the legislation is available here.

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