MIAMI (AP) - An 18-year-old Florida cheerleader is facing felony charges that she had sexual contact with her underage, 14-year-old girlfriend, leading gay rights advocates to say the teen is being unfairly targeted for a common high school romance because she's gay.
The criminal case against Kaitlyn Hunt is unusual because it involves two females, not an older male and a younger female. But advocates say older high schoolers dating their younger counterparts is an innocuous, everyday occurrence that is not prosecuted - regardless of sexual orientation - and not a crime on par with predatory sex offenses.
Hunt played on the basketball team with her younger girlfriend and shared the same circle of friends, said Hunt's mother, Kelley Hunt Smith. The two had a consenting relationship that began soon after Kaitlyn Hunt turned 18, and Hunt Smith said she assumed the younger girl's parents knew that.
But Hunt was kicked off the basketball team near the end of last year after the coach learned of the relationship because players were not allowed to date each other, her parents said. Then, in February, she was charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16. The day before she was arrested, police and the younger girl's parents secretly recorded a phone conversation in which the two girls discussed kissing in the school bathroom, said Hunt's father, Steve Hunt.
"It's horrible. For my daughter's sexual preferences, she's getting two felony charges. It could possibly ruin her future," Steve Hunt told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday.
Kaitlyn Hunt, who hopes to become a nurse, declined to be interviewed and is scared, her father said. However, the family has received support from all over the world, with messages coming from as far away as New Zealand, the Netherlands and Canada, Steve Hunt said. He said he reads them to her to keep her spirits up, but she feels like she has let everyone down, he said through tears.
Prosecutors have offered a plea deal to Kaitlyn Hunt that would allow her to avoid registering as a sex offender if she pleads guilty to lesser charges of child abuse. State Attorney Bruce Colton said he would recommend two years of house arrest followed by one year probation if she takes the deal.
If she is found guilty, it's also possible that Hunt could apply to not have to register as a sex offender under a "Romeo and Juliet" law because the girls were no more than four years apart in age, Colton said.