The case of Generlow Wilson, the 17-year-old Georgia man serving a ten-year sentence for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old, highlights exactly what can happen when governments regulate sexual behavior. (For more details on Wilson’s case, see my post, The Insanity of Sex Laws, especially the links to news stories.) As the organization Color of Change points out, a large part of the persecution of this young man has to do with the color of his skin—that’s simply a given. Like the drug laws, though, without laws against sex to fall back on, Generlow Wilson wouldn’t be in prison.
Throughout American history, laws of one kind or another regulating sexual activity have always been on the books, varying from state to state according to regional prejudices. Some of these laws still exist, even if seldom enforced. Not too many people know, for instance, that in Texas it’s illegal to own more than five dildoes. I guess they figure five toys are enough for any red-blooded Texan—slipping over to six, though, means you’re in the dildo-selling business. (Does this remind anyone of, oh, I don’t know, laws about other illegal substances?)
Southern states legally banned sex among racially mixed couples; for all I know some of these laws still exist. Interracial marriage was legally forbidden in some places well into the 1960s, just as same-sex marriage is forbidden today. Anti-homosexual laws, usually called sodomy laws which therefore apply to heterosexuals as well, were common. Until the 1970s a person couldn’t go out in New York City without wearing at least three articles of clothing deemed suitable for his or her gender, i.e., a woman wearing a flannel shirt sans bra, jeans and a pair of work boots, could be arrested. Go ahead, laugh. But as the law of the land such inanities destroy lives—which is what the law plus bigotry is doing to Genarlow Wilson.
As Sherry F. Colb writes in Findlaw, a journal for legal professionals, “If we did not know that Wilson’s disturbing predicament had arisen in the United States, we might assume that we were hearing about a case in a theocracy… people in the U.S. are routinely condemned to spend years in brutal prisons as punishment for behavior that harms no one…this treatment of victimless crime is symptomatic of a criminal law that is strongly influenced by religious views about sexual morality.” (The Harsh Wages of Sin: Why Genarlow Wilson is Languishing in Prison.)
Wilson’s persecution derives from a terror of young people’s sexuality, and is fueled by hysteria about pedophilia: he was sentenced under a child molestation law, one intended for adult sexual predators that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years (again, mirroring the drug laws, with their ironclad mandatory sentences). The past two decades have seen an avalanche of new legislation regarding pedophilia in cities and states all over America. This response to sex crimes against children is about as irrational and ineffective as the federal government’s response to terrorist attacks: both are largely informed by instincts toward revenge and reckless overkill. In November, California enacted legislation, approved by something like 70% of voters, barring pedophiles from living in certain urban locations. As a result, predators are forced to live in less populated areas, where they can go about amusing themselves without too many people around to take notice.
Anyone who commits a sex crime must be registered as a sex offender outside of prison—and this includes more than only pedophiles. It includes, for instance, Genarlow Wilson. In fact, the DA offered him a reduced sentence if he’d admit to being a sex offender; the judge didn’t understand, and was apparently insulted, when Wilson refused to take the deal. But if he had, he wouldn’t be allowed to live in his family home, which includes a baby sister.
Injustice is a terrible thing. That we live in a country where fear of natural instincts is used to terrorize citizens is unspeakable. Throw racial bigotry and anti-youth attitudes into the mix and you get a situation in which an intelligent, athletic young man’s once-promising future is stolen away from him.
Oh, and by the way–when he does get out of prison, it wouldn’t be surprising if Genarlow Wilson never again enjoyed a blowjob. That, my friends, is a crime.