August 30, 2005

"He's a home wrecker. He's trying to rip a father away from a child, and rip a husband away from a wife."

So says a 22-year-old man who married the 14-year-old girl he impregnated. He's being prosecuted for statutory rape. (To marry, they crossed from Nebraska, where one must be 17, to Kansas, where 12 is considered old enough.)
[The prosecutor's] office has been deluged with letters, the vast majority angrily urging that he leave the couple alone. One, from a woman named Patricia, said, "I'm sure your time can be better spent putting away real criminals."

Why shouldn't this man be prosecuted? You could say, he's been selected for prosecution not for his sexual act — which is far more common than statutory rape prosecutions — but for committing to marriage — which is a conspicuous, public act. The linked article, on the front page of the NYT, seems fairly sympathetic to the man, but I don't see it.
Matthew and Crystal met when she was 8, and he played video games with her half-brother. Mr. Koso, who was in special education classes for attention deficit disorder and other learning problems, graduated from high school in 2001 and joined the Marine Corps, but left after four months on a medical discharge. When Crystal's mother had no car, Mr. Koso drove her to the doctor and the grocery store.

"He's always been friends with people that were younger," said Peggy Koso, recalling her son at age 5 or 6 passing hours with building blocks and racing cars with a neighbor of 3 or 4. "His own peers never accepted him."

The two became a couple, according to Crystal's "Happy Anniversary" drawing on the wall, on Sept. 17, 2003. She was 12 and he 20. Exactly a year later, Crystal's mother, Cecilia Guyer, who is divorced from her father, filed for a restraining order against Mr. Koso, writing of him: "He's too old for early teens. He needs to stay away."
It seems that if Crystal were 10 years older, she would not find Koso to be an adequate partner, and that Koso himself lacks the ability to deal with the adult woman Crystal will be in 10 years. The fact that she may have loved him the whole time is no excuse. Surely, many pedophiles are capable of getting children to fall in love with them.


ALH ipinions said...

Oh dear, this is a tough call Ann. I agree with you in so far as I think the prosecution is entirely warranted on the statutory rape charge under Nebraska law. But the allusion to paedophiles seems unduly harsh and, indeed, unfair. After all, unless we want to dismiss Kansas as a state where paedophilia is legal, then I think we must accept that the age gap between these love birds is not considered unconscionable to many God-fearing Americans....

Ann Althouse said...

I absolutely do want to denounce Kansas for that. In fact, the article has that states governor saying the state will change its law -- as well it should!

And it's not as if the couple married before ever having sex. If that had happened, then it would be wrong to prosecute the man.

Freeman Hunt said...

Having worked with children, I cannot imagine what an adult would be doing in a relationship with a 12 year old. I would definitely call that pedophilia. Kansas should change the law that allows this sort of child-adult relationship.

John Thacker said...

I'm fairly certain that Kansas, like most states, has a "normal" marriageable age of 17 or 18, but allows lower ages in the case of parental consent, judicial consent, or pregnancy or birth of a child.

For example, I know that North Carolina has a set age of 18 normally, 16 with parental consent, and unlimited in the case of pregnancy or birth of a child and parental consent. New York is 18 generally, 16 with parental consent, and 14 for males, 13 for females with court permission. California has 18 generally, but there is no minimum so long as the parents plus a superior court judge approves.

Considering that she's already pregnant, I don't think it's all that surprising or shocking that a state allows marriage at that age with parental consent, which she received. She would have been able to get married in most states. Indeeed, it seems that at minimum the mother of the bride's consent was needed.

As I recall, the Attorney General of Kansas is also seeking for abortion clinics to forward information about abortions performed on girls under the statutory rape age, in order to prosecute more cases without having to wait for this sort of public act.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it is indefensible to allow adults to marry off their 12 year old children. Permission or not, a 12 year old is still a child.

HaloJonesFan said...

It would be interesting to see what Glenn Reynolds thinks about this.

leeontheroad said...

I think at issue is that 12-year old "love" and 14 year-old "consent" is a dubious concept on its face, in this century.

Mr. Kosos's mental and emotional age may well not be 22-- the point of the details provided, I assume. (I would like to know the basis of his marine medical discharge.)

In any case, if these few sympathetic, selective details are a reliable guide, I do question a criminal prosecution of Koso: putting him in jail for, say, 8 years, is not going to further his social skills or decision-making abilities. But it may be the only option the law affords. It would at least appear that absent Crytal's mother's consent, they would not have a valid marriage, even in Kansas. However, that, too, may not be clear.

I don't see a good legal solution solution to the problems that these few facts suggest. There often isn't one.

miklos rosza said...

at 12 she's most likely in 6th grade.

Jeff said...

Until the 20th century this marriage would have been entirely unremarkable. My grandmother was 16 when she married my 19-year-old grandfather during WW II, but that was back when someone in their late teens was considered an adult. (It happened in Nebraska, too).

I think the real issue is that in the West adolescence has been extended almost to 30. This is producing a host of social problems, not least of which is that a great number of middle-class women have put off having children until their 30's and are now at risk of not reproducing at all.

These two are doing what comes naturally. It may not be pretty and middle-class and upwardly-mobile, but it is natural for both of them to do what they did. Their mistake was in getting married, rather than just entering the welfare state as another single mother and "baby daddy".

Simon Kenton said...

In Roman times, a high-born woman was married at 12, and running a household with dozens to hundreds of slaves. High-born men were officers in the army at 15. Of the poor and the mores of slaves we know little, but it is doubtful they refrained any longer than the upper classes.

One of the problems with abstinence as 'the solution' is that we have about 4 million years during which we bred in the middle teens, were grandparents at 30, and dead at 35. Biologically, teenagers are designed to do it.

It seems to me there are really two questions here:

1) is not the recognition of marriage a matter of comity between the states? If so, prosecution is improper.

2) is not this another piece of evidence that the state(s) should confine themselves to registering contractual agreements as to interpersonal unions, and get out of the essentially religious business of ratifying and registering 'marriages?'

Ann Althouse said...

Simon: The issue of whether states have to recognize other states' marriages when those marriage contravene that state's public policies is a very hot issue because of gay marriage. But in this case, that issue shouldn't be crucial, because the sexual relationship began in Nebraska before they were married.

leeontheroad said...

Comparisons to ancient eras also raise other social issues: Roman women and children were property, as other folsk also coudl be (Simon mentions slaves), and Roman "democracy" was only a model for the more participatory form we enjoy now.

Further comparisons between women at 12 or 14 and the same at 16 or 17 betray a lack of understnading of human development that otherwise undergirds current laws and public policy. My mother married young also in the 20th c.: she was 17 (and is still married to my father). When she married, she was required to leave high school (no, she wasn't first pregnant; she was just married (read: "sexually active").

The decions of 16 and 17 year olds are not always great, but they are in the main much more informed than those of a 12 or 14 year-old-- as we understand in setting requirments for things such as driving, voting (and serving on juries), drinking and military service. We may not be consistent in all of these, and there is variation across states, but ignoring such facts also ignores the status of a 14 year old pregant child whose mother sought a restraining order.

I'm not in favor of much state intrusion; I'm not comfortable with throwing folsk in jail as the solution to all ills; but staking claims about "naturalness" and federalism on the body of a girl is offensive in the extreme.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Jeff said...

Until the 20th century this marriage would have been entirely unremarkable.

Until the late 20th century Jim Crow laws would have been entirely unremarkable. Until the 20th century, denying woman the vote would have been entirely unremarkable. Until the 19th century slavery would have been unremarkable. Until the 15th century mostly Natives in the Americas would have been entirely unremarkable. Until the 14th century the sun revolving around the earth would have been entirely unremarkable. Until Eve got wiggy, fruit eating would have been entirely unremarkable.

Oh snap, times change!

There is no reason for any state to have an age of consent below, say 16 or eighteen, given how long we live, how stupid we are in our teens, and the complexity of our world we have to make a living in.

Kathy Herrmann said...

I agree there's something icky about a 22-year old marrying a 14 year old.

On the other hand, Jeff has a good point too. We're a more complex society today than in ages past. Yet I also think we're starting to go to extremes with how long we allow the "children" label and postpone embracing adulthood. To me the issue isn't that our young need more time to prepare for adulthood. It's that we demand very little of them in terms of responsiblity, accountability, or family contribution until they reach that "magic" age of grown-uphood.

Simon Kenton said...


General agreement with your post. It interests me the extent to which technology seems to require that we protract the immaturity of our kids. Both in controlling it physically (who doesn't have a pang at the thought of a 16-year-old unleashing 400 horsepower), and in the period required to master and even create it, we need a lot of time to get them on top of our technoadvances.

My minor cavil - the Roman Republic and Empire lasted a long time, and some customs changed. The right of a father to kill his children (as for instance, for their contravention of traditional Roman values) persisted from the republic, but in the empire the exercise of it become rare. At least under the later empire, women had very broad powers with regard to ineriting and governing their property, and were not property themselves.

leeontheroad said...

"It interests me the extent to which technology seems to require that we protract the immaturity of our kids."

Me. too, Simon. I say that as an educator who knows that a Bachelor's in some sciences is now a 116 credit curriculum (almost no room for electives). Also, I'm a parent who's wondering when my "twenty-something" will cease to expect infusions of large amounts of embryonic flu-- I mean, cash.

Jeff said...

Times may change, but biology does not.

Smilin' Jack said...

FWIW, most Biblical exegesis puts Mary's age at the birth of Jesus between 12 and 16...which by today's standards makes God Himself a pedophile.

Kim said...

Jeff said Times may change, but biology does not.

Well, biology may not change but nutrition does. In fact, an "age of consent" policy that is consistent with a purely biological argument would put the age of marriage *lower* than it was 100 years ago, and about the same as it was in the 18th century. Why? The general consensus (though not without dissenters) is that average age of menarche rose over the 18th century and dropped significantly until late in the 19th century. The average age at which other secondary sex characteristics develop is still falling.

Luckily, age-of-consent policies reflect social, political, and moral concerns as well as purely biological ones.

mcg said...

FWIW, most Biblical exegesis puts Mary's age at the birth of Jesus between 12 and 16...which by today's standards makes God Himself a pedophile.

Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' conception, so no, I don't think so.

John Thacker said...

The point I was attempting to make, then, is that while it may be extremely doubtful that a 12 or 14 year old can give proper consent-- and hence Kansas, like other states has a statutory rape law-- once she is pregnant and intends to have the child, allowing marriage is possibly the least worst option.

sharon said...


My grandson was arrested for an insane Oregon measure 11 crime. He was 16 and the victim was 13 (3 yrs 51 days) difference in age. They had teenage sex.He was forced to take a plea bargain as most do with measure 11. Felony, community 5 yrs probation, fines and the very worst he has to register as a sex offender. We have an over zealous DA, the Guardians (grandparents) who are abusive and neglectful hounded the DA. He could/should have been tried in juvenile court. The DA could/should have paid attention to the abusive guardians. Had my grandson gone to trial he probably would have gone to PRISON for 6 yrs, with no time off for good behaviour, 1 strike out is never fair. Oregon needs help to reform the measure 11 law.

sharon said...

My grandson 16 was arrested for having teenage sex with his then 13 yr old girlfried, a measure 11 crime in Oregon.( 3 yrs 51 days difference in age) He was forced as most do to take a plea bargain, 5 yrs probation, community service, fines, and the very worst he has to register as a sex offender. We have an over zealous DA. He could/should have been tried in juvenile court.

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