Unfortunately the Sheriff of New Hanover County has a historic past of poaching in territory outside his jurisdiction without regard to laws and policy. This unfortunate example has perhaps set an unspoken policy for those under his command and thus caused a conflict in the investigation of allegations of the sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl by a 27 year old man that ultimately resulted in the underage girl's pregnancy. Who has the jurisdiction or authority over such a case? Both agencies do. The detective must share power and authority with staff of other investigative agencies who have an equal responsibility to investigate allegations of child abuse. DSS staff must be viewed and developed as allies, rather than competitors or impediments in the criminal investigative process.
Normally, in allegations of abuse, interviews will determine a specific charge of an offense. It is assumed that interviews have been made of the victim, the victim's family and the suspect. It has been said that the 14 year old child is uncooperative, wishes to protect her "lover" and perhaps protect the issue of their relationship. This is not the only case of abuse where a victim wishes to protect her assailant. Even as adults, many women who have been kicked and beaten by angry and disturbed husbands or ex-lovers, will do their best to cover for the perp. A phenomenon seen all too often in domestic violence shelters all across the world. Rape victims many times will fail to prosecute, we saw that recently at UNCW. When a victim fails to cooperate it becomes extremely difficult to formulate a legal charge of crime against a suspect. Many times there are no witnesses outside the two involved and if neither are willing to cooperate with the investigation then there isn't much of a case to bring to the DA, that is unless there is evidence of the act of abuse - such as DNA.
DNA did exist in this case and the Sheriff's Office wanted it. It existed in the lifeform that developed in the womb of the 14 year old girl. Certainly if investigators were to retrieve the suspect's DNA from the girl's womb then it would be easy to convict the 27 year old of, at the very least least, the crime of statutory rape. There would be no need for the 14 year old to testify against her "lover" because authorities would have the necessary evidence to convict and rightfully send the abusive man to prison.
It is good detective work to have thought of this direction around the girls stubborn blockade. But several questions come up when talking about rights and ownership of this girl and her growing fetus.
In a day and age when 23% of all 14 year olds have had sex and 30% of all 15 year olds have done the same, (Alan Guttmacher Institute. Sex and America's Teenagers. New York, NY: Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994.) outrage over the violation of a 14 year-old's lost virtue has long sense gone from callous sense of morality. In fact I am more outraged that in a day and age of HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis B kids are still having unprotected sex. But what is important is who has ownership of the fetus? Certainly if there was a court order to retrieve the DNA, the state would have ownership, but who would have issued such an order? Would that order have required a paternity test? Would it have called for the exact place and time for an abortion or an amnio test? Would the Judge have demanded a representative of the Sheriff's Office to be along side the doctor performing the abortion in order to gather the evidence in a way that a crafty defense attorney couldn't poke apart?
I am still scratching my head about why the social worker, Susan L. Taylor was arrested. Ms. Taylor did not drive the girl to the doctor's, did not do the abortion, and did not threaten or cause by direct influence the disposal of the DNA that the Sheriff was seeking. She did not do anything that I can find that would not be an act of her normal professional duty.
Now I read that there is an audio tape of the 14 year old saying that Ms. Taylor told the girl when the Detective would be out of town. This tape was made in secret by the girl's father and recorded a conversation between the girl and her 27 year old "lover" after the abortion. How else would the girl have known about the detective's absence unless the Social Worker gave her the information, unless her parents knew or perhaps the girl called the detective herself and was told by the person answering the phone that she was on vacation. But prior to the detective leaving on vacation was the girl under constant surveillance? If not wouldn't someone have to have been responsible to alert authorities? Is it the responsibility of the Social Worker to alert the Sheriff's Office, her parents, the girl herself? There is/was no court order. Did the Sheriff's Office attempt to gain such an order and it was rejected? Why wasn't such an order issued or even applied for?
Let us suppose for a couple of seconds that the 14 year old is extremely distraught. Suppose that a girl of her age that was to leave her immediate age group of peers for someone 27 years old has some developmental issues to begin with. Suppose these issues have handicapped her in ways that prevent her from making rational and sound judgment decisions. Not too much of a stretch for those who have raised children, 14-15 year olds are at times extremely difficult. Suppose this 27 year old holds a position that would be extremely jeopardized should he be linked, not convicted but just linked with the seduction and rape of this girl. Suppose in this adolescent's mixed up world, she finds out that she is pregnant and by law can not have an abortion without parental or guardian consent, she knows in a matter of months everyone will know she is pregnant yet she also knows of her illicit relationship with her "lover" and the tragic situation that would immediately entail should that come to light. Teens kill themselves everyday for less stressful situations and no one is more aware of these suicides than some of those that work with children in the Department of Social Services.
It was reported that the girl spat, fought and swore as she was in the presence of the detective investigating her pregnancy. Anyone that has a child knows exactly how this scene looked, sounded and how determined a girl her age can be in her rebellion. What we don't know is how long this act of defiance took place. What we also don't know is exactly how disturbed the girl is/was and for how long.
Now if a child cannot be made to have an abortion then she would have the right to make that decision on her own. Likewise she could have decided to carry the fetus full term and deliver this human being into the world for adoption or to be raised within her own immediate family. But she decided to abort. Why?
Was the girl able to come to this decision rationally? Was this irrational decision process recognised by a professional and that is why she could not get the abortion here in Wilmington and had to travel later on to Raleigh? Did she feel as if she had no choice? Either destroy the evidence of her relationship with her 27 year old "lover" or send him to prison by providing the DNA that would convict him.
Women know better than I about what it is like to carry life inside them and what takes place in their minds and bodies that can send them seeking an abortion. In 1996, there were approximately 274,000 teens that received abortions in the US. 40% of all teen girls' pregnancies ended in abortion. To many of us, those are shocking statistics. But as I said earlier women know better than I do about such things.
Juliet was 14 when she and Romeo pursued their forbidden love affair. I would wager a crisp new ten spot that every 14 year old girl in America is familiar with this Shakespeare tale of woe. These 14 year old girls are only a few years from Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and playing with dolls. Their imagination is still extremely active and full of unrealistic aspirations. Even though many of these children have experimented with sexuality they still cry and pout and fret over peer pressure and curfews at home. They are a long way from maturity.
We would assume though that all the others involved in this tale of woe, playing out in the media of Wilmington and New Hanover County, and now the rest of the Country, are mature. They are educated, experienced and should know right from wrong. So why are we talking about all this? I'll tell you why I think we are talking about it, or why we should be talking about it.
It is always troubling to learn of an adult having a sexual relationship with a child, more troubling perhaps is the relationship that causes pregnancy. More troubling than that might be the fact that the child resorted to having an abortion. Her choice.
Why did she make the choice she did? My guess is pressure and the selfullfilling prophetic voice of the tale of Romeo and Juliet echoing in her imagination. To protect her love, she sacrificed her child. It could be that simple. Would she have kept the child if the father was 15 years old? She alone knows the answer to that. However, if she would have chosen to give birth, was the external pressure the cause of her decision to abort? Again go back and imagine the mind of this distraught teen. Imagine how she wished to protect her "lover." Imagine the thought of gloved hands waiting to take the tissue from her directly to the lab that would ultimately result in the ruined life of a man she believes to love her. Imagine a child that still daydreams, still believes in the magic of life going into herself to remove what she knows to be a life that perhaps will fulfill her immature need for love and imagine the process it took to change her will in order to go through with the abortion .
Now imagine that pressure so great, so coercive that it basically forced her to the clinic that removed the evidence of her love. Imagine that that sort of coersion leading to such a tragic event had some sort of law against it. Well, there is a law against it. North Carolina General Statues 14-44 states as follows:
Abortion and Kindred Offenses.
§ 14-44. Using drugs or instruments to destroy unborn child.
If any person shall willfully administer to any woman, either pregnant or quick with child, or prescribe for any such woman, or advise or procure any such woman to take any medicine, drug or other substance whatever, or shall use or employ any instrument or other means with intent thereby to destroy such child, he shall be punished as a Class H felon. (1881, c. 351, s. 1; Code, s. 975; Rev., s. 3618; C.S., s. 4226; 1967, c. 367, s. 1; 1979, c. 760, s. 5; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1316, s. 47; 1981, c. 63, s. 1; c 179, s. 14.)
It is possible that as in Romeo and Juliet all are to be punished. But sadly perhaps this story is closer in resemblace to the choice Sophie had to make in the William Styron novel about a woman that had another difficult decision regarding sacrifice. Either way, all are indeed punished.