“Cool Mom” Gets 30 in the Clink

I can’t remember if I blogged about Silvia Johnson — the 41 year old woman whose desire to be the “cool mom” lead her to host sex parties with teenage boys — though I did write a post about protecting kids from adult sexual predators. Well, today I read that Ms. Johnson — who was never “part of the crowd” in high school, but I guess finally got to feel like one of the “cool kids” — got 30 years for her antics.

A woman who authorities said had sex with high school boys during alcohol- and drug-fueled parties has been sentenced to 30 years in prison, officials said.

Silvia Johnson, 41, described herself to investigators as a “cool mom” who “was never popular with classmates in high school” and who was beginning to feel like one of the group.

She pleaded guilty in July to two misdemeanor counts of sexual assault and nine felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Sounds about right to me. I guess that’s because my first reaction to this story is as a parent. And were I the parent of one of the boys at her party, I’d be pretty livid. I remember when I was growing up, my sister and I were only allowed to go to a friend’s house if there was going to be an adult (preferably a parent) there. And it wasn’t enough to tell them there would be an adult there. They had to speak to the other adult and verify it.

I’m sure there were times when I found that rule rather onerous (in particular when a classmate I’d had a crush on for years in high school invited me to his house one summer afternoon when his folks were out and he was feeling randy — I didn’t get to go), but I have to admit I probably understand the reason for it now. Today I guess that rule would be qualified a bit more: a responsible adult needs to be present. That pretty much rules out an adult who gives alcohol and drugs to teenagers, and also has sex with some of them.

Interestingly enough, there’s another angle to the story that’s been playing out in my inbox today.

I’m on a listserve for GLBT people of color, and today someone sent around a link to CNN story about Silvia Johnson’s sentence. It sparked an interesting discussion on intergenerational sex, and teenage sexuality, which revealed to me that there some subjects to which my liberalism doesn’t exactly extend.

I don’t have a problem with teenagers having sex with other teenagers. I expect that’s going to happen, and when it comes to my kid my feel areings — once he reaches that age — are that I’d rather he wait until he’s old enough to handle the potential consequences and responsibilities that can come come being sexually active, but if he chooses to be sexually active I want him to

  • have the information he needs to protect himself and his partner,
  • use it, and
  • understand and respect his partners’ wishes when it comes to consent. (i.e. No means no. Period.)

But when it comes to intergenerational sex, I think in our society/culture there’s always an imbalance of power between a child and an adult. Legally, culturally, socially, one is pretty much always considered an authority over the other. That’s evident in the fact that no matter how willing the kid is, the adult is considered legally culpable and responsible for saying “no.” And no matter how mature or willing the kid is or appears to be, I don’t think that imbalance can honestly be discounted. I think that makes it hard to rule out the possibility of even indirect coercion in an intergenerational sexual relationship.

All admit, I’m probably coming at this from a couple of different angles. One is that I’m the parent of a young child, who will someday be a teenage boy; along with all that comes with that territory, I’m sure. Second, while it wasn’t my own experience, I understand that some gay men had their first sexual experiences as teenagers with older/adult men. So, someone with that experience might take a different view than I do.

I also know some guys whose first sexual experiences were intergenerational, and it’s basically the same situation. Some of the encounters may have been consensual, but some of them also had an element of manipulation, coercion, etc., precisely because of the inherent adult/child power imbalance I mentioned earlier. And it always seems that the guys who had the latter type of sexual experience with adults as teenagers come away from it with some degree of emotional/psychological damage.

Children area naturally curious about sex — particularly as teenagers — but they don’t often possess the maturity to use good judgement where sex is concerned. And in a situation where partners are mismatched in terms of power, authority, maturity, etc., it’s too easy for an adult to use that imbalance in his/her favor.

I’m as liberal as the next person, but I guess adult/child sex is where I draw the line. Two teenagers? Fine. An eighteen year old, who’s of the age to give consent legally, and a 36 year old? I would probably definitely not like it if the 18 year old was my kid, but I’d still say the law should leave them alone. (Though that doesn’t mean *I* will.) But an adult and a child below the legal age of consent? Uh-uh. There’s no way I’m ever gonna be OK with that.

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About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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7 Responses to “Cool Mom” Gets 30 in the Clink

  1. Battlepanda says:

    Um, yeah. What she did was wrong. But 30 years? That’s like…what you’d get for murder in many instances. The punishment does not fit the crime. She had consensual sex with what is more than likely sexually mature (I don’t say that implies emotional readiness) males.  I know it can be disturbing as a parent to contemplate your own children possibly taken advantage of in this fashion, but if we put every mature adult who has had sex with teenagers in prison for decades, we’d probably have to double or triple our prisoner holding capacity.

    This reminds me of the Florida teacher who was recently put in jail for a bajillion years because she seduced her students. This has me wondering why every time I hear of such cases (intergenerational sex followed by a massive jail term) the seducer has been female and the victim male. Why have I not heard of any cases where a male seducer is given decades of jail time after seducing underage girls? Are those cases so common that they are deemed not worthy of press coverage? I would be interested in knowing whether the sentencing is harsher for male or female offenders in cases of this type.

    (In case it’s not clear — yes, I think what this woman did was wrong, wrong, wrong, twisted, sad, creepy, yuck! She should go to jail. Just not for 30 years. Not even 10 years. Five might be about right. )

  2. Terrance says:

    I don’t think it was just the sex, but the sex, the drugs, the number of boys, and the number of times that got her time up to 30 years.

    Authorities said Johnson held parties for the boys almost weekly between October 2003 and October 2004. They said Johnson provided drugs and alcohol to eight boys and had sex with five of them.

    Chances are she provided drugs and alcohol to the boys multiple times, and had sex with five of them multiple times. I’m no lawyer but I would imagine all that adds up to multiple counts on some charges, each of which might carry a minimum sentence.

  3. Tim Who? says:

    T is right
    Using drugs and alcohol changes things.
    It’s bad enough that they were under age but to ply them with drugs changes everything.

    I’m 50 lets say I’m dating an 18 year old boy, even if you don’t like it. its still legal and above board, we’re both adults and its nobody elses business.

    Now lets say I get my 18year old friend drunk so I can seduce him. Now I’ve broken the law because consent given isn’t consent while he’s drunk. I’ve just committed rape.

    Yes I know many 17 and 18 year olds party and have sex but at 30 or 40 your are expected to behave like an adult and the larger the gap the longer jail time you’ll do. She was 41 they were 16/17. She should have known better.

    Had she just had sex it still would have been a crime but she would have done a lot less time. The drugs tripled the jail time.

  4. Battlepanda says:

    So let’s say that out of her sentence (not that I’m sure breaking it down in her sentence is a valid route for analysis) 10 year is for supplying the booze, ten year is for supplying the drugs, ten years is for the sex. Rather arbitrary. But it’s a thought experiment, so hey.

    My rule of thumb when it comes to considering whether a heavy sentence is just is "if I can flick a switch and apply this sentence to all the people who are in violation of this rule, would I?"  And given the prevalence of all those behaviors and the arbitrariness of the 18 year old rule, I don’t think that would be justified. The social costs would outweigh the social benefits by a long stretch.

  5. Agius says:

    I’d like to question the basis of saying "my liberalism doesn’t extend that far." How is an adult having sex with children a liberal value? I mean, a lot of conservatives say that adult/child sex is a liberal value, but I tend to disagree.

    Perhaps it could be argued on the basis of privacy and consent, but I think most liberals agree with you and the law in saying that children cannot consent, and committing a crime in private doesn’t make it okay.

    Great post, though – keep blogging, and good luck on NaNo!

  6. Terrance says:

    I guess the reason I said that bit about my "liberalism" not extending that far is because in a conversation with someone who doesn’t think there should be laws around intergenerational sex I feel like I suddenly come off sounding conservative. It’s crazy, I know.

  7. larry says:

    It is right to prosecute her as a felon but the extent of the punishment is a travesty.  If she were a prostitute who had sex with a number of teenage boys, she would probably get 30 days (per boy – maybe).  Since she’s not a prostitute, her behavior is treated as being two and a half times as severe as a homicide (average sentence – 12 years – source, U.S. Department of Justice).  It’s not.  

    This is truly bizarre and disturbing.  Oh, and I don’t see how child-adult sex is a liberal value either.  Liberty involves freedom from certain impositions as well as freedom to do as you please.

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