JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (February 11, 2020) — A 28-year-old man from Atlantic Beach faces sexual assault charges for engaging in unspecified unlawful sexual activity with a teenager. The teen alerted police to the unlawful tryst that allegedly took place in September of 2019 in the area of Mayport and Atlantic Beach. The man under arrest was a youth volunteer at St. Paul’s Catholic Church located in Jacksonville Beach. The teen, suspected to be either 16 or 17 years of age, met the accused at the church according to News 4 Jax. Interestingly, the alleged victim contacted News 4 Jax and said she did not consider herself to be a victim and that the accused is not a pedophile.

The police report detailing the events that occurred between the alleged victim and the accused were redacted heavily before released to the media. The redacted report stated that the alleged victim was between 16 and 17-years-of-age and the two met at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. The accused made a statement to investigators indicating involvement in the crime. The detective investigating the case then placed the accused under arrest for having unlawful sexual activity with a person aged either 16 or 17 years. The accused was brought before a court and pleaded not guilty to the charge. There was no bond information available.

A spokesperson form the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine admitted that the accused male was a volunteer for St. Paul’s Catholic Church as far back as 2016. He was a volunteer in 2017 as well. The spokesperson said that the male passed a background check run by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The suspect reportedly stopped volunteering at the church because he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2017 while a member of the Navy Reserves. The man was a full-time U.S. Navy corpsman before joining the Reserves.

In an unexpected turn, the alleged victim called the TV station and confirmed that she is 17-years old. She also said that the is not a victim, according to her, and that the man accused of participating in a sexual act with a 16 or 17-year-old is not a pedophile. Additionally, she claimed that the investigating detectives from the Jacksonville County Sheriff’s Office manipulated her while investigating the case. It is unclear whether the teenager also contacted the police and the prosecuting authority to make a similar claim.

Florida Underage Sex Crimes Law

Sexual activity by a person 24-years-of age or older with a person aged 16 or 17-year-of-age is a crime under Florida law. Section 794.05 of the 2019 Florida Statutes consider the crime to be a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony in Florida us punishable by a commitment to the Florida state penitentiary for up to fifteen years and a fine not to exceed $10,000.00.

Some people might refer to this crime as “statutory rape.” Labeling the charge as statuary rape should not minimize the significance of the charge. A person who is 16 or 17-years-old cannot consent to sexual contact under Florida law unless the child becomes emancipated or is married. Moreover, the ignorance of the victim’s age is not a defense.