Roundtable: Teenagers Discuss Wilson, Laws

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The Genarlow Wilson case raises questions about teenagers and their knowlege of the law when it comes to sex with their peers. Four Atlanta high school students talk candidly about the Wilson case, their thoughts about sexual consent and the hook-up culture among youth.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And we're going to talk more about this because the Genarlow Wilson story raises some big questions about teens, sex and the law. What do teens actually know about sex and the law, and how often do the hard questions about consequences come up in our conversations about sex?

To find out, we talked with four teenagers from Genarlow Wilson's old school, Douglasville High School. They are Ariel Lucas, who is 14, Britney Elder, who is 15, James Jordan, who is 17 and Michael Reyes, who's also 17. They joined us from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta.

I told them we're going to talk about some things that were kind of personal. They said they would be honest, and we said we'd agree that everything they said wasn't necessarily about themselves. I asked if we had a deal.

Ms. ARIEL LUCAS (Student, Douglasville High School, Douglasville, Georgia): Okay.

Mr. MICHAEL REYES (Student, Douglasville High School, Douglasville, Georgia): Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. Ariel, what do you know about Genarlow Wilson?

Ms. LUCAS: He 17 and he went to Douglas County, and him and his friend had went to a hotel room with two other girls. And one of the girls was 15. And she gave him oral sex on camera. And he left the next morning and she called her mom and told her mom that she was raped, and the camera's stayed in their hands, so…

MARTIN: Do any of the rest of you know that story, too? That's pretty close to the facts, as I understand them. Britney, Michael, what have you heard?

Ms. BRITNEY ELDER (Student, Douglasville High School, Douglasville, Georgia): Almost the same story, except that they've left the hotel and the camera was left behind and somebody discovered it.

MARTIN: Ariel, you knew a lot about this story. Did you know that Genarlow Wilson is in prison right now?

Ms. LUCAS: Yes.

MARTIN: What is it exactly that he is in prison for doing?

Ms. LUCAS: Because the girl was 15.

MARTIN: So this whole story at a New Year's Eve party at a hotel, there were lots of teenagers there. There were no parents there. James, why don't you start? How common is that?

Mr. JAMES JORDAN (Student, Douglasville High School, Douglasville, Georgia): Yeah, that's common. But like sometimes, parents'll pop in and out, but they expect their teenagers are like - have the common sense to know to make right choices.

MARTIN: How often might a party like that happen?

Mr. JORDAN: Maybe like once a month, special occasions.

MARTIN: Did the rest of you agree with that, Ariel, Britney, Michael?

Mr. REYES: Yeah. I agree with it.

Ms. ELDER: I say once a week.

Ms. LUCAS: A week. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. ELDER: Once a week.

Ms. LUCAS: Yeah. Douglas County - they be partying all the time.

MARTIN: Britney, but where are the parents when all this was going on? Are parties usually in people's houses, or do the kids find some place to have a party where the parents aren't likely to be there?

Ms. ELDER: In their houses, some people do it in their houses. Some people use like the gyms and stuff. Like, they'll rent out the gym and, you know, they'll just party and stuff. Some parents don't even be around. Some parents be drunk. I mean, some just be like, well, just forget about their kids. My - when they know how it is when they was a kid. So some parents just don't care.

MARTIN: What age do you think most kids that you know think it's okay to start having sex? Ariel?

Ms. LUCAS: Thirteen.

MARTIN: Eighteen?

Ms. LUCAS: Thirteen.

MARTIN: Thirteen?

Ms. ELDER: Fifteen.

MARTIN: Britney, you think it's 15?

Ms. ELDER: Fourteen.

MARTIN: Fourteen. James, what about you?

Mr. JORDAN: I think it's whenever you hit the teen years, because it's, like, you feel like you're stepping up, almost an adult, so you get to do adult things.

MARTIN: We're talking to Ariel Lucas, Britney Elder, James Jordan and Michael Reyes - all classmates at Douglasville High School in Douglasville, Georgia. That's the same school Genarlow Wilson attended.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Just ahead, we're going to conclude our conversation with teens about sex, what they think about what's legal and what's right. Plus, the private story of a very public couple's interracial marriage, 40 years after the Supreme Court's landmark decision.

Ms. JANET LANGHART COHEN (Co-Author, "Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion and Romance"): We would have been outlaws, if we have decided to get married earlier in our lives.

MARTIN: Bill and Janet Cohen on their new memoir.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. The conversation continues. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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