The case of Marcus Wayne Dixon, an 18-year-old student from Rome, Ga., who served 15 months of a 10-year sentence for aggravated child molestation, is not as simple as some of the national media reported.
The charge stemmed from what Dixon’s attorney claimed was consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl. The boy had a 3.96 grade-point average and had received a full athletic scholarship to Vanderbilt University, which was later revoked. The 10-year sentence was mandatory and without the possibility of parole. His attorney, working pro bono, appealed it.
I’ve heard people on television talk as if the boy were an angel, a victim of backward laws. They pointed to his grade average and to his athletic scholarship, but neither of those is any guarantee of character. He had been involved in two other incidents, one where he allegedly exposed himself and another allegation that he put his hand down a girl’s dress.
A further complication is race. He’s black. The girl is white. A witness at his trial, where he was originally charged with rape, testified that the girl told him that she claimed rape because she was afraid her father would beat her for having sex with a black man.
Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but the jury apparently believed it, because he was acquitted of rape. Incidentally, Bryant Gumbel, who can find racism even in the snowy Alps, leapt on that and while reporting the story showed clips of a Klan march. In fact, there hasn’t been a Klan march in that county since the 1980s, and even then protestors shouted down the Klan. The girl’s father may or may not have a problem with race, but the county does not. There was no element of racism in the prosecution of the case.
The problem arose from the fact that, as they love to do, prosecutors tacked on a laundry list of charges, hoping the jury would convict on at least one. In fact, it convicted on two — statutory rape and aggravated child molestation.
Georgia’s law on statutory rape is quite sensible. It says that if the consensual sex occurs between a 17- or 18-year-old and someone less than three years younger, it is a misdemeanor. The aggravated child-molestation charge — obviously not intended for consensual sex between teenagers — carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison and five years of probation.
But even though he won his appeal, the boy’s life is damaged, and he has nobody to blame for that but himself. It’s a well-known fact that the human male has a limited blood supply, and when it flows to the lower part of the body, it vacates the brain. Older and wiser men than this boy have gotten into trouble because of sex. It happens all the time.
There are two societal factors that this case brings to mind. One is that college sports, having become a moneymaking industry, causes high-school athletes to be overpampered. Athletic scholarships are awarded without regard for character, and in many cases without regard for academic ability. This is such a problem that in the past I’ve suggested that some colleges put bail bondsmen and criminal defense lawyers on retainer to handle the misdeeds of their star athletes.
The other factor is sex. Simultaneous with a national hysteria about sex offenders, there is a continuous, blatant commercialization of sex by television, the movies and the advertising industry. Kids today have sex shoved in their faces. It’s no surprise at all that sexually transmitted diseases are showing up in middle schools. After all, a popular president and still-popular ex-president told the nation that oral sex is not really sex.
I’ve always argued that the "adults only" label is just a ploy. There is no such thing as an adult world and a children’s world. Adults and children inhabit the same world. If the media are saturated with sex and idolatry for sports figures and other celebrities, then the bad effects will filter down to children.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.