Dexter Wimbish said the lessons of Marcus Dixon and Genarlow Wilson should serve as an example of the trouble adolescents can find themselves in if they engage in sexual activity.
Both were teenagers from Georgia who were sexually active with underage girls. Both were sentenced to long prison terms in controversial cases that eventually were overturned.
Wimbish, general counsel for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said those cases served as the impetus for Saturday’s community forum on young people, sex, schools and the law.
Wimbish asked that all those under age 16 who came to St. Paul United Methodist Church Saturday to stand. He then reminded the teens in attendance that if they had sex with anyone under 16, they could face statutory rape charges.
Wimbish told parents that "the legal system only gets involved when the family system fails."
Saturday’s panel discussion, organized by the Newtown Florist Club, brought frank talk about sex and kids to the forefront, with as much addressed to parents as children.
A sex-obsessed media culture, from tawdry television shows to graphic song lyrics, got some of the blame, but it all came back to the home environment.
"There are parents who will sit in the same room with their children watching these vulgar shows," Gainesville Middle School Principle Audrey Simmons said. "We can’t control that. Everything they learn is from modeling behavior, and everything starts at home. Parents must stand up and be counted."
Simmons said her school dealt with two sex-related disciplinary issues last year that could be directly traced to a late-night show the children watched.
Other, more chronic sexual harassment problems from children can hint at a more troubling home environment, Gainesville School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
"In my experience, a child that touches someone inappropriately, and it goes on and on, something is happening to that child at home," Dyer said.
When a child’s behavior is an indication of sexual abuse at the hands of another, "it becomes much more serious," she said.
Hall County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Carden said by the time the cases get to her court, they have gone beyond inappropriate touching to something far more serious.
"Children are mimicking sexual behavior in schools and doing very explicit acts," Carden said. "It has to be intercepted. If we did not deal with these things, you wouldn’t want your children in school."
Community police officers Joe Britte and Brad Baker said they offer a number of educational and prevention programs and take part in mentorships to help raise children right.
"Officer Britte and I are often disheartened that a lot of parents don’t bring their children to these programs," Baker said. "These resources are available."
Parents should take a vested interest in how all the children in their community grow up, Baker said.
"They’re not just your children, they’re our children," Baker said.