Two Cortland men charged with statutory rape

Two city men were arrested this week on charges of having sex with an underage, 16-year-old girl prompting the questions, why do these incidents occur and what can parents do to encourage healthy romantic relationships?

Jordan Yelvington, 19, and Bryant Holl, 22, were both arrested for engaging in sexual intercourse with two different 16-year-old girls by city police this week. Yelvington, of the Cortland Motel on Route 11, was arrested July 4 and charged with sexual misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child, misdemeanors, according to the department. Holl, of 12 Elm St., was arrested after a police investigation revealed he had sexual intercourse with the girl in May at an Elm Street residence, according to police. Holl also sent nude photographs of himself to her through a social media site, according to a police release. Holl was charged with third-degree rape and third degree criminal sex act, felonies, as well as two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

Yelvington and Holl received different charges because the age difference between Holl and the girl he had intercourse with was greater — a distinction reflected in state penal law, said Lt. Michael Strangeway.

“The main difference is the age of the perpetrator,” Strangeway said.

According to state penal law, “A person is guilty of rape in the third degree when … being twenty-one years old or more, he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than seventeen years old.” In contrast, sexual misconduct has no age specification and is levied against a person who “engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent.”

“You can’t lawfully consent at 16 years of age,” Strangeway said.

The charge of first-degree rape is levied against a person arrested for forcing another to have sex by compulsion, according to the state penal law.

It is unusual for the department to report two arrests on statutory rape-related charges during the same week. But Strangeway noted the cases do occur.

“I suspect this happens more than it’s reported,” Strangeway said, noting drugs and alcohol are not usually involved. “But if it’s brought to our attention we’re going to enforce the laws put in place to protect victims.” 

Societal symptoms

While statutory rapes occur within all demographics -- man/girl, woman/boy, man/boy, woman/girl, child/child -- researchers believe the most frequent type occurs between a man and a girl, according to a scientific article published in 2007 in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior.

The article, by Denise A.Hines and David Finkelhor and entitled “Statutory sex crime relationships between juveniles and adults: A review of social scientific research,” notes,  “Thirteen percent of girls reported a first sexual experience with an adult male three or more years older, and this percentage has remained stable since 1995 (Manlove et al., 2005).” The statistic comes from a 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, according to the article.

“Eighty percent of these sexual experiences were reported as being voluntary,” Hines and Finkelhor continue. “Typically, the age gap between the girls and their adult male partners is 3–4 years, and only 13% of these relationships were with men eight or more years older.” The authors note that places the age of most perpetrators in the 18-20-year-old range.

While the typical age gap is relatively small, researchers believe the rapes have a significant social, economic and psychological toll on the girl, according to the article.

The girls are almost four times more likely to become pregnant than their peers who engage in sex with someone within two years of their own age, the article notes. Those who experience statutory rape are also more likely to be single parents, impoverished and face “a host of psychosocial problems both preceding and following the sexual experiences.”

Emotional and psychological issues, dysfunctional family lives and poverty are not just consequences of a statutory rape -- they can also make a girl more likely to experience a statutory rape, Hines and Finkelhor note. “There is evidence that these girls can be seduced by adult males because of the financial and emotional security the men offer,” the authors write, adding a girl may actively seek an older man for the same reasons.

Men who engage in underage sex with girls were also more likely to suffer from emotional and psychological issues, the article notes. “They have been described as having feelings of inadequacy and arrested psychosocial development (Nakashima & Camp, 1984),” Hines and Finkelhor write. The authors also note the men are more likely to have a criminal history and to have dropped out of high school, making it difficult to attract women their own age. “But for adolescent girls,” Hines and Finkelhor write, “they may seem to have a lot of money because these girls compare them to adolescent boys.”

A parent’s role

Among the potential risk factors that may make a girl more likely to experience a statutory rape are poor family relationships and exposure to sexual grooming, according to the article. “The seducers treat the adolescents better than other adults in their lives have,” according to an argument outlined in the article. “For example, the adults listen to the adolescents' problems and concerns and fulfill their emotional, physical, and sexual needs.” One way to reduce a child’s risk could be to enhance the relationship between the parents and the child.

Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, offers simple, free suggestions to use to foster healthy connections with a child in her article “10 Habits to Strengthen a Parent-Child Relationship” featured online in Psychology Today. They include very basic actions - like frequent hugs and showing up -- to the overlooked, everyday interactions like play and listening. One on one time and setting the phone down also make the list. 

While the suggestions seem paltry in comparison with the potential danger, the good news is research suggests it makes a difference. In a study of 115 fathers that played sports with their daughters, the researchers found that after just two months the girls showed “clinically meaningful improvements in well-being” as opposed to girls who did not spend time playing sports with their dads, according to a 2019 article entitled “Impact of a father-daughter physical activity program on girls' social-emotional well-being: A randomized controlled trial” and published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study also found the girls displayed greater degrees of personal responsibility and better social behaviors.