PAWNEE COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Charges filed against an Oklahoma State University professor for soliciting sex with minors online call into question incongruous age of consent laws in Oklahoma.
OSU Professor Davis Schrader was booked into the Pawnee County Detention Center on Wednesday, charged with two counts of soliciting sexual conduct with a minor.
He allegedly fell victim to a sting operation, going on gay dating app Grindr and messaging who he thought were teenagers aged 16 and 17-years-old, but who were in fact undercover deputies.
According to the affidavit, the deputy posing as a minor messaged Schrader, saying he was 17-years-old, and Schrader replied, “That’s legal.”
Schrader allegedly planned to meet him at his campus office, but deputies showed up instead.
Turns out, what he’s accused of actually isn’t legal in the state.
“If he did meet up with this minor, he could argue that what he did after he met up was not illegal, but the actual solicitation would still be illegal,” said Pawnee County Asst. District Attorney Jeff Jones.
Jones explained that in Oklahoma, it’s legal to have sex with 16-year-olds, but not legal to seek out sexual partners online unless they’re over 18.
“This is one of the areas in Oklahoma where our statutes are incongruent with one another,” said trial attorney Jacqui Ford. “It’s confusing, it doesn’t make sense on a cognizant common sense level, and oftentimes, people find themselves in this trap.”
It’s a law Ford takes issue with because she said it, and other computer crimes related to it, unfairly creates criminal behavior or worsens criminal punishment.
“This is one of the areas in Oklahoma where our statutes are incongruent with one another,” Ford said. “If he met this 17-year-old in a park or at the grocery store, any encounter they have would have been legally acceptable and not criminal, but because we’re doing it online where everybody is right now, especially in the middle of COVID, the only way to communicate is through our screens. So this is how he’s choosing to meet someone, and this is a crime, and you can tell from his messages that he did not know that.”
Ford compared it to prostitution – a misdemeanor if a prostitute is caught working on the street, but the charge is raised to a felony once it’s done online.
In this case, she said it fails to take into account the alleged suspect’s intent.
“If he was out there hunting for underage children to perpetrate on, that is a starkly different thing than what’s happening here,” Ford said. “But unfortunately, he may very well be subject to sex offender registration for the rest of his life.”
Even Jones said the law would be easier to enforce if it was consistent across the board.
“The officer posing as a minor will say, ‘You know, I’m 16,’ and he’ll say, ‘That’s fine then because that’s the age of consent, so I have no problem with that,’” Jones said. “So there’s a lot of confusion out there, I believe.”
KFOR tried to reach Schrader at his home for comment Thursday afternoon, but no one came to the door.