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Not long after she moved to Grand Marais with her husband and year-old daughter, people in the community told her that older men were pursuing and having sex with high school girls. Kennedy couldn't help but think of those warnings after the December courthouse shooting in Grand Marais shocked the small town, and spurred a statewide debate about courthouse security. Shortly after a jury convicted Daniel Schlienz of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, he opened fire, wounding three people.
The jury had found Schlienz, 42, guilty of having sex with a year-old girl several years earlier, when he was in his mids. After falling sick at the St. Louis County Jail, he died Dec. The consequences of the shooting continue to unfold in Grand Marais, the scenic town on the North Shore, where Schlienz's conviction and death exposed a rift in the community over a long history of older men sexually pursuing teenage girls.
Beth Kennedy has felt that way since the late s, when her daughter approached high school age. People knew about it, and nothing was done. But some men of that generation say people in the community did know that older men pursued teenage girls, and tolerated it. Wilson, now 53, arrives at a local cafe unshaven, in sweatpants and a jacket. Over coffee, he said that in his 20s he could have been jailed for his own exploits with teenage girls, during what he calls his "heyday.
Wilson also is adamant that he and other adult men did not pursue the girls. He said the girls pursued them. The younger girls chase the older guys. Everybody thinks it's the older guys chasing younger girls, [but] that's wrong," he said. In this town, all you need to pick up a year-old high school girl is a nice-looking truck or a nice car. Between them, Wilson and Beth Kennedy capture the consistent yet conflicting message from more than two dozen people who spoke to MPR News -- including law enforcement, county officials, parents, and young women from Grand Marais who admit they had sex with adult men while in high school.
In short, there's little dispute that high school-age girls had sex with adult men who were much older. The dispute is over whether it was acceptable. Minnesota law is complicated. There is no absolute law prohibiting adult men age 18 and older from having sex with teenage girls. But it is illegal in Minnesota for an adult man to have sex with a girl under age Parents and authorities in Grand Marais say they tried to stop older men from having sex with all high school girls, whether they were younger or older than But for a variety of reasons, they say such efforts failed, and the behavior persisted for decades.
There's little data to gauge whether the relationships between adult men and teenage girls that occur in Grand Marais are unusual, or how the pattern took root. It's also unclear whether a similar pattern is common in other Minnesota communities.
None of that mattered to Beth Kennedy. When her daughter was a student at Cook County High School, she and other concerned parents pushed for a rule banning non-students from school dances and other functions. They wanted to reduce the of opportunities for older men to pursue girls. They met at several places away from school, among them an old gravel pit several miles outside of Grand Marais. When high school students came there to party, older men often would arrive, alcohol in hand, after the bars closed. The woman, now in her 20s and a college graduate, grew up in Cook County and came to a lot of "pit parties" when she was in high school.
The woman said she had sex with older men, and that at least five of her friends also had sex with older men. At first, she was reluctant to spell out how many sexual partners she had in high school. Eventually, the woman revealed in s to MPR News that before she turned 16, she had sex with about eight older men in Grand Marais. She said almost all her sexual partners were in their 20s, some 10 years older than she was. Under the law, those encounters — consensual or not — likely counted as criminal sexual conduct by the men. She acknowledges instigating some of the sexual encounters, and said she found the attention from older men enjoyable and flattering.
Victim advocates in Grand Marais say there is a pattern to the encounters. A man would meet a girl at a party, buy her alcohol, give her a lift in his car, and perhaps later give her some spending money and buy her gifts. Then, he'd ask her for sex. The woman said eventually she almost felt obligated to have sex and that made it hard to say "no.
Annie DeBevec, who retired about five years ago as the Cook County social work supervisor, said rumors flew about older men having sex with underage girls. But she said girls were never willing to come forward. DeBevec said the girls didn't want to get in trouble. Often, they were ashamed of their behavior. They knew that in a small town, everyone would find out what they'd done. You can't prosecute. You can't take it to the county attorney. But people in the community were angry and pressured authorities to intervene and protect the girls, said Steve Borud, who came to Cook County as a probation officer in Since then, Borud has talked to many women who admitted being involved with older men when they were teenagers, and to parents whose daughters had such relationships.
He said peer pressure — a fear of being branded a "squealer" — helped breed a culture of silence that no one would break. Were you the one who told about the keg party? Why did you come forward when some of the rest of us were with the same guy, and we never came forward? Without evidence, they say, there's little they can do.
That's why it was such a breakthrough when, in , three girls pursued criminal charges against Dan Schlienz. Scannell said that while some people questioned the decision to prosecute, he received a lot of encouragement. By this time, Scannell and other law enforcement officials were well aware of Schlienz, who in had violated a restraining order obtained by a high school girl's parents. That's not uncommon, Scannell said. It takes a huge toll, especially on teenagers, to become a prosecution witness.
Faced with three other girls who were willing to testify against him, Schlienz pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct with juvenile girls in The shooting that followed, and then Schlienz's death in jail, have rocked Grand Marais and thrust the issue of older men preying on underage girls into the forefront. Reactions to the courthouse shooting, Schlienz's death — and discussions of older men having sex with teenager girls — varied widely. But there was an outpouring of support and sympathy for him when he died.
Some residents, like Nancy Belding, say Schlienz paid his debt to society after his initial conviction. Then he came back," she said. He was living in a place of his mother's because he couldn't find a place to live. He couldn't find a job. The Schlienz family declined to be interviewed. But Perry Wilson, or "Hundred Proof," laughs at that .
He said it's an understatement. The split, she said, is "between people who are appalled that statutory rape takes place, and between people who knew Dan Schlienz, and others who have engaged in that kind of relationship with minors. Howard said it's also been hard for the town to deal with an issue that no one has really talked about much.
Borud, the probation officer, said another factor may have helped preserve a culture of silence. Research shows that having intercourse with older men can have damaging physical effects on girls. It le to increased rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Such relationships also can have serious mental health consequences for girls, according to a new study led by University of Minnesota sociologist Ann Meier.
Meier compared the mental health of teens who had sex with a partner at least two years older, and that of teens who had sex with partners of about the same age. A Grand Marais doctor bore witness to those problems in a letter to the judge who initially sentenced Schlienz in Since the trial, she's fielded calls from local women who were involved with older men when they were younger.Grand mature like sex
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