Statutory Rape Case Creates Cultural Confusion

The state of Missouri is now dealing with an unfortunate set of events involving a middle school child, a little baby, an unsuspecting 20-something, and a distant culture. A little girl in the seventh grade went to a St. Louis abortion clinic seeking to terminate her pregnancy. The clinic called social services and social services called the St. Louis police department. After an investigation, the prosecutors charged the father of the unborn child, 20-something Asannay Marbati with first-degree statutory rape.

By the time the investigation was complete and the charges were filed, the girl had decided to keep her baby and Marbati had moved closer to the family to seemingly be a father to his child. During the course of the investigation, the girl and her mother, both from the small, war-torn eastern African country of Eritrea, tried to explain to investigators that the consensual sexual encounter between the girl and Marbati, also from Eritrea, was acceptable in their country. Under Missouri law, however, it was not allowed and Marbati would be punished accordingly.

St. Louis police detectives explained to Marbati that his actions constituted a crime in Missouri, punishable by up to five years in prison. The story, however, is a little more complicated than it sounds. The crux of a statutory rape conviction depends on the prosecution being able to prove the age of the participants in the sexual act. In Missouri, to sustain a first-degree statutory rape charge, prosecutors have to prove that the girl was under the age of 18 at the time of the sexual act. It does not matter how old Marbarti was at the time of the sexual act. For a second-degree statutory rape conviction, prosecutors would have to prove that she was between the ages of 14 and 17 and that Marbarti was over the age of 21 at the time of the sexual act.

The problem is that the ages of both the “victim” and the “perpetrator” cannot be exactly determined. The young girl is considered to be 12 only because when she came to this country in 2007, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials guessed at her age. In the village where she was born, they do not keep birth records so she is not sure when she was born. The villagers also do not follow a calendar, making it impossible to even pinpoint events that may have happened around the time of her birth to get a more accurate estimate of her age. This problem proved to be a goldmine for defense attorney John Rogers who argued that if the prosecution could not determine exactly old she was, they could not determine whether she was under the age of consent at the time of the sexual act. During a bench trial, the judge agreed and dismissed the case against Marbati. The prosecution, however, has appealed the dismissal.

This is a situation where two cultures have collided. What is acceptable in the nation of Eritrea is not acceptable in the United States and the cultural shock may leave many unsuspecting immigrants with criminal charges because they are not aware of the law in this country. If you’ve had a run in with police and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don’t hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.

Source:Culture, law clash in statutory rape case against Eritrean immigrant in St. Louis,” published at