Kaitlyn Hunt is a Florida teen currently in jail as she awaits trial in Indian River County, Florida. The case quickly spread around the world in May after Kaitlyn’s mother, Kelley Hunt Smith, posted about her daughter’s legal troubles on Facebook. Hunt Smith continues to rally for support for her child on the Free Kate page, which has over 46K members, posting a plea for prayers for the jailed Kaitlyn on Aug. 27.
Kate was arrested in February on charges related to sexual contact with a younger girl at her high school. Kaitlyn was 18 and a legal adult, while the other girl was a 14-year-old minor. The age of consent in Florida is 16.
Hunt was free on bail as she awaited trial until last week when prosecutors revealed she violated the court’s no contact order by sending over 20,000 text messages to the victim since March, including pornographic video and photos. Kaitlyn also arranged secret meetings with the younger girl.
SupportHonesty.net was one of the first and loudest to question the story the Hunt family was spinning. The website posted their research with links to the sources, including official records, as proof. Many of the facts they uncovered contradicted the Hunt’s original story. For example, a common misconception is that the younger girl’s parents waited until Kaitlyn’s 18th birthday to go the police, however, Kate turned 18 in August and charges weren’t’ filed until February.
This News Examiner had the opportunity to chat with the founder of SupportHonesty.net about the “Free Kate” movement.
When did you first learn of the Kaitlyn Hunt case?
I learned of the case 3 months ago during the time the campaign was quickly spreading through social media. I was sent the details of the Hunt family's account of events by someone hoping to enlist my support for their cause.
What was your initial reaction?
I was first made aware of the case at the same time the Indian River County Sherif's Office was releasing the arrest affidavit, proving much of what the Hunts claimed was flatly untrue - the change.org petition where Steven Hunt claimed "the two girls began dating while Kaitlyn was 17 but her girlfriend’s parents ... waited until after Kaitlyn turned 18 and went to the police to have charges brought against her" being the prime example.
It was clear the Hunts were manipulating the facts to elicit an emotional, rather than rational, response... and telling blatant lies to do it. My initial reaction was disappointment that their manipulation seemed to be working. I was disinclined to support the cause. I wasn't at that time planning to participate in the discussion, but because of the extremely effective viral nature of the campaign I was curious enough to keep an eye on the case as it developed.
Did your views change as more info emerged?
It seems that as more information emerged my initial apprehensions about the case proved more and more validated. Facts proved more of what the Hunt parents were claiming was false, and a clearer picture of their personalities developed. It also became clear to me that their efforts were a poison pill to the LGBT cause they claim to support, and as a supporter of LGBT equality I was concerned about how such a dishonest campaign could color that movement.
What led you to launch Supporthonesty.net?
While watching the online debate between supporters of the Hunts and their detractors for the first few days, it was clear there wasn't much in the way of objective dialogue regarding the facts of the case. By what I believe to be the Hunts' design, confused supporters continued to push out debunked misinformation ("Those homophobic parents waited until she was 18 to go to the police... that tells ME all I need to know") in order to grow support for the movement. Many on the other side who pushed back against Free Kate were largely basing their opposition on their religious or political views. Most of the time the discussion quickly devolved into personal attacks going both ways and a lot of disorganized noise, which I suppose is perfectly fine for those looking for a bit of online sport. But the discussion wasn't really serving the debate on an objective level, and it was clear to me that part of the problem was there were no comprehensive resources available that pulled all of the pieces together and present them in a clear, documented way.
I carried the idea for the site in the back of my head for a couple of days while we all waited to see Kaitlyn's response to the initial plea offer. I was genuinely hoping that Kaitlyn would accept responsibility for her actions then if for no other reason than it would largely bring to an end further opportunity for Steven and Kelley's exploitation of their supporters. The moment they held a press conference to announce they were declining the offer is the moment I was compelled to follow through on the idea. It was important to me that at the very least the debate was informed and the manipulation of the facts from the Hunt spin was held in check. I intended to prevent more people from falling victim to fraud based on deception.
The plea offer was rejected on a Friday. Two days later, my website was live.
Has the website had the impact you envisioned?
In some ways the impact has vastly exceeded my expectations. Once work on the site was complete, I began mentioning the URL in comments on Free Kate articles on a handful of blogs and news organizations. I did not expect others, strangers, to begin pushing the URL out everywhere they were having discussions, which in turn had even more people mentioning the URL in even more forums. I was hoping to get the word out, and as it turns out I didn't need to seed that effort for very long. It seems now the link eventually shows up nearly everywhere the case is discussed. I have never done this kind of project before, so I had no expectation that word would spread so far virally. So in that regard, the website has had a larger impact that I had envisioned.
That said, I don't feel I've shaped the course of history with my site. I am sure whatever legal proceedings that have occurred and all of those to come would have played out exactly the same had my site never existed. At the end of the day, the facts of the matter and the circumstances of the legal case don't change any simply because I'm putting more light on them.
I've received many emails in response to the site, the overwhelming majority of which has been positive and appreciative. I know I've helped along the edges for those looking for a clear account of the facts of the case. The site has been viewed by more than 30k people and "liked" by 3.9k Facebook users. I'm gratified by that response. Whether I've helped a few hundred, a few thousand or just a half dozen strangers steer clear of manipulation I feel it was well worth a day or two of effort.
You have been under constant attack on social media by Kaitlyn's mother, Kelley Hunt Smith, and Free Kate supporters. You've invited them to point out any inaccuracies on your website. Have they found any?
There was only one instance that a Free Kate supporter pointed me a document that I hadn't yet been aware of that filled out the timeline of events, but nothing that proved anything on the site inaccurate, just incomplete. One person tried very hard to convince me that document said something it didn't. Other than that, no other factual complaints that I recall. Honestly I expected a much more forceful response from detractors of the website, but the negative feedback in email is rare and even then doesn't include specific disagreement on matters of fact. I suppose providing links to documentation backing up the site with evidence goes a long way to deflating that kind of response.
Have you felt the public's reaction to your website change as the case has dragged on?
The reaction to the site has been pretty consistent up until the past week or so. Just over the past few days as events have intensified, reaction to the site from both sides has intensified a little as well.
Kaitlyn Hunt is back in jail today after prosecutors learned she violated the no contact order. Have you noticed more of the Free Kate supporters changing your opinion since the latest developments?
I would say with the revelations that came out of the Violation of Pre-Trial Release filed last week there's been an uptick in the number of former supporters of Free Kate who have decided to part ways to the movement. I've received a few appreciative emails from some of these former supporters who have become disillusioned with the Hunt family spin. It looks like direct violation of court orders over the past few months was a bridge to far for many supporters.
What would you like to see happen here?
Obviously my primary concern has always been with the actions of Steven and Kelley. I'd like to see them held to account for their deception. I'd like to see someone post the questions to them in a forum they can't sidestep. Mr Hunt, you stated the relationship started when they were both minors and this was untrue. You stated the victim's parents waited until Kaitlyn's 18th birthday to enhance the legal case against her, and that wasn't true either. Why did you choose to lie? What else have you lied about? Mrs Hunt Smith, you stated the girls had only one sexual experience, and that wasn't true. Why did you choose to lie? What else have you lied about? Did you feel you would be unable to gain the support you needed by telling the truth? Do you feel that telling lies to supporters is fair to them?
I'd like to see legal oversight of their fundraising account. With funds that were solicited using a dishonest version of the circumstances of the case, I'd at least like to see that the money is being used responsibly and legitimately for the purposes their supporters intend. It seems Kelley very likely stepped well over the legal line; I'd like to see her held responsible for her actions.
My focus is still very much on Steven and Kelley. With regards to Kaitlyn, though, I do agree with that the prosecution has been legitimate, the plea offers more than fair and her refusal to accept those terms extremely sad and unfortunate. Particularly now in light of the violation of court orders subsequent to her arrest, I feel more than ever that she made her own bed. But there is a part of me that sympathizes. Clearly, she is not equipped to function as a responsible young adult, and that's not entirely her fault. There are clearly elements in "nature and nurture" of her upbringing that have failed her. It's sad that it has had to come this far for that lesson to be taught.