read this amazing letter to the editor that ran in the Eastern Arizona Courier the other day. So glad it was forwarded to me. Voila:
I am writing this because I am tired of seeing young men’s lives destroyed.
Young men, there’s a real danger out there you need to be aware of that can destroy your lives forever. That danger is young girls wanting to be popular by dating older guys. You know the ones, those who want to be known as the girl with the more mature boyfriend. It may even be that her mother thinks it is kind of cute that her young daughter can attract an older boy. She may not even mind your spending a lot of time alone with her younger daughter or even your spending the night at their home. It may even be that this young woman is sending explicit pictures to you and your friends on her cell phone.
I know you are probably saying, “What is wrong with this? Her mother does not seem to mind my being with her daughter.” This, however, is where the danger lies. You see, it does not matter what this mother lets her daughter do. If you allow yourself to fall into the trap of being sexually involved with this young woman in any way, your life will be destroyed forever. It does not matter that you have not done anything like this in the past or that you are known to most people as a great young man who is a hard worker and loves his family. It does not matter that you have many friends you have helped and have been of service to. I say it does not matter because in the eyes of the law you have committed a very serious crime and will be treated as a dangerous criminal with no value to society.
You will soon be known by some new names. These are sex offender, predator, child molester or pedophile. People will start treating you differently. Your employer, who has always been pleased with your work performance, will bow to public pressure and tell you that you no longer have a job.
Oh, and you can forget about finding another job because everyone who does a background check on you will see that you have been arrested for a sex crime. The newspaper wanting a front-page story will run your picture and write about how you took advantage of this innocent little girl. Strangers will come up to you on the street and threaten you. Others will call you on the phone and taunt you. Law enforcement will discourage them from doing this but will do little to help you. You and your family will spend thousands of dollars defending you in court and paying for damages done to your vehicles by this young woman’s family.
If you are lucky, you may get only three to five years in prison, but you could get up to 50 years or more. Then if you are lucky enough to get out of prison alive and not warped by years of being around hardened criminals, you now get to register as a sex offender. Everywhere you go, your picture will be published in the newspaper so people will know to avoid you. If you are lucky, no one will harm you.
For the rest of your life, you will not be allowed to be with any females under the age of 18 without being supervised. You will not be able to go to a public park or swimming pool. You will not be able to see your children participate in school activities or sporting events. You will not be able to go to the toy aisle at Wal-Mart so your children can show you what they want for Christmas.
You will have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in probation and counseling fees for the rest of your life. You will only be able to work in certain jobs and live in certain neighborhoods. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
Hopefully, young men and you parents of young men will heed my warning and wake up to the danger that surrounds you. My heart goes out to those young men who have fallen into this trap, and to their families and friends who know their true characters.
While I agree with many of the sentiments, I find it highly dubious that Ms. Chavarria places blame on young girls and their mothers.
I don’t think she’s placing any blame on the girls or their mothers. She’s saying that this can happen *in spite of* the girls and their mothers (or fathers).
Even if the parents are completely OK with their daughter’s relationship, the “crime” can be reported by anyone, and, depending on the circumstances, it can be prosecuted regardless of the parents’ feelings. In such a case, the girls and their mothers aren’t to blame; any more than the cheese in a mousetrap is to blame.
The real blame falls on the people who set the trap up in the first place: paranoid people who see everything in black and white; who aren’t willing to see shades of gray and apply critical thought. People who don’t recognize the difference between child-abuse and a 16 year old having sex with an 18 year old, and the politicians who want their votes.
I do not believe that most of the things that society tells us are dangerous to our children are ACTUALLY dangerous.
But I do believe that this is a danger to our children.
The article does, however, leave out the mention of the exact same thing happening to a young woman who is involved with a younger “boy”. (and by “boy” I mean 17 years or so.)
It takes two, one a young lady seeking an older guy or someone in power (either a gold digger or for bragging rights) and a guy to give into the advances. As the letter states, the guy usually gets the short end of the deal.
I’ve seen firsthand some young women trying to see if they can attract an older guy. I worked in a nightclub in my 40’s and had many women in their 20’s (legal drinking age) only interested in one thing from me until they realized that I seldom dated anyone even of my own age. No need to get into the details of how they let their intentions be known. If they had the same attitudes 5 years earlier, for a guy to give in would be a criminal matter. An example is the big mess that happened a few years ago when a politician didn’t resist an intern. I heard reports that she was the one that flashed this powerful person with her thong underware before the incident.
What a load of misogynist tripe. I cannot believe this letter-writer is blaming the girls for the actions of the criminals.
I donÂ´t care how “tempting”, how “precocious” the child is, it is still the adultÂ´s responsibility not to rape her. And it is rape. Children cannot consent to sex. The older man is the one with the experience and the power to not get involved. I donÂ´t care how she dresses, whether she flashes a thong at him, or explicitly propositions him. He can exercise some self control and walk away. And how are a parent’s actions (or supposed condoning of sex with their child) at all relevant? We donÂ´t allow parents to pimp out their children, or consent on behalf of their children, for good reason.
And no, it doesnÂ´t matter how great youÂ´ve been in the other aspects of your life, and it shouldnÂ´t. If you rape a girl, you are a rapist.
I read this site and practice (or plan to practice, when my daughter is older) many tenets of free-range parenting in part because I think parental attention and worry is misplaced. I am much less worried about the near-mythical stranger kidnapper and much more worried about the much more common over-friendly uncles and creepy older boys who hang around with much younger girls because they canÂ´t get the attentions of anyone their own age. However, it seems that Lenore and I are in disagreement about this, so perhaps I will have to find a different group of people who share my views.
I’m a Norwegian who nurtures a long distance love of America. I love your country because of your founding fathers and the constitution that has served as an inspiration for the constitutions of all other western democracies, like the Norwegian of 1814. I love America for the idea that everyone is entitled to his or her liberty, the entrepreneurial spirit your country is founded on. I have only visited your country once, but as soon as our six month old son is a little older we will surely be back.
My love for the US makes me interested in what’s stirring over there, and because of that I follow American news and blogs quite keenly. Frankly, from time to time I get scared for the “adopted” country I love. The registration of sex offenders and “sex offenders” alike is one of the things that scares me. The total moral panic that has your lawmakers adopt the one Orwellian measure after the other is one of the most destructive forces that jeopardizes your liberties and has the rest of the western word shake their heads in disbelief.
I can not disagree more with your interpretation of the letter quoted in this blog post. I can not for my dear life see how it is a misogynistic attack on the girls in question or their mothers. Neither can I see how it can be seen as condoning neither rape nor older men taking advantage of younger, vulnerable girls. I interpret it as an attack on the same thing that scare the bejeezes out of me that is happening in the US right now: The criminalization of kids doing with other kids what kids always have been doing and always will be doing. When a 17 year old boy who has consentual sex with his 15 years old girlfriend is not a criminal, and he is not a rapist. He’s just a kid who explores one of the beautiful joys of life with the girlfriend he loves, a girlfriend that is of the same mental maturity as he, and who is not only able to consent but should also, more importantly, not be turned into a victim by overzealous bureaucrats, power hungry politicians eager to score cheap points, and parents scared by the fearmongering of the above mentioned through media that more than willingly clears their first pages for the next horror story.
Kids are arrested, prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned for having sex with their girlfriends of about the same age. And not only are they imprisoned, when they get out their lives are ruined by being registered in the databases of sex offenders, having their lives and liberty destroyed for ever by all the regulations of how a registered sex offender can live his or her life. No one is served by the numerous miscarriages of justice that victimizes both the alleged perpetrators and the alleged victims. They are both traumatized and victimized for life for the sake of good intentions gone awry.
Look, Dr. Confused, we are talking here about 19 year old guys with 17 year old girls in many many many cases. That is not, I’m sorry, rape. That is consensual sex. The age of consent in this country alone ranges from 14 in some states to 18 in others.
When my daughter got pregnant at 15, we got a call from the sex crimes division of our local police department. This occurred after her first prenatal exam. Mandatory reporting you see. She had gotten pregnant by her 16 year old boyfriend. If he’d been 18, there’d have been nothing anyone could have done to prevent his prosecution. Forget how long they’d been dating, forget that she was absolutely capable of consent with a boy that age. Now, if there’d been some creepy 25 year old… yeah, okay. But these cases, the ones that the letter writer is referring to, are those cases in which a young man, maybe even 20 with a 17 year old girlfriend, becomes a criminal simply for having a 17 year old girlfriend.
And consider this scenario as well. If a couple of kids are dating in high school in an 18-age state, even if they’ve been dating since 14 and 16, the moment that boy turns 18, he’s a criminal, because now he’s an adult dating a child.
Of course, let’s not forget that young men can also get placed on the sex offenders list for urinating in public. Obviously this affects more young men than young women, because the young men are far more likely to pee outdoors, but also because we are much more threatened by penises than we are by vaginas.
Poor kids. As the mother of sons, the grandmother of a boy, and the older sister of a guy to whom this could easily have happened (they’ve been married 7 years and 2 kids now, but there was a minute when her dad was quite a threat), I know how easily something totally non-problematic can cause tremendous, lifelong problems for a guy. and it is truly out of proportion to most of their actions.
I am still thinking about your comment and may respond in more length, but I found it interesting you assumed I am American. I am not, nor am I living in America. IÂ´m living in Europe.
I apologize for making assumptions about your nationality. 😉
What is the age of consent where you live, Dr. Confused? This may explain your confusion. The way we treat sex here is not exactly the norm, in my understanding, in Europe. Thus, you might have automatically read ‘young man’ as someone in his 20s, and young woman or girl as someone, say, about 13. But this is America, and we are talking about 17 year old girls with 19 year old guys. Sex here is, you know, horrifying, and dangerous, so much so that in some school districts (Texas comes to mind) teachers aren’t allowed to discuss sex at all, no sex ed, no answering direct questions from students outside of class, or risk loss of job. Sex is for marriage, and marriage should be delayed until the late 20s. Now to me, this seems about as unrealistic as one can possibly get. Don’t get married until you’re almost 30, and don’t have sex until you’re married. Extension of childhood gone horribly, horribly awry. Teens, as Marius noted, have been attracted to and sexual with one another for centuries. No legislation will stop them. But legislation can destroy their lives when someone takes offense.
Anyway, your response make waaaaaaaay more sense to me now that I know you’re not from America. I assumed that as well. Probably because it’s a blog written in America by an American about largely American issues. Often non-Americans will start a letter with, “Here in ____________ where I live…” which helps to clarify the different perspective the issue being viewed from.
The fact that we assume a 17-year-old girl cannot consent to sex is bizarre, if you look at biology or history. (And I say this as the nervous father of a 16-year-old girl.) But it is consistent with everything else about the way we treat minors. An 18-year-old man can be drafted, but cannot order a beer. A 15-year-old cannot drive, but a 90-year-old can. (Look up the accident stats on that one.) In general, a 15-year-old in this country has the same legal status as a 2-year-old has, or as a woman had hundreds of years ago: loved, coddled, and protected, but never trusted to make any decision of any kind.
I never thought about it before, but I could have been “that girl”. When I was 17 I briefly dated a guy who was 22. It’s hard to convince teenagers their hormones can destroy someone’s life, possibly their own, even if they do use protection.
I agree with what Marius said.
It’s right here that we see a huge difference in mindsets between Europe and our American cousins. In Europe, youths under 18 are by no means seen as children, but more as “adults in training”, although attempts have been made by overzealous lawmakers on EU and member states levels to infantilize young people and strip them of their sexual rights under the pretense of ostensibly fighting “child abuse”. But the interesting thing over here is, while the people agree more and more that child abuse, including sexual abuse, is an issue that needs to be addressed and dealt with, it is understood that there is a big difference between actual children below the age of consent who should rightly be protected from all and any sexual advances, and youths who are discovering their own sexuality.
In most European countries, the majority would never really question the wisdom of consensual relationships between youths and young adults as a concept in and of itself. There are of course still perceived limits as to how big the age difference should be in order for a relationship to be “appropriate”, and a 28-year-old dating a 16-year-old would (more often than not) be greatly frowned upon by most friends and family. But it wouldn’t be illegal, it would just be stigmatized by everybody involved as a very bad idea. Not something that’s worth sending somebody to prison for. And in practice, the image of the middle-aged sexual predator seeking to corrupt the virtue of 16-year-old (sic!) “children” is almost non-existent, nor is it used as an excuse to make sexual relations between kids above the age of consent (which is 14 to 16 in almost all of Europe!) and young adults who are just slightly above 18, the age of majority, completely illegal. I am sure that any initiatives by lawmakers to that end would ultimately not meet the public’s approval. Because over here, it is a no-brainer that youths have urges, that they have a right to act on those urges, and that that can often happen with somebody just slightly (!!) older than themselves. So why criminalize it?
On the whole issue of teenage sexuality on both sides of the Atlantic, there is a very insightful research paper by Amy Schalet called “Must We Fear Adolescent Sexuality?”, published in 2004, which highlights these differences in attitudes between the U.S. and in this case the Netherlands very well.
If you look here:
Whoa, what a load of crap! It’s not always some poor, innocent man being seduced by a conniving young whore. When I was a teenager, older men often hit on me. I never invited it, and I never wanted an older man. Yet they were often extremely persistent and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Sometimes it bordered on sexual harassment. The same thing happened to all my friends. I wasn’t a gold digger, and I didn’t want bragging rights. I actually thought it was disgusting and shameful to date a man that much older than me. Are you gonna blame me for being young and attractive, and forcing those men to “give in” and hit on me? Should I have worn a burqa so that they wouldn’t be tempted?
There but for the grace of the angels go I.
My husband of almost 15 years and I started dating when I was 19 and he was 30. We have been together since 1991, have two kids and the whole nine yards. But just a couple of years earlier, our relationship would have been a crime. I don’t believe I changed that much between 17 and 19. A ‘grownup’ switch didn’t come on at 18 making me instantly a mature adult. It was a gradual process. I made a conscious decision to enter into a relationship. How is it that I would be competent to make that decision on my birthday, but incompetent the day before?
Yes, there needs to be some laws to prevent exploitation of young kids. But there has to be some common sense as well. And there has to be recognition that some teens do consent to sex, regardless of their ages.
One of the problems I see with our (American) laws, and our society, in general, is that they’re confusing and contradictory as hell regarding what age is actually considered an “adult.” What makes a person an adult in our society? Is it the ability to pay taxes? Is it the ability to vote or join the military?
In restaurants, 10 or 12 is usually the cutoff for “kid’s meals,” when the restaurant has an age restriction.
You’re allowed to work certain (non-farm, non-hazardous), taxable jobs from age 14 (federal law), and can work more jobs for longer hours from 16. (Federal laws don’t require “working papers” from the teen’s school, but many states do have this requirement for anyone under 18. As one who was in college, on my own, for four months before I turned 18 and needed a job to pay rent while living in a state that required working papers for anyone under 18, this little gap in the system made getting a job in that time….interesting, to say the least.)
You can get your driver’s permit from as young as 15 (exact age varies by state), and your license at 16.
You can get into/buy an R rated movie or buy an M rated game at 17.
You can gamble, buy cigarettes, sign legally binding contracts, vote, and join the army at 18.
You can buy alcohol (and legally drink) at 21 (yep, you can pay taxes, and even die for your county long before you’re ever able to legally have some booze).
You’re considered an independent by default on things like college financial aid at 24 (prior to that, it requires several other qualifications, such as marriage, to be considered independent). Your car insurance rates are also likely to drop significantly after you turn 24.
That’s a 14 year range in which a person may or may not be considered an “adult,” or at least old enough to be “trusted” by society with certain responsibilities. To some extent, I don’t mind this sort of progressive advancement, but one of the things I find massively contradictory is that a 14 year old is mature enough in the eyes of the government to have a taxable job outside the home (and can even work FULL TIME during the summer), making them a TAX-PAYING MEMBER OF SOCIETY, yet from 14 until the day they turn 18, they’re considered not competent enough to make an informed decision about who they have consensual sex with. To make matters worse, some states even have legislation in place that anyone under 15 or so is automatically a “no fly zone” regarding sex for ANYONE, even a 16 year old. In those states, then, at 14 and 15, they are old enough to work, but are the ultimate jail bait.
What makes things even more fun is that high school graduates who are under the age of 18 are able to go to college and thereby live and work (if they can get a job) away from home, but yet are still considered “children” when it comes to whether or not they can consent to sex.
Yesterday I went to check on a sex offender in my area who was just such as case as described here. The “victim” is now his wife and they have three children. The husband recently lost his job (again) because the company for which he was working found out about his past. While the company had done only a seven (7) year background check, when they discovered he was a sex offender they gave him an ultimatum: Quit or be fired. He was smart enough not to quit because this would have disqualified him from unemployment benefits.
Meanwhile this man’s wife is working two jobs to make ends meet. The true crime here is that had this young man been convicted of murder, he would have passed the same seven-year background check and nothing further would ever have been said. Political pressure due to the sex offender registry is keeping these people on the border of poverty. Their children have been badgered about their father’s registration, and in one case, the son was assaulted by classmates who (if I understand the story correctly) think that being a sex offender is somehow hereditary.
Am I wrong to be ashamed of this country yet?
Dragonwolf: Add to that criminal responsibility.
A “child” under 18 can be sentenced to life in prison, and that has happened numerous times in the U.S. in the last few decades, and before there was a certain U.S. Supreme Court ruling, minors could even be sentenced to death and executed before their 18th birthday.
So you can pretty much be treated like an adult when you commit a crime, but apparently you’re still an incompetent child and unable to consent when it comes to exploring your sexuality as a teenager. Go figure.
The sex offender registry lists lack any credibility, precisely because people are being labeled as predators when all they’ve been are normal teenagers at some point in their life.
People in glass houses.
After all, who among us didn’t make a few regrettable decisions as teenagers?
I agree with the original letter, but I also agree with catgirl. So many men feel entitled to approach young girls (our ages aren’t stamped on our foreheads) and when I was young, the social conditioning made it very, very hard to say, “Buzz off, geezer.” As a young adult traveling alone, I had men grab teh airplane seat next to me and spend the whole flight trying to buy me drinks, basically using me as an unwilling distraction for the long flights. I finally wised up when I realized nothing short of behavior that would earn me the name “bitch” would discourage them. So I became a bitch, instead of “keeping sweet” and “respecting my elders.”
I hope that dynamic is changing — that girls feel better about saying, “leave me alone” and men don’t feel entitled to have their advances entertained politely.
Both men and women can be sexually inappropriate. The original letter does not imply inappropriate behavior on anyone’s part. The US is messed up regarding such things. I read about a case in which two 17 year old were having sex, but could not be prosecuted because they were both underage. Then they found that the couple had texted nude pictures of themselves to each other, and the wise state of Florida *prosecuted them for child pornography.* O_o
My mom knows a boy who is in this exact situation, he is 19 but still in high school and was dating a girl a couple of years younger, with her parents permission. Later on the parents apparently got mad and filed charges. What makes it even more complicated is his IQ is low, but not quite low enough that you would notice just upon meeting him, but low enough to make his choices suspect.
So now he is facing being a registered sex offender and jail time for something I can in no way see as a crime.
Women, including young women, need to take responsibilitiy for their own choices.
This means decriminalizing consensual sex in adolescents and simultaneously providing sufficient education for them to make informed choices.
The contradiction, in American culture, in the messages we send and receive about sex, and our expectations for individual chastity are absurd and embarassing.
Non-consensual sex should be prosecuted, as should acts with youngsters (pre-teens). But, young men shouldn’t bear the brunt of punishment for consensual acts – in fact they should be perhaps chastised for making poor choices, but not punished at all.
I don’t think the lette is misogynistic because it is specifically addressed to young men. If the writer had talked to her audience as if they were perverts, she would have lost her audience, since few people (particularly of that age) think of themselves as perverts. She’s saying that this canbe a problem for any boy, including the innocent.
If she had written a letter to young women, then she would have talked about the dangers of older men, and probably wouldn’t’ve accused them of being temptresses or whatever.
When I was a freshman in college, I clearly remember not romantically pursuing a young woman (who is now my wife) in the initial stages of our relationship; emails I wrote to her, which I have saved and which show constant flirtation, say otherwise! I think at that age it can be hard to tell what one is doing, and two kids could end up having sex without either feeling as if they are doing the instigating.
While I don’t agree with the tone of the letter, I try to see the positive out of it.
I never had an interest in older men, I only dated teenagers my own age or a grade above. I always thought it was creepy when I became legal at 18 when older men above typical college age (18-23) approached me. What could we have in common?
Yes, young women not of age can be manipulative in relationships. One way it happens is dating older men. Young men need to be on alert and be responsible for their actions, which is to step away.
When young women start dating, it is so important to have independence. In a beginning of a potential relationship have an ’emergency exit’. When you are in a boy’s car or in a boy’s dorm room, a woman may not have control of the situation if things happen to go bad. Even if he’s offering the date, you drive. even if he wants to see you after class, let your roommates hang out with the both of you.
There’s a difference between prudish and prudent.
Does this get covered in sex ed?
Boys who are seniors (17 or 18) in high school date girls who are sophomores (15) or juniors (16) because “girls your own age” are either dating college boys or guys who went from high school straight into the job market. That’s the way it was when my parents were in high school in the late 40s; that’s the way it was when I was in high school in the mid-70s, and apparently it’s still the same today. Looking back thru the mists of time to my senior year, I cannot think of a single guy in my class who had a semi-permanent relationship with a girl classmate. Hook-ups resulting in marrige at class reunions, yes, but in school… older boys date younger girls.
Lihtox got it right. The sad fact is that, though women are still held up as innocent and pure, they can be just as, if not more, malicious and manipulative than any “older man”. Despite the fact that everyone on the face of the earth knows this (except for a select few morons, of course), men are overwhelmingly the ones who get punished for “sexual crimes”. Take a look at the difference in social stigma for teachers who screw their students.
Men: PEDOPHILE! PUT HIM IN JAIL NOW!
Women: What a lucky little brat that was.
This standard might be changing, but that won’t solve the problem, and this will still need to be addressed to boys until we rid ourselves of the registry entirely.
One of my long-time friends started dating her future-husband (wedding is in January 2011) when she was 16 and he was 21. I’ve known her for a while, a very sweet girl, and she really loves the guy. One irritated mother, however, and she could be looking forward to be marrying a sex offender (or losing her long-time boyfriend to prison).
It is not unrealistic to expect people to save sex for marriage. My husband and I were both virgins on our wedding night. We’re of the younger generation, too -I’ 26 and my husband is 28. We know many, many people – friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents – who have also saved themselves for marriage in their 20s.
Do I have any regrets? Heck no! Never ever have I ever had to worry about sex offender registries, teen pregnancies, stds, or the weird love triangles you see on TV.
To say “it’s unrealistic to expect teens not to have sex” is selling humanity short. Human beings are capable of self-control. What is so good about teens having sex that we’re not doing more to stop it? My friends from high school who chose to be sexually active in their teens experienced some serious depression and all kinds of emotional turmoil. In some cases this has affected their ability to form healthy adult relationships. That is real harm.
Isn’t free-range parenting all about teaching our children how to protect themselves? When 15-year-olds have sex they are just opening the door to a lot of feelings and that they are not ready for. Isn’t “They’re going to do it anyway” a horrible failure to teach children what it really means to have sex?
I know my views are going to be highly unpopular in a forum like this one, but this really needs to be said by somebody.
I think the bigger question is how can we get out of this zero-tolerance law? Is it so broad (no pun intended) that it is useless EXEMPT to ruin people’s lives. Time to fire a letter off to various folks in power…
Just a side note–In South Dakota, you can legally drive at age 14 years 3 months. Full permit during daylight hours or to/from work or school. When I was 14, it was the day you turned 14. I took driver’s ed before my b-day, so was driving when I was 13 (with the instructor of course).
You exhibit the exact black and white thinking mentioned in the article. Try this experiment: One day before his birthday, a 17 year old boy has sex with his 16 year old girlfriend. No crime.
One day passes. He’s now 18. They have sex again. What happens?
Arrest for statutory rape, jail time, registration as a convicted sex offender, affecting him for the rest of his life.
Is he a sex offender? No, he’s a normal teenager, bubbling with hormones.
The situation is unlikely to ever change. What politician will say “I’m standing up for the rights of convicted sex offenders to live freely in YOUR neighborhood”? Bashing sex crimes, even made-up ones, gets votes.
When I was just 17 I started dating a guy who was 26. We actually got to know each other before I turned 17. I never snuck around with him, in fact I had him over for dinner to meet my parents. Of course, at first my father was TOTALLY against it, but agreed to meet him and give him a chance, and the guy totally won him over. We ended up dating for two years, and up until my husband was by far the healthiest relationship I managed to get into for a LONG time after that. I’m very thankful my parents were willing to get to know the person and not just react to his age, because I would have missed out on something really good if they had just said no, he’s too old.
I’m not quite positive what the age of consent was at the time, but whether I was just under it or just over it, there is no question whether I was able to make my own decisions.
I am not writing all this to say that it is never the case that older men prey on younger women, or that younger women never oversexualize themselves to grab onto an older guy, just that sometimes the relationship is actually quite honest and caring and loving and HEALTHY, despite the age gap. I am about to have a daughter in a few weeks, and I hope that when she is older if she presents me with a similar situation I am able to approach it as calmly and reasonably as my parents did, and I am able to see her for who she is and where she is maturity-wise rather than just seeing numbers.
I have to confess: I was the victim of a sex crime.
When I was 17, a 26 year-old pursued me, and enticed me into having sexual relations. Obviously, this individual should be convicted, sent to jail, and be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life, with all the restrictions that go with that. Right?
Now let me give you the rest of the story–I am a male (which, for most folks who would have otherwise agreed with the above statement, changes it entirely, of course). And I was in the US Army at the time. And I never told her my age–she assumed I was older based on my looks, my demeanor, and the fact that I was a soldier. And, most important, it was entirely consensual.
Furthermore, it was known by a large number of government employees that this relationship was going on–I was in advanced training in the Army, and my Drill Instructors, Commanding Officer, and the other men in my company knew about it–because she would drive in to pick me up after final formation every day.
By the law, I was the victim of a sex crime at the same time the US Government considered me adult enough to hand me a rifle and tell me to shoot at foreigners.
There is definitely something wrong here.
The issue is not whether in the abstract a 16 year old can consent or whose fault it is if the sex occurs – the issue is why the is the State involved in a teenager’s love life? This is the realm of the family; the gov’t needs to stay the heck out of it.
Personally, as someone whose parents gave him way too much freedom in this area at much too young of an age, I hope that my children will realize the having sex with your teenage love is not a very healthy thing and (in my view) immoral. But if they don’t, if they reject my thinking and the beliefs I hope to instill in them – they should not be criminalized or turn into victims by an overreaching Big Brother Gov’t. We donâ€™t have to criminalize everything we find distasteful or harmful.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with marrying your teenage love, if both are pretty much level headed. Being a teenager doesn’t have to be a reckless decade of experimentation. The reason why teens are so immature and infantile not to handle a sexual relationship, is maybe because we babied them too much. I understand financially it is impossible to be self-sufficient, with the need for post- high school education. But maybe we can change the trend.
Could college campuses make it easier for undergraduates to be married? Rather then just passing condoms and the morning after pill for hooking up? Why should students be penalized for being married in some respects. For example it is great you can be on your parents healthcare up to the age of 26, while a student, you can’t if you happen to marry. Why are we inadvertently treating young adults (including teenagers) like kids. Everyone should buy it through the college, if you’re a student. Just like 18 year oldswho are not in school full-time have to be ‘an adult’ and get it themselves.
I know the idea of young adults having children bothers people, but it shouldn’t have to be. Biologically speaking if one is past puberty, then they should have access to the skills and support to be a stable family without threats of withholding traditional emotional/financial support from family and society.
Our educational system needs to be more open and transitional to true human development into maturity.
@ Renee – I did not mean to give the impression that young people should not marry. I was thinking of sex outside of marriage when I wrote my post. I was married and had my first child fairly young by today’s standards (22). And, I agree there is no reason that two level headed young folks should not get married. My folks were 18 and 19 when they married.
That said – even if my kids were mature enough to handled a sexual realtionship when they are in their teenage years, I will not be supportive of it for other (moral and religous) reasons.
@Dr. Confused — please read the letter again. This isn’t about rape, and it isn’t about 25-year-olds seducing 12-year-olds. It’s about 18- or 19-year-old boys having consensual sex with 16- or 17-year-old girls. Whether or not you think that’s a good idea, or Morally Right, or whatever, I don’t see how you can read it as criminal behaviour. To do so is to infantilize young women who are perfectly capable of consenting (or not consenting) to sex, and to criminalize young men who may in fact be behaving very responsibly.
@Beth — I don’t doubt that you know women who had sex as teenagers and “experienced all kinds of emotional turmoil.” So did I. However, correlation does not equal causation, and the plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” And I know equally many women (myself included) who did not have sex as teenagers (well, okay, I had some sex as a teenager, but not until university when my husband and I started dating; I was almost 19) and nevertheless experienced depression, emotional turmoil, etc. The emotional turmoil of adolescence isn’t caused by having sex (or, for that matter, by not having sex); it’s caused by, well, being adolescent. It’s just an angsty age. I assure you that I could not possibly have experienced more emotional turmoil in connection with my Grade 11 boyfriend, for example, if we had been sleeping together. By contrast, one of my friends who was sleeping with her boyfriend that year (and with the same boyfriend the next year) was happier and more well-adjusted than I’d ever seen her before — and happier and more well-adjusted than I ever saw her in any later relationship until she met the guy who’s now her husband. I say all of this not in an attempt to counter your anecdotal evidence with my anecdotal evidence — that would be stupid — but simply to show that alternative explanations of that evidence are possible.
What my mom told me about sex, and what I intend to tell my daughter, is that when you decide to have sex with someone, you need to be sure you’re making that decision for the right reasons — because this is someone you like, someone you trust, someone you love, someone with whom you can be yourself, who respects you and whom you respect — and not for any of the many, many wrong reasons (including but not limited to peer pressure, having had too much to drink, fearing s/he won’t love you anymore if you don’t put out, just wanting to get it over with, and feeling like you’re the only one who hasn’t done it yet). That was good advice — and considerably more practical than “You must save yourself for marriage!” — and I’m glad I followed it.
I’m also glad I’m not currently an American teenager. (And, more to the point, that my husband isn’t: he’s 5 years older than me.) Yeesh.
I don’t really like the tone of the letter in the beginning but it is good information to share.
My two boys will be 18 their whole senior year of high school. It makes me sick to think this could happen if they sleep with their slightly younger girlfriend who would also be in high school. (All very hypothetical, of course).
To those who say they don’t like the “tone” of the letter —
What “tone” are you speaking of? I’m afraid I’m not seeing the same tone in the letter that you’re seeing.
This is what confuses me: If the family of the girl is completely â€œokayâ€ with their relationship, and even lets him spend the night, what sent her family from being completely â€œokayâ€ to being in such a rage that they were having him arrested and vandalizing the young manâ€™s familyâ€™s cars? When youâ€™re keying a guyâ€™s car and calling the cops on him, it doesnâ€™t sound like youâ€™re â€œokayâ€ with his relationship with your daughter. I feel like something is being left out of this sad report of a young man somehow ending up arrested, tried, and convicted of statutory rape despite being a swell guy in a relationship with a willing girl of willing parents. And I do get rankled when mamas who haven’t raised their boys to really respect women blame the evil seductress for their oh-so-good-boy’s bawdy behavior (and this letter did kind of have a hint or two of that).
Iâ€™m sure wrongs do happen occasionally with the sex offender list, and I donâ€™t think they should (more on that latter). But there are plenty of 20 year olds having sex with 17 year olds who do NOT end up on a sex offenders list. My guess is that, in *most* cases (again, I’m sure there are some wrongs), they are doing something much differently than the ones who do end up there.
I would like to note that many people keep using an 18 year olds having sex with a 17 year old or a 16 year old with a 15 year olds as examples of statutory rape. This is not usually so. Most state statutory rape laws *also* require at least a three year age spread between the two people involved. (Not that thatâ€™s necessarily rational either.)
To prevent the wrongs that do occur, the sex offenders registry probably shouldnâ€™t exist at all. People who are truly dangerous sex offenders â€“ repeat pedophiles, violent rapists, etc. â€“ should simply be either locked up for life or killed. Consensual sex should be the responsibility of the individuals involved, and not the state. Sexual midemeanors should not carry a life sentence (to one’s reputation). Questions of consent may be decided on a case by case basis by courts of law, and age difference can be one factor argued the case, but it should not be an automatic violation of law.
Both my older sister and I had relationships with older males when we were underage, but with VERY different circumstances.
My sister was a 15 year old runaway who had sex with a 28 year old man. That man should be in prison, but he is not. He is daily making my sister’s life hell and ruining their children, the first of which she had when she was 16.
I, on the other hand, met my now husband when I was 14 and he was 17 and we were best friends. We started dating long distance when I was 16 and he was 19. We had sex when I was 17 which would have made him 20 and according to the government, a sex offender. Regardless of the fact that we loved and respected each other and were engaged to be married.
The law would have helped protect my sister, but it would have ruined me and the man I love. There just needs to be some common sense that goes with these laws.
This subject has been on many discussion boards lately, and the conversation always turns to whether or not teens should be having sex. It’s very frustrating. Let me start by stating that age of consent laws are a good thing. It’s GOOD to discourage 18 year olds from having sexual relations with 16 year olds. The problem is the punishment! The sex offender registry is easily the worst punishment a person can get short of life in prison without the possibilty of parole. In some ways, maybe it is worse. And this terrible, terrible punishment is handed out for ANY CRIME INVOLVING SEX, no matter how insignificant. A person can be a violent thug or a thief, and after serving their probation, they are allowed to life their lives. But if the crime has anything to do with sex, it is acceptible to ruin the entire life of the criminal. If every person reading this can’t see how utterly insane this is, I just need to bash my head in the wall.
So you see, I’m not saying that all laws regarding statutory rape should be repealed. For that matter, I also am glad that public urination is illegal (gross!) but it should not qualify a person as a sex offender. If the sex offender registry should exist (which I’m even starting to doubt), then it should have only one requirement: Is this person someone who I should be afraid to live next door to me? And in the case of consentual teen sex, the answer would be no.
I agree teens shouldn’t have sex. And I also think you should wait for marriage. But the fact is everyone makes their own choices and it is the parent’s job to make sure your kids make informed decisions. I completely plan on telling my kids to wait for marriage to have sex. But I also plan to have a “sex talk” with them, to go over safe sex.
I have a 30 year-old friend who “Just didn’t want to die a virgin,” so she slept with a buddy and got pregnant. Now she’s a struggling single mom because she didn’t have the common sense to get out a condom.
I completely plan on talking to my kids about this problem. If they have sex, they BETTER be using protection. They will know about STD’s, what happens when you get pregnant, all that stuff. They need to know the consequences of their choices.
It’s just sad that now my “Sex Talk” will have to include, “And if you have sex with someone older/younger than you, even if you love that person and they love you, they *could* go to jail. So WAIT!”
One other thing. I know a girl who just turned 16. She’s dating a 19 year-old, and she started asking me stuff like, “Is it ok for us to go on dates, if we have a note from my mom?” Her family knows this kid and loves him and they’re all trying to figure out a way that they can be seen in public without him being a sex offender.
Many states carve out an exemption for teenagers (e.g. a 19 year old and a 17 year old). Also, the age of consent is usually younger than 18 (as low as 14). So that there is usually not a huge problem with teens close in age having relationships with each other.
Also, the law should recognize that there is a HUGE difference at puberty. No one should be allowed to have sexual relations with a prepubescent child. The states that have a 14 year age of consent recognize this a bit. But since people reach puberty at different ages, it’s hard to put a hard and fast rule on puberty.
I taught a sex – ed class to a group of 5th and 6th graders. It was an eye opening experience. Some of them looked like large children. Some looked like small adults. There was no correlation between physical appearance and maturity of thought. Any older teen or adult who gets involved with someone of that age is a danger to other children.
On the other hand, it is very difficult to tell some 16 year olds from 20 year olds. Many are in a hurry to grow up and are flexing their sexual identities. They recognize that their youth brings hotness (for both male and female, but honestly, more for females). They push boundaries, they try on their adult identities. That’s what teens do.
I like the tone of the letter in the way it addresses boys and young men. It tells them, in no uncertain terms, that in this country, sexuality can be dangerous. It is incumbent on the male to make extra special sure that before any sexual activity occurs, that his partner has given consent. And that she is legally able to. I will make sure that my son (who is now 10) receives this message loud and clear.
Justice should be balanced and fair in this country. It’s not. As an African American, I see this even more. In spite of the fact that I would love to tell my son that he will always be treated fairly by the law, I can’t. Because if he makes the wrong kind of mistake (having sex with his slightly younger, non-black girlfriend for example) he is likely to have very bad consequences. Unfair, but true.
I think you made a very good point – when we say “they are just going to do it anyway”, we become part of the problem, infantilizing teenagers, treating them like imbeciles enslaved to their hormones instead of responsible young people capable of listening to good advice, utilizing self-control and making smart choices (even if they are not always choices we might agree with).
I say this even though my own history and attitudes to sex are likely very different from yours, and the things I will be telling my daughter about sex and appropriate ways to enjoy it may be different from what you will tell your children. It just so happens that even though I have never been very religious or conservative, I have spent a lot of time among religious, conservative people, and became very good friends with quite a few. So I know many young men and women who waited to have sex until they were in their twenties, usually on their first wedding night, as well as a few who had sex as young teenagers or even preteens. In general, I cannot say that people in the former group are emotionally healthier or happier in their sex life than the latter. They all have their problems, and many in both groups are struggling with the fact that, as adults, their beliefs and natural inclinations are in conflict with the values they internalized when they were teenagers.
What I do know is that, in spite of their lack of experience and the hormones wreaking havoc in their bodies and their brains, many teenagers have a strong moral compass, and are capable of making difficult choices. I also know, from observing my friends and their parents, that what you teach your children about sex (through conversations as well as your own example) can have a strong effect on when and how they become sexually active. The important thing is to respect them as individuals, not little copies of yourself, and know that it is your job to be there for them no matter what
Oh, also: I think the letter writer gets one rather major thing wrong.
A lot of teenage girls — maybe most of them — would rather date older boys than boys their own age, but not necessarily for the reasons adduced. In fact, on average, girls go through puberty earlier than boys do. As girls progress from, say, Grade 4 through Grade 12, the ratio of sex? ewww!!! to wow, that guy/girl is super hot! gradually shifts from 98:2 at age 9 to more like 2:99. For boys, the same process starts a couple of years later. So in Grade 7 or 8, you’ve got at least 75% of girls wearing bras and buying Tampax while at least 75% of boys are still singing treble. Naturally a lot of those girls are going to be looking at Grade 9 and 10 for potential boyfriends — not because they’re gold-diggers or in search of trophy dates, but because many of the boys their own age are still, well, boys.
*As girls progress from, say, Grade 4 through Grade 12, the ratio of sex? ewww!!! to wow, that guy/girl is super hot! gradually shifts from 98:2 at age 9 to more like 2:99 at age 17.
I think it’s absolutely horrifying that a 17,18 or 19-year-old can be considered a “sex offender” for having sex with a 16 year old girl. Bad judgement, maybe, but a sex offender? Teens are wired to have sex for a reason…it is only now that people wait to marry. Way back when, people married at 14 and died at what, 30 or 40? Fortunately, we live longer now, but biologically, we are still wired as if it were the old days. And this country’s sick obsession with sex and repression is so horrid…
The problem is that no one wants to realize that here in America, we arrived as puritans… what does that mean? That somehow, down through the lines, we’ve kept this absurdist notion that sex is only natural if it’s done in wedlock (the age issue has come later). Nevermind looking at human history on the whole and finding out that long ago, there were girls of very dubious ages (sometimes as young as 12) being forced into marriages as women. Do you think their families told them that it was ok to be married but not have sex? Heck no. It was expected. Some countries STILL keep traditional coming of age ceremonies alive – India having some girls at 13 becoming women, Mexico having girls at 15 becoming women (quinceanera anyone?), and right here in the US of A, we have some Native tribes that girls are women at 13.
I had sex with my boyfriend, two years older than me, at 16. That means he was 18 and technically (by the idiotic laws in this country that do not bother to be partial to situations that OBVIOUSLY need it), a sex offender. I didn’t go through any depression outside of the one inflicted by my overly moralistic father – making me believe that the minute a penis touched me outside of wedlock I was a whore that was automatically going to sleep with any guy that asked me (and I’m not making it up). It took me years to figure out that my DAD was the idiot, not me. I am married to the man I had sex with all those years ago, and on the 30th, we’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, and 16 years of being together. I loved him – that was all there was to that. He’s still my best friend and still the ONLY man I’ve ever slept with because I didn’t give in to all the other guys that wanted to get into bed with me… I was strong enough to say no… but I WANTED my boyfriend and when it came time – it wasn’t awkward, but was somehow right.
Had he ended up in jail for it, registered as a sex offender for life… we’d have been devastated. And that’s what this letter is all about. It’s not being nasty to girls, it’s letting guys (who are generally the ones letting their shlongs do the thinking), to really try to use their heads because America has gotten to the point of ridiculous with all its “zero tolerance” garbage. Yes, girls should know how to say no – and as a girl I remember having MANY older guys want to get with me yet I was a kid who was not afraid to say No and Get Lost… thank goodness – my daughter (one of the two children I had with my sex offending husband of 10 years) will know how to do the same.
Here in this country, we don’t look at sex as NATURAL. It is. Now, will I look to prosecute a man who is talking to my 15-year-old daughter and he’s 10 years older than her? If he doesn’t leave her alone until she’s 18, yep. Will I look to prosecute her 18-year-old boyfriend? No. They’ll BOTH get an earload from me, as will his parents regarding the risks of having sex… but I also hope that my daughter is never afraid to demand a condom or ask her mother to take her to the doctor for birth control.
I refuse to be like my father and so many people in America who believe that not talking about it is fine, threatening is fine, sex is unnatural outside of wedlock and before 18, and that you’re either a whore/golddigger – sex offender/pedophile if you have sex with a guy who happens to have turned legal age before you did.
Someone said it well here – girls don’t usually date guys their age because… my lord… they’re idiots! By nature they don’t mature the same rate and it shows. It’s nothing to do with girls wanting to gold dig… hell, they’ve got studies showing the natural tendencies across human history in all areas of the world for a girl to be with an older guy!
I’m sorry, this whole idea of my son being thrown in jail if he happens to be 18 sleeping with his younger girlfriend is very VERY upsetting to me. The idea of my daughter being labeled as a golddigging whore if she likes older guys is VERY upsetting to me. But what is the MOST upsetting to me is the absolute lack of common sense and willingness in this country to see the gray areas in which young people should fall.
To all those who have been spouting off about how it’s still wrong….
Keep in mind that we’re talking about an 18 yo boy with a 16-17 (maybe 15) yo girl. That’s an age difference of a few years. In some states, courts have adopted Romeo and Juliet laws to cover this kind of thing.
Statutory rape is a horrible thing. A boy and a girl a few years apart who have sex just doesn’t sound like a sex crime to me.
The problem is that even if the girl campaigns for the boy, makes the first move, it will be the boy who goes to jail and gets labeled a sex offender. And this labeling is not the basis of committing any crime, but rather on the basis of staying on good terms with the parents (what do you think happens should they break up?) instead of any actual wrong or harm being committed.
It isn’t saying that the girls are ALWAYS to blame, but rather arguing the notion that the girls are NEVER to blame, which is generally how these types of cases end up playing out.
P.S…. we all do realize that the HS Prom was invented in the ’50s to pair students up and encourage them to marry RIGHT OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL so they wouldn’t have premarital sex.
We still have prom, but we don’t generally condone kids getting married before say, 22, and even that’s a stretch.
As a mom of two boys I say thanks to @Sam Caldwell for the story he shared. Now I can provide some context and reinforce that indeed there is a bright legal line that they’ll cross at 18 that they need to be aware of it. Whether that line should be there or not, I have to parent with the facts as they are, not as I want them to be.
I am 36 now, but I distinctly remember knowing quite a few girls in high school who purposely had sex with older guys, told everyone and then, if their parents found out, cried rape. They were alll whores in my opinion and each case needs to be looked at separtely. The sex crime laws are used willy nilly and truly do not apply to every instance.
BTW, I am female not male, so don’t think my comment has to do with hating women.
i just learned the sad story of Hope Wittsell. this blog post gives a valid viewpoint, more valid than what I found in the media:
it’s a different tack on the subject of teens and sexuality, but it is worth considering in this conversation. how are the more conservative attitudes to sex impacting our young citizens? and why does the media chose to exploit the “sexting” angle, when the conversation should be about the demonization of teenager’s sexual awakening?
I don’t get why this is such a big deal. Parents of boys: Teach your sons to get proof of a girl’s age. Period. Know and teach your sons the age of consent and the particular laws in your state. Same thing for parents of girls — if they date younger boys.
Parents of girls: Teach your daughter that the 18 year-old boy (when she is 15) that she just loves soooo much (dripping with sarcasm) will serve jail time, so she needs to stop seeing him.
Parental consent should have NOTHING to do with this. I am involved in Juvenile Court cases where parents have consented to a range of inappropriate and criminal behavior. Doesn’t matter if the parent disagrees with the laws regarding education, age for drinking/smoking, etc. Guess what, a parent allowing a 15 or younger child to date an individual 18 or older will be found, in the Courts I’m familiar with, to have neglected their child and the child will likely be removed from their care — not to mention what will happen to the 18 year old.
Just because a parent is irresponsible enough to allow their child to act in a certain way doesn’t negate the seriousness of the act.
After quickly reviewing most state laws on this subject, 16 is the age of consent in the majority of states. At age 16, many states then have a minimum age for the offender to be. Haven’t seen any state where the 19 year old with the 17 year old will go to jail — but again, I only did a quick review.
I think the laws are appropriate and are in place to protect children (18 and under). But even if you don’t think they are, you should caution your children (not allow them to break the law) and call your state senator or state representative to have the laws changed.
Check out this true story of a young man engaging in consensual sex who is now on a sex offender registry and whose life is now seriously messed up:
Even the girl’s mother says her daughter wasn’t forced — but the girl’s mother was the one who pressed charges.
I had a boyfriend from 14-20 — the same one — who was 5 years older than me. That means I was 14 and he was 19 when we first had sex.
He turned out to be a jerk, but that’s neither here nor there. Nobody pressured me, or persuaded me, or even hinted at me to do anything I didn’t want to do.
That situation is not abnormal. Any teen girl with a lick of sense is going ot have a hard time finding a boy her own age to relate to, because they mature so much more slowly than girls do. Who wants to have sex with somebody who’s still in love with fart jokes? Nobody that I knew.
Of course teens are going to have sex. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sex is a wonderful thing.
America doesn’t have just a love-hate relationship with sex, but with kids. If you travel much, or live in another ocuntry for a while, you’ll see how unhealthy it is compared to the rest of the first world. (England is the only place it is worse. Anti-teenager sounds indeed.)
Turns out, our country isn’t first or best in anything — not freedom, not democracy, not quality of living, not freedom of movement, not education, and certainly not healthcare.
The US isn’t first in anything — except the rate of imprisonment.
In 20-30 years, the rest of the world will (rightly) look at the whole US the way we currently look at the country folk who live their whole lives in Appalachia. Yes, the US will be considered a country of hillbillies. Sickly, imprisoned hillbillies, with guns, preoccupied with nothing but their old family feuds.
This is an issue that has really bothered me for a long time. My neighbors’ children would come home periodically with a flyer with a sex offender’s photo and information on it. The kids would be terrified. I would try to reassure them that these men are not out to get them. In the vast majority of cases they did not molest a little child. It bothers me greatly that the lives of these sex offenders are destroyed beyond imagination.
@ Mike Ruff
Sorry, but I don’t see you as a crime victim. A 17 YO, male or female, who responds positively to the advances of a 26 YO, male or female, is not a “victim,” unless there was force involved, or you were drugged, or the pursuer was someone is a position of authority over you. From what you stated it doesn’t seem any of those circumstances applied in your case.
My best friend from HS was dating a freshman boy when we were seniors. She got pregnant when she was 19 and he was 15. My brother started dating the woman who is now his wife when she was 16 and he was 23. I don’t see either my brother or my friend as rapists or predators, and I don’t see their spouses as victims.
Obviously, some people would.
I agree–I was NOT a victim, and for damn sure, if I hadn’t been fully consenting, nothing would have happened.
What I’m trying to highlight is this:
1) LEGALLY, I was a “victim” and my ladyfriend at the time was a “Criminal.”
2) In the exact same situation, if the sexes had been reversed, all sorts of people–including a number who have commented on this blog, would be horrified and screaming for the arrest, conviction, incarceration, and registration of the “Criminal.” However, since the sexes are what they were, those same people don’t see it as any big deal. Where’s the consistency?
3) LEGALLY, a 17 year old is not an adult in the US–not when the 17 y/o wants to make their own decisions about sex, alcohol, education, employment, living arrangements, etc. However, when it is advantageous some ass with an axe to grind, or some prosecutor who finds it expedient, or for the government when they need another rifleman, that same 17 y/o is an adult. Again, where is the consistency?
Why is it at 17, I was considered competent to make life-and death decisions–literally to decide “shoot or don’t shoot–but incompetent to make the decisions to engage in consensual sex with someone?
SERIOUS thought needs to be given, by all, to what constitutes “competence” and “adulthood” and to age of consent issues.
For example, in what universe does it make sense to set an arbitrary age of consent? Doing so treats competent individuals as if they were incompetent. If we are to make such a thing the rule, then will we be forbidding people of any age to engage in contracts, because some people at that age are incompetent to do so? Drug abuse is a problem amongst adults in their mid 20s to 40s–not in teens, statistically speaking. It is primarily adults in their 40s to 60s who fall for Nigerian Scams. I could go on.
I agree that this is far from a perfect letter.
But those up in arms about the way it “blame[s] the girls for the actions of … criminals” might be interested in a couple of recent US cases — you can read about them (e.g.) here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/07/sexting.busts/index.html.
In the case described, a young couple had been dating for 2 & 1/2 years, or since he was 16 and she was 14, when, after a fight, he (now age 18) sent out a nude photo of her (age 16) (a photo which she had provided to him of her own initiative, as far as I can tell) was convicted of distributing child pornography, and will for life (under current law) be registered as a sex offender. Now I’m not impressed by his behavior (or hers), but neither would I liken it to rape.
(In another case mentioned, a 15-year old girl is being charged, having circulated photos of herself wearing a training bra when she was 12. The only man who might be taking advantage of the girl involved in that case is the DA who is charging her.)
The article is over-the-top and makes some sloppy mistakes, but ultimately raises an important point, which is that technical statutory rape is qualitatively different to other crimes that will get you on the registry (note that I wrote “technical”, by which I mean, the only thing that makes it rape is the birthdays of the participants).
The registering of these boys and girls as sex offenders ultimately dilutes the usefulness of the registries, and also ruins the lives of otherwise upstanding young people who should not, in my opinion, be considered sex criminals.
(And to clarify, I am not talking about rape-plus-statutory-rape, or grown men having sex with teens, but that gray area in which two older adolescents, of oh, fifteen to twenty-five, commit a crime. And I do maintain that a seventeen-year-old girl is able to consent to sex. That’s why if she has sex with another seventeen-year-old, it’s not rape.)
I’ll have to keep this editorial until my son is old enough to date. Thanks!
I work in the criminal justice field and 18 yr olds being prosecuted for sex with their 15 year old girlfriends happens all the time. I currently have a case of a boy who had sex with a girl (after SHE crawled into HIS window late a night) in the same grade as him. Turns out he was behind; she was advanced. Prosecution often happens without the consent or, even participation, of ANY of the parties – “victim” or her parents. Most common scenario that I see – boy and girl date with consent of parents, boy and girl have sex, girl gets pregnant, girl files for government benefits (or child support), girl must reveal name of father to get said benefits, government reports boy to prosecutor, forced DNA test proves boy is the baby’s father, boy goes to prison, nobody happy.
There is a somewhat of an exclusion for those less than 3 years apart. In my state, it is a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, and does not require registry (for now although that will likely change). But try to get a job with statutory rape on your criminal record, regardless of whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor. It ain’t happening.
Further statutory rape has no defense other than we did not have sex. You cannot argue consent, obviously, but you also can’t argue lack of knowledge of the age of the “victim.” If you have sex with someone under the age of consent in your state, it is statutory rape. It absolutely doesn’t matter that she was drinking at a bar and showed you her very high quality fake ID saying she was over 21 before you slept with her and that you would never in a million years have slept with her had you known she was only 16.
And whoever said that statutory rape laws should exist to discourage teenage sex is smoking crack if she believes that said laws have any effect. I have yet to meet a young person who actually knows what the age of consent in their state is and understands stautory rape laws at all.
To remedy this problem, all statutory rape laws should be repealed. Sexual offenses should require proving lack of consent on the part of a victim. Lack of consent could be shown by the age of the victim, mental ability, aggressor’s position of power over the victim (student/teacher; boss/subordinate) and other things that would fully encompass the possible power differential between the older party and the younger party but would exclude those cases where the younger party was 100% consenting.
I can’t subscribe to this post. Any ideas why? This has never happened before.
@Donna: couldn’t prosecutors simply choose not to prosecute?
@soiazabel: Prosecutors have discretion and can choose not to prosecute any crime they want. Of course prosecutors are elected officials. The second voters hear that “sex criminals” are not being prosecuted in their city, they will probably demand to have the prosecutor impeached and will certainly vote said prosecutor out in the next election. And any opponent running against the incumbant prosecutor will bring this up every chance he or she gets and will manipulate the facts to suit his or her chances of of being elected. So, no, a prosecutor who actually wants to keep prosecuting cannot choose to not prosecute stat rape cases.
Methinks you missed my point. I do not for a moment intend to suggest that teens are incapable of making informed, smart choices or exercising self-control when I said they are going to have sex anyway. In point of fact, I think that we infantalize them by suggesting that they don’t have the ability to make choices about sex, and simply tell them not to do it. Wait. You’re not old enough. Whatever. I think they absolutely have the ability to make wise choices and exercise self-restrain and control. If that’s what they choose to do. I can also attest to the fact that a kid can be given the best best best advice, given strategies for refusing sex, given honest information about the emotional entanglements of sex, and the potential emotional injury of engaging in sex too soon, or too early, or for the wrong reasons, or with the wrong person. The kid can be given all the information in the world about STIs, about early pregnancy, about the importance of knowing a person for a while before becoming sexual. The kid can be provided with every shred of information about, and access to, contraception and disease prevention, instructed on the correct use of condoms, told ‘a condom on every penis every time, no excuses!’, I mean EVERYTHING in the book. Other measures that are statistically shown to reduce early sexual behavior in teens… positive extracurricular activities, ongoing and open conversation… blah blah blah… and if that kid decides he/she is going to have sex with a kid s/he met two weeks ago, and is age 14, nothing on the planet, if s/he is of a particular personality/constitution/mindset, NOTHING Mom and Dad said, nothing teachers said, nothing at all, will stop him/her. If said kid is from a family that moralizes and demonizes premarital, particularly teen, sexual activity, s/he will be less likely to use protection, as that would imply that there was thought and planning, which would make them a bad kid, doing a bad thing.
My point is that they MUST be given all available information, including about the emotional investment (which sex ed doesn’t even touch on, nor does it discuss the pleasure aspect), and then they make their own, informed decisions. Then, if they make the choice to have sex, it is NOT because they are held prisoner, or whatever, by their hormones. It is because they have made that choice, as an empowered human being, deemed able to make choices.
And, I agree totally with another writer who said that the problem is how we demonize sex and sexuality. We send incredibly mixed and confusing messages, and kids just roll their eyes (make up your mind. is it beautiful and good, and healthy, dangerous and evil?) and laugh at our hypocrisy and old-fogeyness.
While you may be perfectly happy having waited until marriage, the reality is that less then 5 percent of folks who wait until later in their 20s to marry will have also waited to have sex. Way less than 5%. Also, the highest divorce rates are in the Bible Belt, due to the expectation that there is no sex before marriage. Thus, many marry young. Thus increasing their chance of divorce. So, when I said it is unrealistic to expect young people to wait, well, data shows that it IS unrealistic. Well over 90% of people will have had sex before marriage, even if they’ve grown up in homes where it is expected that they will not. So, inform! Arm! Educate! Just don’t expect kids to not think for themselves, because they do.
I totally agree that by criminalizing situations of mutual consent we are grossly exaggerating the concept of the sexual offender. When I’ve looked at the sexual offender list (usually because someone emailed me the link with all cap letters imploring me to check and see how many dangerous criminals live frighteningly close to me) I’ve noticed that the majority of them say statutory rape.
I am curious, though. Do people have an opinion on what should be an age of consent? I think most would agree that someone in their 20’s having sexual relations with a 12 year old is criminal, but where is that line where it becomes just two young people exploring love? 14? 15? 16? Is the age spread really the important issue? If a 16 year old has the ability to consent to an 18 year old through a years span rule why would it suddenly be not ok if the young man were 20?
My daughter has been attending community college classes since she was 15 and has been socializing as a high schooler with many teens in the 18-20 year range. I can’t say I didn’t caution her that I would consider the age span a bit broad if she had chosen to date one of her classmates, but criminal, no.
Personally, I don’t think that there should be a specific age of consent, but that it should be based on the relationship of the ages of the involved parties. The “formula” used by my friends in high school and college for whether or not something was “creepy”:
O = older person’s age
Y = younger person’s age
“Y > O / 2 + 7”
That is, take the older age, divide by two, and add seven. If the younger person’s age is less than that figure, then it is “creepy”. Though something like
“Y > O / 3 +10” might fit better.
But even that isn’t quite right. I agree with Donna in that the statutory rape laws should be repealed, and that the “real” rape laws should take into account the power that one person holds over another.
“in their 20â€™s having sexual relations with a 12 year old is criminal, but where is that line where it becomes just two young people exploring love? 14? 15? 16?”
I do think taking the age difference (in years) into account between a minor and an adult is one of the crucial factors. There is no magical formula, of course, and thus statutory rape, like other cases of rape, should be decided on a case by case basis, by a jury of ones peers. Prosecutors should have to prove that some element of coercion, fear, or seduction was used, or that the minor was not capable of informed consent. If there isn’t an automatic violation of law accoridng to age, prosecutors would only bother to prosecute those statutory rape cases that involved some questionable element.
And I would add to the above that sex with anyone who has not undergone puberty should be considered child molestation/rape. But once a young person has undergone puberty, whether or not the behavior is criminal should be decided on a case by case basis.
I do think there is some value in a bright line at the younger end. I understand the puberty thing from a perpetrator = pedophile perspective. But from a victim perspective the differences in maturity that make someone able to comprehend the scope of the decisions they are making and the experience to make those judgments well do not automatically come along with the physical changes.
I favor the age gap approach in general. Large age gaps significantly increase the chance that the younger person can be “duped”. When teens sleep around with their peers they can still get badly hurt, pregnant or catch STIs, but they are at least more likely to be playing on an even field with rules they are as much a creator of as their peers.
Because of the difficulties in prosecuting non-consensual rape I am reluctant to agree that removing the extra protection that statutory rape laws provide younger people is a good idea on balance. I think we would see a significant increase in predatory behavior on the part of a small section of society.
One of the problems is that statutory rape is a charge that covers a very broad range of actions. From fairly dumb but not disastrous decision making to really heinous stuff. And because of the sex offender registration it isn’t possible for a judge to give an appropriate sentence at the lesser end of the scale. Removal of discretion (or abdication/abuse of it in the case of DAs charging) is what leads to such poor outcomes at the moment.
Please note – I’m speaking from a US perspective.
In most states, there must be an age difference of 3 or 4 years before sex between teens is considered statutory rape. In Pennsylvania, where I live, people between the ages of 13 and 16 may have sex with other people between the ages of 13 and 17, and there may not be more than a 4 year difference in their ages. I believe the same is true in most other states.
@ Helen – I agree that many teens who have reached physical puberty may have not the mental development to make great choices. However, the “victim” made the choice, good or bad, to have sex. The boy should not go to prison for that girl’s bad decision. In most stat rape cases, the boy was about as mentally mature as the girl (boys maturing several years after girls).
@Clio – In many states, there must be more than a 3 year difference for felony stat rape. Many states have misd stat rape for less than 3 year difference – referred to as Romeo and Juliet laws. Most would think that a misd is not a big deal but try to get a job with any stat rape on your criminal history.
Bright line tests don’t take into account that some young girls are very mature and some are very immature. At 13, I could make reasonable decisions as to sex but some of my peers couldn’t. Many of those same peers were no better suited emotionally to make that decision at 16. No magic wealth of knowledge enters your brain on your 16th birthday to suddenly make you able to make good decisions. If it did, we would let 16 year-olds vote, reside on their own, join the military, drive (some states yes, some states no), drink and the plethora of other things we don’t let 16 year olds do. Further, I really don’t see how maturity can be determined based on the state that you live in. I don’t think Georgia girls are more mature such that they can consent to sex 2 years earlier than kids in New York. So if my 16 year old has sex with her overage boyfriend in Georgia, no crime. But if they go on a class trip to NYC and have sex, she’s suddenly a victim and he goes to prison?
It also discounts the balance of power between the parties. We had a highly publicized case of a 16-year-old high school student having sex with her 30-year-old teacher. 16 is the age of consent so no crime was committed but that is clearly more wrong than a 15 year-old having sex with her 18 year-old boyfriend by most people’s estimation. But we have bright line rules so no criminal prosecution.
I agree with you completely. No matter what your beliefs about premarital sex and no matter how much hope you put in your own parenting and your teenagers’ common sense it is still VITALLY important to educate them about contraception and STDs.
I am curious about the statistics you cited. The “5% or less” figure would certainly be accurate of most people I know who came from more liberal backgrounds, but it would be very inaccurate for most of my Bible Belt college classmates. Yes, even the ones that waited until their late twenties or later to get married.
I am not saying it is a good thing for everybody. I grew up in a much more liberal environment and made very different choices as an adult. But I still count many of these people among friends. I think that because most of us living in large coastal cities don’t meet this kind of people very often, we forget that they actually make up a sizable percentage of the population, nor are they all rabid religious fundamentalists or sexually repressed.
One only has to look at the cases where adult women are involved with underage males to see the blaring double standard.
I am not advocating relations with underage people but I have noticed that if a 14 yo girl grabs a gun and knocks over a liquor store she is suddenly magically transformed into an adult in the eyes of the law.
If this same girl decided to have sex with a 16 yo boy she is the “innocent victim” of this evil sex offenders desires and the boy is placed on the fast track to the registry.
As our “nanny state” grows further and further away from personal responsibility and our countrymen hand over more and more freedom in the name of security these INSANE cases will keep happening.
All thru our history as a species this same formula is repeated over and over. Add a label or name to a person or group and it is perfectly alright to commit any act or injustice against them regardless of how ridiculous and outrageous the circumstances.
Just listen to any politician or read some of the other blog entries and see how easily people will surrender Constitutional and human rights to punish the “Monsters”.
I have researched these registries and have been unable to find one single case that suggests the registry has actually prevented a crime all I seem to find is “voo doo” claims about how wonderful it all is and how children are safer.
Was Jaycee Lee Dugard saved by the registry? Here was someone under the strictest supervision and he keeps a slave in his yard?
Some states are changing the laws to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act which removes all risk based assessment and places people into tier’s based solely on the crime committed.
Soon the Jaycee rapist will appear on the same tier as the 17 yo that had a 15 yo girlfriend.
As i said soon everyone will personally know someone on this registry and when that happens maybe Anger and Ignorance will give way to common sense.
I’m a junior in high school (yeah, I read parenting blogs– Child Development is bad for my hobbies), and I’m 18. I turn 19 next August, which means that I’ll be 19 as a senior in high school. I have a sexual relationship with my boyfriend of two and a half years, who is nine months younger than me and therefore, 17. In any other state but the one I live in, I am a sex offender. Where I live, the age of consent is 14 if you’re having sex with someone under the age of 21, which I don’t exactly agree with, but it’s better than a cutoff of 18. To legally have consensual sex with someone over the age of 21, the AoC is 18. To whoever said that they have never met a young person capable of understanding age of consent, here I am. I am NOT an idiot, and I am not a criminal. I have given 36 months of my time to this boy who I have supposedly “victimized,” and we love and respect each other intellectually, physically and emotionally.
Now, I don’t believe that sex should ever “just happen,” but sometimes it does. Sometimes a 19 year old high school senior has a 17 year old girlfriend/boyfriend, and sometimes they make a decision that they are not mentally or emotionally capable of handling. Does that make them a criminal? Absolutely not. After all, the boy is now living in fear of the law as well as regretting his decision, and the girl is fraught with guilt. The laws in place criminalize a stupid, harmful decision. They’re both victims of their own poor judgment. These laws don’t discourage teens from having sex. They make teenagers fearful of sex, of their own bodies, of their feelings. They further the stupid Puritan ideals that this country so highly values, the very ideals that make people ignorant of their own anatomy and biology. Sex education in this country is in a very sorry state, and these laws do nothing but enforce the morals that instill fear into the nation’s teenagers.
Instead of cramming prisons full of innocent teenage boys (or girls) who made a regrettable decision, let’s focus on bringing justice to ACTUAL rapists, and jailing the real sex offenders victimizing real children.
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Donna – pretty much none of the legal age limits allow for the fact thaqt some people mature faster than others. The main reason being that there is no good test that accurately tells if someone is mature enough to vote, drive, work a regular job etc. In getting people from childhood to adulthood the law generally recognizes that there are some things that are inappropriate for a kid but appropriate for an adult. Since there isn’t a good way to test whether someone has reached an appropriate level of maturity an age is chosen that balances the responsibilities and freedoms of the issue for that jurisdiction.
Of course it’s imperfect. Legal systems are. The question is whether it’s better or worse than the alternatives. I mainly think age of consent laws are a good protection for children because I don’t think you would get close to the truth of a young person’s level of maturity in a criminal court trial. Thus making reliance on proving a lack of mature consent ineffective in terms of protecting young people from more predatory older people.
You say in any other state but the one you live in, your sexual relationship would be statutory rape- a relationship between an 18 or 19 YO and a 17 YO. That can’t be right. In 39 out of 50 US states, the age of consent is 17 or younger- meaning a 17 YO in those states can consent to sex with a partner of any age. In the other states, the age of consent is 18, but the law in many cases only applies to cases where a certain age gap exists.
The real problem here is the sex offender registries. Most states don’t have any distinguishing details on these lists, meaning that you can end up on them for exposure (taking a leak in public, for example) or statutory rape that falls under R&J guidelines. And you can’t get off of them in most cases, even if later exonerated.
I’d love to see legal distinctions on any list. A Peeping Tom is creepy, sure, but I wouldn’t worry about one the way I’d avoid a pedophile.
Incidentally, one of my brothers unknowingly broke the statutory laws, something his wife discoverred years later when she got a new copy of her birth certificate and found out her parents had forged an earlier year on the copy they’d had to get her into kindergarten earlier. Yup, she married him when she was seventeen and he was twenty. Considering that they’ve been married for what, nineteen years now, it obviously wasn’t an immature decision, but it’s a bit scary to think that under current law, a similar situation could be prosecuted without the will of either party!
There definitely need to be “Romeo and Juliet” clauses. Prosecutors also must not loose perspective when choosing what cases to prosecute.
On the same hand, it is incredibly difficult to prosecute rape cases, period. With teen survivors statutory rape charges are often plea deals- there just wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute a more serious charge. Statutory rape just requires DNA evidence (or video, etc) since the victim cannot consent. More traditional definitions of rape require a heavier burden of proof, and it is rare to have a rape conviction unless another crime (assault, kidnapping, robbery, etc) was committed during the act of rape. He said, she said is what it usually boils down to.
@ Helen: As a criminal defense attorney, I beg to differ on the idea that you can’t get a good read on a young person’s level a maturity in a trial. Outside of the random cases like OJ, juries do generally get it right. I almost never win trials I should lose and lose trials I should win. Juries are surprisingly astute. Yes, the Innocence Project has freed many who were wrongly convicted, but those numbers probably total less than 1 months new cases in my office – in other words are not even a drop in the bucket of cases that are rightly decided by juries every day. Every person wrongly in prison is horrible but to use those few cases as an indication that juries are wrong is like saying your kids should never leave your side because they might get abducted by a pedophile.
The current state of the law of looking at nothing more than dates of birth on a piece of paper certainly doesn’t tell you anything. Actually hearing from the young person’s own mouth what occurred and determining whether you believe that that particular person was mature enough to consent to sex is the only way to determine actual consent. Will you be wrong? Very occasionally you will read the young person incorrectly. Are you wrong about consent when you rely solely on age? Every single day. Which system is better? One that leads to an occasional mistake or one that daily brands innocent people as sex offenders for the rest of their lives, making it impossible for them to go to school or work or attend church or reside where they want.
These cases are not difficult. We’re not talking “he said, she said” scenarios in rape cases that make them extremely hard to prosecute. In these cases, BOTH parties agree that there was consent. Since everybody agrees on just about everything but the state of mind of the “victim” the trial would last about an hour. Truthfully, most would never go to trial but would free the prosecutor up to actually talk to the victim and determine whether he or she believes a crime was committed and act accordingly, rather than simply prosecuting every stat rape case because the law says they have to.
If the penalties weren’t so great, I’d be with you on bright line rules. I have no problem with alcohol laws even knowing that some 18 year olds are more able to drink responsibly than some 21 year olds. The penalty for breaking the law is minimal – a fine and maybe a couple months probation. Same with driving laws and most other age-related laws. The penalties here – substantial prison time and branding as a social leper – are simply way to harsh to rely on nothing more than the dates on a birth certificates of the two parties.
Donna – seems we’re mainly in agreement. I don’t agree with the current penalties and I think they make the current laws unethical in some instances.
In my ideal system I would keep bright line laws and get rid of the sex offender registry and improve the use of discretion. Which may be a bit different from your ideal – but neither of us agree with the scenario painted in the original letter.
@ Beth – we cant all live in utah. Glad that YOUR situation worked out for the better, but you fail to realize we aren’t all you, nor would we want to be.
You say it was easy and virtuous? I say you are deluding yourself.
One note on regional use of ritalin. We were living in Wappingers Falls (near Poughkeepsie), NY. We received many complaints about our son, Mark from his school. They said he was disruptive in class, constantly interrupting the teacher to ask questions and was generally intolerable.
We took him to a psychologist who prescribed ritalin for him. He calmed down in class and the complaints stopped.
Then we transferred to a little town (Plainview) in Minnesota. During the busy time of resettling in a big old farm house, we forgot to refill his prescription. Sure enough we got a call from his teacher the next day. She asked what happened to Mark. The day before (without ridalin) he was really sharp, intelligent, inquisitive and leading class discussions. She said he was so changed and such a delightful student.
So, the moral of the story appears to be that some “teachers” don’t like to bother participating with the students. Would rather the students just shut up and sit there. While other real dedicated teachers are eager to work with their students and have them fully involved.
I guess I should start out by making the disclaimer that I am not from the same side of the Pacific as most posters here, i.e . I am Australian. From the outside looking in I’d like to make two observations, first being that if things had always been everywhere as they are now in the US I’d not be sitting here typing this, given that my grandmother was 16 when she married my 30ish grandfather.
Among my husband’s forebears there are also many examples of young women of 16ish marrying men in their mid to late 20s. This obviously predates the seemingly infinite prolonging of childhood that has occurred since, and 16 year olds were considered pretty much grown up.
The second observation I would make is that, given that what we ‘out here’ know of American culture is what we see in tv shows and the media, the carrying on about teenage sex is nothing short of astounding. Popular US tv shows are little short of indecent in their tone, language, plot and subject matter. How can a culture that produces a tv show called ‘Sex and the City’, for Pete’s sake, go on like pork chops about young people behaving like young people?
@Cathrine: It’s simple, North America was settled by puritans. 🙂
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