Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Double Standards, and Magic Numbers

A friend of mine on the NoR asks the question:
"There is a very pretty young teacher who has been brought up on rape charges for having sex with a 14 year old male student.

We’ve kidded about this at home saying something like, “there is only one word to describe the boy in this case.... LUCKY.”

Some have argued (not necessary here) that if we don’t prosecute the woman in this story that we’re giving the appearance of a double-standard, ie, one set of rules that pertains to young men and sex with an adult female and one for girls with an adult male.

What’s your take?"
Actually I think this is a very important question, that touches on some aspects of our society that are in conflict: Liberty, Responsibility, and Protection

Remember, when our average lifespan was 40, people were frequently married off by 13 or 14. Even as recently as the 1930s it was common to be married by 16. It was only with the era of victorian morality, followed soon after by the rise of compulsory schooling ending at 18, that teenagers became viewed as unable to marry or to be sexually active.

I have had a student teacher physical relationship. I was 16 she was a 23 year old student music teacher; and I was in no way used, abused, taken advantage of or pressured. It was a very satisfying relationship both physically and emotionally, on both our parts; and I am very glad it happened.

That said, I have known 16 year olds who did not have the emotional maturity for such an experience; and clearly Susan Smith’s chosen victim did not for example. Hell, I've known 30 year olds who aren't mature enough for sex.

Additionally there is the matter of abuse of trust of the parents, and the potential for coercion in a power relationship.

Most folks in this country would probably agree that a 14, or at least a 16 year old boy who was in this situation was indeed lucky; but most of those same folks would want to string up a male teacher who had the same experiences with a 16 year old girl... and CERTAINLY a 14 year old.

Why is that?

Why is there a double standard there, and why is 16, or 18, or any other age OK?

I have a real issue with what Fran Poretto calls “Magic Numbers” in our society. At 18 (or 16, or 14) it is magically OK to have sex, while at 17 and 364 days it isnt? At 18 it is ok to sign a contract, but at 17.99 it isnt? At 21 it is OK to drink, but at 20.99 it isn’t?

I became sexually active at 13, and I don’t regret it. I was ready to do so, and I appreciated it, and the risks and rewards of it. I don’t regret becoming sexually active so early at all, but I do regret my sexual morality during the follwing five years, which was somewhat indescriminate. The thing is, I needed to make those mistakes on my own; and I'm glad I made them when I was young.

I also know folks who had a similar age experience, who believe it severely damaged them emotionally, and in their sexual/mental health and approach to relationships.

Every person is different. To my mind, it’s not something we can just say hard and fast “this is ok, and this isn’t”.

Of course the problem then becomes subjectivity of standards, and the unequal application of law. The law can be neither arbitrary nor capricious; and still be fair and constitutional.

So here’s what I think from a real world standpoint:

1. Under 13 is always child abuse no matter what. You have to draw a bottom line and this is where I put mine.

2. 13-15 should be evaluated on a case by case basis; but complaints of statutory rape or abuse must either arise from a judgement that the minor wasn’t competent to make the decision to have sex, or from a direct complaint by the minor themselves. Parents should not be able to make claims of statutory rape or abuse without the co-operation of the minor. I believe this should be the case even though there may be the suspicion of co-ercion. Now if there is clear proof of co-ercion that is another matter entirely, and is a case for rape, not statutory rape.

3. 16 and over should never be considered statutory rape or abuse unless the minor has been judged incompetent to make the decision to have sex.

Yes I realize that leaves many who are not ready for those decisions unprotected by the law; but I do not believe it is the laws job to protect everyone from everything. At 16 you should be able to make most of your own decisions; even if they are stupid ones.