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Taking Statutory Rape Seriously

August 8, 2013

Imagine the following rape statute: “If a person over the age of twenty-one years has sexual contact constituting oral-genital or genital-genital contact with a minor under the age or fourteen years, such person shall be guilty of a Class A felony and shall be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.”

If the legislature passed it, it still wouldn’t happen.  Law does not exist in the abstract.  Law is a power structure, something that operates in a culture and operates largely consistent with the society’s values.  Lots of people in the process, from parents to school administrators and counselors to cops to prosecutors and judges to juries would collude to make sure that a statute like that would not work the way it is written — it would for some people, who didn’t meet societal approval, but it wouldn’t for others, who do.  Just like the “war on drugs”.  And the reason is that no matter how much lip service we pay to the notion that statutory rape is wrong, our culture (I’m speaking very broadly here, meaning the entirety of the world that is governed by a criminal justice system in the Anglo-American tradition) doesn’t really think that adults having sex with children are always wrong.

Just look at this shit

Think this is an isolated event?  All these people signed a petition in support of Roman Polaski, maybe the world’s most famous child rapist.  And Whoopi Goldberg, defending him, said it wasn’t “rape-rape.”  You know where she was going with that?  That what he pleaded guilty to was statutory rape, which she thinks isn’t real rape.  (And she pointedly ignores that the woman Polanski raped told the Grand Jury and everyone who asked since that she said “no,” that he drugged her, that she still said no, and that he forced her.)  Even the term “statutory rape” conveys the impression that it isn’t “real rape” –after all, there’s a statute outlawing the conduct that is forcible rape, whatever it is called in each jurisdiction, so those are just as statutory as laws saying that fucking someone under a certain age is inherently nonconsensual and illegal.  We call it by the different term in a tacit acknowledgement that it doesn’t count the same.  Why don’t we call it “child rape?” 

You know what Polanski (who reportedly has other victims including Charlotte Lewis and Nastassja Kinsky) had to say, to Martin Amis in a 1979 interview that has been quoted more recently by journalists rediscovering just what manner of person he is: Everyone wants to fuck young girls!”

Or this shit, where Terrebonne Parish’s corrections officer repeatedly raped a fourteen year old inmate and the parish is trying to blame her for contributing to it because, being an inmate and pretty much at the mercy of her jailers, she acquiesced instead of yelling, kicking and probably getting beaten or disciplined by the corrupt guards. 

So this guy Niel Wilson in England fucked a thirteen year old, and the system focused on the same old slut-shaming shit.  In rape cases with adult victims, there’s at least the figleaf of relevance, the pretension that this is something more than an exercise in attempting to label the victim a “bad girl” undeserving of vindication, because the defense argues that it goes to consent, or failing that, the defendant’s subjective belief in consent.  If that were true, then there would be no point in trying the same thing in a statutory rape case, where consent is not a defense.  But the same issues come up.  A barrister for the Crown Prosecution Service in this latest case said, “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced,” he reportedly told the court.”  Leave aside for a moment that this is a vile thing to say … how is it relevant? It’s not a defense!

Except that law isn’t a set of words, it’s a discourse of power that will tend to bend the way the people in the process see the world.  Arguing that this child was somehow a slut undeserving of protection, indeed culpable for seducing this poor defendant (who was also in possession of child porn, by the way) seems relevant to the people in the process because the whole frame of reference in a rape culture is not actually consent, but whether the victim is a good girl deserving of protection.  That’s always the real question, the crux of what passes for the moral substrata in matters of rape.  It seems relevant to people that this thirteen year old was the alleged pursuer, that Mary Doe in Terrebonne Parish had drug problems and a sexual history … (she’s fourteen, which unless her partners were all similar-age means she has a history not of sex but of being victimized).

I’ve written before about statutory rape and I’ve written that I think there should always be a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” exception for similar-aged partners.  And I still think so, though in most places 13 is too young for those provisions to apply, and rightly so.  I also think that statutory rape laws ought to be enforced:  not just when the parents dislike one of the participants, and not just when the prosecution is homophobic — these laws have a history of much stricter enforcement against same sex couples and anyone else whose conduct violates race, class or other norms.   

Of course age is arbitrary, but there is no better option that an arbitrary line based of age.  Some sort of sophistication test would inevitably bring us right back to the discourse of “bad victim.”  While we might on this blog all agree that actual sophistication would mean the teens with the most ability to make mature decisions and advocate for their needs, the rest of the world out there would decide that it meant that the teens who drank and did drugs and were sexualized earliest — the ones the least able to advocate for themselves, sometimes — would be the ones not entitled to the protection of the law.  The same way that the system routinely finds ways to decide that sex workers are not entitled to the protection of the law, even if the law says that they are. 

And the conduct of a child victim needs to be utterly irrelevant.  The principle is simple:  no matter how not-innocent a child is, no matter how much they  “invite” sexual conduct, being a grown-up means having the responsibility and obligation to say, “No, that would be wrong.”  If a thirteen year old lies down in Times Square naked and shouts, “won’t someone please fuck me?” all the adults have the obligation — the absolute obligation — not to.  Right?  And if they instead fuck a child, regardless of the invitation or provocation, they belong in prison.  Is that really a radical statement?

The cases I discussed above are about girls, but this is not only a girl problem.  Adult men who are not incarcerated are very rarely raped, [Edited: see comments] Rapes of adult men are less talked about, and far less common, than rapes of adult women, but boys are raped with horrifying frequency, and they are raped by grownups.  (And, in fact, the lower one goes in age, the more likely that the adult who sexually molests a boy will be a women.  People consistently underestimate the prevalence of women as molesters because it doesn’t fit essentialist notions of uncontrollable male sexuality, and instead reminds us that rape and sexual abuse are at least in significant part about power and control, though this dynamic cannot be entirely separated from the eroticization of abuse.)  I know a lot of people treat cases like Mary Kay LeTourneau as jokes, but I think this does a tremendous disservice to boys.  I think they are presumptively (and I mean a conclusive presumption) not ready for, and shouldn’t be subjected to, adult romantic and sexual relationships with adult partners.  Just because the damage to them isn’t as widely acknowledged doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

There is a terrible double-standard for minors.  In many places, particularly the US, people get very shouty about not “corrupting” minors by giving them accurate information about sexual health, pleasure and relationships.  So much of this smacks of purity obsession.  But when people violate minors’ innocence, not by giving out information that can help teens become sexual adults with agency, but by fucking them, there seems to be a lot of willingness to blame the teens for participating, or for not resisting, or for not resisting enough.  That’s a lot of shit.  If we were serious about protecting our youth, we would hold adults who molest them 100% responsible and not even raise the issue of the victim’s conduct.  That’s what we would do if we were serious.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. BlkKtty permalink
    August 8, 2013 6:03 pm


  2. August 8, 2013 6:16 pm

    I read this article twice so my brain would soak it up. Thank you for continuing to educate. I’m glad you mentioned the Romeo/Juliet exception.

  3. August 8, 2013 6:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this excellent article. It’s so disturbing when some people don’t take the very real problems of child molestation and statutory rape seriously. I hope this article wakes people up to the gravity of this. Again, thank you.

  4. August 8, 2013 7:02 pm

    It is sickening that this goes on. Kids are in no emotional place to be making decisions about having sex. Any adult having sex with a minor needs treatment while locked up. We need to let adults know that sexually molesting children is not acceptable and will result in punishment and being shamed by the community. Thank you for continuing to fight the good fight. May we see the change of attitudes in our lifetime.

  5. August 8, 2013 9:10 pm

    Thanks for being the voice of reason yet again. This encapsulates what that British judge (and all others like him) need to remember: “The principle is simple: no matter how not-innocent a child is, no matter how much they “invite” sexual conduct, being a grown-up means having the responsibility and obligation to say, “No, that would be wrong.” “

  6. August 8, 2013 11:44 pm

    Kids need to know about sex so that they can understand what is happening when they are being seduced by adults, or even older children.. Yes, it may not always work to stop the abuse, but it sure as hell would work more often than absolute ignorance.

    Also, the rage at those British judges right now. Knowing they are but a few we are hearing about who indulge in the same behaviour and basically encourage child molesters to keep on carrying on. (I mean, really, what’s the worst that can happen? a suspended license? well, then…)

  7. NaturalWoman permalink
    August 9, 2013 1:01 am

    This is brilliant. So well written and so many fantastic points. You’ll be glad to hear (if you haven’t already) the Crown Prosecution Service have announced that they will be reviewing the case.

  8. Anne permalink
    August 9, 2013 2:19 am

    I’m not sure I entirely agree. Youths are not children. Once past their puberty, they are sexually/biologically mature, and a lot of them want sex and not just with a partner their age.

    I grew up in a country where 14 is the demarcation line provided no money or coercion was involved. I started necking with 12 with classmates, petting with 13, with slightly older boys and when I lost my virginity I was 15 and the relevant guy 22. I called the shots, I wanted him, oh and I was fully informed and prepared in a way I doubt that many Anglo-Saxon youngsters are. Until I was 25 every single one of my partners was older than I was, and up to 18 every one of them would have broken statutory rape laws in the USA. These men were no predators either, as I said, I hunted them down. Not they me.

    I consider the age of consent in Anglo-Saxon countries to be far too high and part of the problem. Setting it at 18 is practically asking for it to get broken. Even 16 is too high. What this article fails to address is that it’s the rape which causes the problem. Not the age. Infantilising teenagers,failing to teach them about their choices, failing to teach them to discern predators or to reject what they do not want is what will solve this. Not laws.

    The cases you cited are also not the cases which are questionable in any way. Of course a girl who says “no” is being raped. But what about those who say “yes”, and mean it? And are mature enough to do so, informed enough to do so and actively pursue the relevant adult? The way I did for years until I was legally an adult myself? I thank God that the country I grew up in had no statutory rape laws. It would have been hell, if there had been any.

    • August 9, 2013 6:44 am

      One can cite instances when hereditary absolute monarchs ruled well and wisely. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that hereditary absolute monarchy is a terrible system of government and should be abolished everywhere. Your insistence that the times you were fucked by grown men as a minor were positive experiences does not alter my policy position.

      • Anne permalink
        August 9, 2013 7:24 am

        The point is that I wasn’t a minor in relation to my “being fucked”.

        Just because your country has a different AoC doesn’t mean your laws are in any way superior. In fact, the country I refer to has not even a 1/20th of the amount of overall rape of the USA, less than 2% of the US teen pregnancies, less than 5% of the cases of STDs among teens in the US. Just for the fun of it, I can’t remember one single case of rape among my friends or within my high school, college and uni courses. And that’s not because people wouldn’t talk about it. I haven’t once been pressed for sex my whole life either, not by vanilla men, nor by anyone in the BDSM scene.

        I would by the way suggest a different way of addressing this, unless you want to shame or slut-shame me. I slept quite consensually and also quite legally with these men, according to my free choice. And they with me. I consider it less than proper to call it “fucked by” which to me at least isn’t a benign or friendly or even just polite term. It’s vulgar, aggressive and hurtful. It actually is extremely offensive and I feel sullied by you. These men were my lovers, each of them a partner of mine for several years, and I parted amiably with all of them.

        Additionally “fucked by” insinuates that I had no say in this, or that all that mattered was their maleness or activity. Which wasn’t the case. I’m not telling you to change your position, but on the other hand it really goes against much of what you claim to stand for that here, with derogatory and profane terms, you try to denigrate my agency, take away (more than 20 years after the deed) my choices and try to shame me in the process. Shall I say congrats?

      • August 9, 2013 2:15 pm

        If you say you didn’t know of a single case of rape in your school, then I conclude that either you were the sort of person that survivors would not tell, or your view of what rape is is so narrow that you can be dismissed as a victim blamer. If you’re alleging that there’s a post-industrial society that is magically nearly free of rape, now, today, then you’re full of shit and deluding yourself.

        I am simply not willing to infer that your experiences (1) can be generalized to other kids; or (2) exonerate adults who were sexual with you in your mid-teens.

        It cannot be a radical position that a thirteen year old should not be sexually active with a forty year old. I’m about to simply ban anyone who disagrees with that.

    • Tapio Peltonen permalink
      August 9, 2013 11:13 am

      I tend to agree at least somewhat. Saying that a post-pubescent person cannot meaningfully consent to some sexual activity with an older person strictly based on their age strips them of their agency.

      Rape is the problem. Non-consensual sexual acts are the problem. Manipulating someone into having sex is not consensual.

      I think I could have meaningfully consented to at least some kinds of sexual activities around age 13, if I’d had the opportunity. And I’m kind of wondering whether it’s really a better idea to have one’s first sexual experiences with someone who is also inexperienced…

      We need to teach children and adolescents to not give up their agency (while respecting other people’s!), and to notice the warning signs. And while some kind of age limit is probably unavoidable, the focus of the legislation should be on the existence, or lack of, consent.

      • August 9, 2013 2:07 pm

        Most of what you say here is wrong. It is better — in fact, imperative — that young people have their early sexual experiences with a person they stand on something like equal footing with. A sexist, classist, racist, etc. culture makes this hard enough to achieve even within an age group. I don’t quite deny the very possibility that a young teen stands on equal footing with an adult- one could concoct some outlandish scenarios, hypothetically – but the opposite is true on the aggregate that my strong policy position is that I want a bright-line rule, enforced against the adults. As to stripping away agency, no more so than when we dictate the substances a teen can ingest, which is also a pretty serious restraint on bodily autonomy. But I’m not about to advocate letting thirteen year olds buy alcohol in the US.

  9. August 9, 2013 5:47 am

    Reblogged this on Silky Velvet and commented:
    this is an excellent article regarding the seriousness of statutory rape and the tragedy of child sexual molestation. there is something very creepy about people who shrug off statutory rape as something trivial; you really have to wonder about there true agenda…

  10. Alex permalink
    August 9, 2013 8:54 am

    I think that quite contrary to what you are saying, the phrase “statutory rape” very much has to do with consent. If you have sex with an adult, whether you are guilty of rape or not is determined by facts: did the person you have sex with consent? To the contrary, if you have sex with somebody who is below a certain age while you are above another age, whether you are guilty of rape or not is determined by statute. More generally, while sexual intercourse with minors is generally frowned upon, most people do understand rape as being a violation of the person’s consent. (Even if many people carry out that analysis through a very biased lens) So having sex with a consenting minor is not generally viewed as “rape-rape” for sometimes quite valid reasons.

    Please remember not all jurisdictions have Romeo-and-Juliet statutes. Having grown up in such a jurisdiction, and having had many friends who were guilty of statutory rape (in the standard 18-year-old has sex with 17-years-old configuration) I for one learned to draw a sharp distinction between actually violating consent (rape) and violating the arbitrary legislative age line (statutory rape).

    Now of course, plenty of statutory rape prosecutions are carried out when consent was not properly exchanged. In such cases, I imagine the prosecutor is simply preferring to do the simple thing: prove the age of the victim, rather than attempt to prove the victim did not consent. (or was unable to consent)

    The law could probably changed by providing for a separate preliminary hearing to assess whether or not the victim was mature enough to consent or not and then going to the trial with that fact already decided. Separating that hearing (and perhaps conducting it before professional judges, and/or child psychology experts) would limit the opportunity for the defense to try what is effectively a nullification argument. Furthermore, it would strengthen the prosecution’s case if they could respond with something along the lines of: “The defense is trying to imply that the victim was able to consent. But they already were given an opportunity to make that argument and they failed.”

    At the end of the day, age is a very arbitrary and I don’t particularly like the idea of telling a larger-than-necessary class of people that their consent isn’t good enough.

    • August 9, 2013 2:10 pm

      Your proposed preliminary hearing will become, every time, an inquiry into the sluttiness of the minor. Every jurisdiction should have a R&J, and I’d argue for a five-year gap. The rest of what you said, I reject.

      • Alex permalink
        August 9, 2013 10:41 pm

        You really reject the idea that stories about 18-year olds having the cops called on them by the parents of their consenting 16-17 year old sexual partner are a big part of why “statutory rape” is distinguished from “rape” in the popular imagining?

        You also reject the idea that we should avoid ignoring the consent of larger-than-necessary classes of people?

        As for your concern that the minor will be put on trial when determining their maturity, I don’t agree with you. It would be a concern before a jury for instance. But I think that a properly trained panel of psychologists/social workers/judges could make such a decision without such problems. (Maybe it should be an independent inquiry instead of a hearing) But if I am wrong, there is an easy way to solve that problem: only allow the defense with the cooperation of the victim. If the victim says they were consenting, let them prove that they had the maturity to actually consent. If the victim says they were not consenting, then do not allow that defense. It’s hardly perfect, since it would mean that the victim gets to pick what defenses are available at trial, but it would at least get rid of the need for firm across the board age limits.

        To be honest, I don’t think your 5-years gap idea is wise. (Maybe I misunderstood you and you meant 5-years + a firm minimum age) A 5-year gap means a 13-years old and an 18-years old. While there are surely some 13 year olds with the maturity to make such a decision, there are probably way more who are not but can be easily coerced in hard-to-prove ways by 18-year olds. I much prefer setting some very wide hard limits and then having a case-by-case determination with the burden of proof being adjusted based on age.

      • August 10, 2013 8:18 am

        I agree with your last paragraph that hard limits are preferable to case by case. And I don’t want to outlaw more than is necessary, but bright line rules require being either over- or under-inclusive. I think that R&J provisions should exist everywhere to avoid the 16yo with 18yo problem, but if a 14 year old says “hey, I’m mature enough to have a grown-up partner”, I’m fine with saying, “maybe so, but to protect others, we don’t allow that, and your prospective partner will go to prison.”

        But there seems to be a lot of tension in your comment — the second to last paragraph argues against bright-line age limits and for a case-by-case determination, while the last paragraph argues for age limits. And the notion that a panel of judges and social workers will somehow avoid a slut-or-not-slut minitrial is wrong. Judges and social workers are people, no less subject to societal prejudices than the rest of us. Defense lawyers will work the “past experience” angle. If, for example, a sixteen year old says she was molested a few years prior by a neighbor, you and I would say, “well, that’s not evidence of sexual sophistication, that’s evidence of violation.” But the defense’s incentive would then be to spelunk through the facts and argue that she wasn’t molested on the prior occasion, that it was consensual and shows how sexually precocious she is … a nightmare for the survivor. Given how rape cases and cases involving allegations of sexual coercion are litigated now (see, e.g. the Arias media spectacular, and the defense-friendly media hit piece in Bagley in Missouri, the Glen Ridge trial which dragged the victim through the mud even though she was mentally handicapped, the Haidl case which dragged the victim through the mud even though she was unconscious, etc.), I think it’s hard to escape the conclusion that that’s what would happen.

        Bottom line for me is that we need a bright line where nothing the victim did can be put in evidence. I’m willing to make all the other policy pieces move to make room for that. I have no room to compromise on that.

  11. August 9, 2013 3:27 pm

    Reblogged this on Paula Lindo and commented:
    My chest tightened when I read this… and he’s so absolutely right.

  12. August 12, 2013 10:21 am

    I can’t believe there are people who don’t agree with you 100%! Thomas, you are absolutely right in everything you’ve written here. A 14 year old girl does NOT have the maturity to consent to sex. And making them take a sex Ed class and memorize that ‘boys have penises and girls have vaginas’ and showing them a scary picture of an STD is not enough information for them to be able to consent.

  13. August 12, 2013 7:57 pm

    This article, and the comments below it, strike close to home.

    1. I find it interesting that people who call the age of consent “arbitrary” never want it to be HIGHER. Personal story: On my 18th birthday, I met a predatory man who wouldn’t have touched me or even looked at me the day before out of his strong sense of self-protection. He later raped me. It was completely non-consensual, drugs were used without my knowledge to incapacitate me, blah blah blah. But he went free after I reported him. The cops asked me if we had had sexual contact before I turned 18, and I had to tell them no. So they couldn’t use that either. Several years later, looking back, I know that I didn’t cross some kind of magic maturity line when I turned 18. I was, personally, very much a child at that age. But no court would see my perspective as valid on that point. And the cops didn’t care much about the non-consent or drugs because I was not, as Thomas eloquently puts it, “a good girl deserving of protection.”

    I think 18 is arbitrary, sometimes in both directions. And I also think my vulnerability and lack of maturity at 18 can no more be generalized than someone else’s maturity and confidence at 15. The bright line needs to stay hard and bright.

    2. “Age is just a number.” As a female-assigned person who got a lot of attention from older men at a very young age, this phrase is a red flag for me. I heard it a lot at a certain point in time. I was mature- seeming (read: serious, “intellectual” nerdy girl type). Attention from much older men was validating and tempting given that my peers routinely bullied me for my clothes and music choices and general freakishness. What I am trying to say is that the attraction that a “mature” seeming, alienated young person might feel for an adult does not exist in a vacuum. The desire for adult guidance (especially when parents are neglectful or abusive or absent), exclusion by peers, etc. can create a situation in which a young person may be vulnerable to older predators, and may seem to “consent” to their attention.

    (And seeming mature, or even thinking of oneself as mature, or believing oneself to be mature because a predator tells you that you are… are not the same things as BEING mature.)

    3. Teens, by and large, want to have sex with other teens. Teens who seek out or willingly accept adult attentions are, I think, often those who are rejected by their peers and feel incapable of getting sexual attention where they actually want it– from their peers. I think there are VERY few teens below the age of consent whose desire to have sex with adults is truly healthy and fully consensual, very few legal adults whose desire to have sex with the aforementioned teens is remotely benign, and that if this vanishingly small minority actually exists and is actually comprised of decent, intelligent people, they should really be willing to suck it up and accept an “arbitrary” age of consent which protects far more than it marginalizes.

  14. Jessica permalink
    August 15, 2013 10:22 am

    Thank you for this excellent piece! I only learned the details of the Roman Polanski rape in the last few years, and it completely blew my mind that he could be found guilty of his crime, escape to another country, and not only have other countries/people protect him and stand up for his name, but actually work with him, continue to allow him to make movies and award him an Oscar. Its absolutely disgusting. The man is a pedophile, and anyone who disagrees simply because he makes lovely movies needs to give their heads a very thorough shake. I really liked the way you laid out the issue in your second paragraph. It absolutely highlights the absurdity of how we as a society treat crimes of child-rape and, really, rape in general. We need to start a movement of properly socially shaming people who engage in these crimes, rather than mildly brushing off the issue as being somehow less despicable than it is.

  15. Jan permalink
    August 29, 2013 8:42 am

    I’m surprised that anyone would say that the age of consent at 16 is too high. I was absolutely desperate for sex from the age of 12 onwards, I would have done anything to get it, and that is precisely the reason I wasn’t ready. I would have put up with any amount of abuse, maybe even abused someone myself, as long as I got the sex, and that is in no way emotionally mature. My crush on a boy who was not a nice person ended abruptly a couple of months before my 16th birthday, when I realised that actually him being a horrible disrespectful person *was* more important than his good looks and intelligence, so I think of my ability to consent as having kicked in at about that point.

    Just because a very young person really wants to do an adult thing, however genuine the want is, saying it’s ok despite their age is simply not worth the risk. There are 13 year-olds who want to drive cars, and some of them might be good at it and perfectly safe on the roads, however the risk of them not managing is too great for us to say it’s fine for them to go ahead and do it.

    • September 1, 2013 5:55 pm

      “I was absolutely desperate for sex from the age of 12 onwards, I would have done anything to get it, and that is precisely the reason I wasn’t ready. I would have put up with any amount of abuse, maybe even abused someone myself, as long as I got the sex, and that is in no way emotionally mature.”

      Yes, exactly, I totally relate to this and I think this is true for the majority of teens.

  16. L.O. permalink
    August 31, 2013 6:12 pm

    Some of the defensiveness you’ve encountered here reminds me of this horrendous Betsy Karasik piece in the Washington Post yesterday. People don’t want to have to acknowledge that what happened to them or their friends was wrong.

    In an odd way, it reminds me of spanking debates, a bizarrely volatile topic: (in America) our culture has shifted such that it’s just not acceptable to hit a child anymore, even in restricted, ritualized ways. But when you state that, everyone of a certain generation or earlier (or certain cultures) hears you saying their beloved parents are child abusers, and their knees jerk mightily in revolt (I understand this, as a Gen X spankee with perfectly lovely parents.)

    They need to set this personal stab of feeling aside. Because this isn’t about them. It’s about the teenagers being exploited now and in the future. That defensiveness on the part of people who don’t want to see themselves as victims or their older friends as rapists is allowing present-day harm to occur. Adults have the duty, in addition to that named in the article, to take a deep breath and realize when it -isn’t about them-.

  17. Tanya permalink
    September 1, 2013 1:07 am

    You know, as I read the comments that go, “but teens want to have sex, so why are you meanies keep trying to ruin it for them?” I think of a line from “Pitch Perfect” which goes something like this, “Well… sometimes I have the feeling I can do crystal meth, but then I think, mmm… better not.”
    Just because you want to do something and THINK you can make a good decision about it, does not make it so. I feel like the Western world (with US leading) has been increasingly obsessed with sex, almost making it one’s sacred right and duty. A Parenting magazine says that the best way for partners to reconnect is to have a quickie. For reals? What about sharing a joke?
    Some commenters did touch upon this point, actually, so I’m mostly just supporting that.
    And also? Always hated the kinds of comments of “Well, ~I~ did it and ~I~ turned out ok,” a little, um…. assholey? Yeah.

  18. September 2, 2013 10:05 am

    “Adult men who are not incarcerated are very rarely raped”

    There is no statistical evidence to justify this statement. Most men who are raped do not report their assaults. Most studies do not specifically question men about sexual assaults they experienced as adults, and to my knowledge none ask where the assault took place. Speaking as a male survivor and victim advocate, while I understand it may not be your intent, your comment comes across as dismissive of men raped as adults outside of prison.

  19. Emily permalink
    September 13, 2013 4:50 pm

    If I read your article as referring to young girls having sex with older**** (over, say, 22) men, then I completely agree and am grateful for your approach. The examples you cite are of course infuriating and absurd.

    However, my issue with “statutory rape” is that, given only its definition, I do not believe it is always non-consensual / rape. (sorry)

    Maybe I just lack the legal knowledge–in which case, please, fill me in–and I’m aware that these scenarios would rarely be prosecuted, except perhaps by angry, zealous parents against their child having sex.

    I struggle to see how, say, a couple that begins dating freshman (or sophomore or junior or senior) year of high school could–after years of having a healthy relationship that included sex–suddenly become classified as “rapists” when one of them turns 18 slightly before the other.

    **22 is somewhat arbitrary, but I’d say that couples that attended high school together (or were of the age to attend high school or college together) and are at similar points of their lives (signifying similar intellectual and emotional development, as well as possessing a similar amount of agency and financial resources) should not be considered rapists based solely on this age difference. I’d fully support “statutory rape” as “rape” if, for sexual relationships where at least one partner is below a certain age limit, anyone having sex with anyone who exceeds a 4* year difference will automatically be considered a rapist by statutory rape law.

  20. Emma permalink
    September 15, 2013 4:53 pm

    Mostly this article is excellent, but I think it’s spoiled by your insistence on using the word “fucked.” I understand that you want to emphasise the lack of informed consent, but “fucked” sounds porn-y, sensationalist and inappropriate.

    If it’s rape, call it rape. If it’s not rape, “had sex with” is fine. Even if you can’t legally call it rape (because, for instance, the person admitted to sex with a minor but was acquitted of rape, so the term would be defamatory), I think your readers are sophisticated enough not to need the word “fuck” as a signpost. It’s particularly grating when you’re rephrasing someone else’s own report of their experiences.

    • Wordy Librarian permalink
      November 5, 2013 11:51 am

      Fucked is indeed a word that has a fair amount of punch. There is nothing wrong with using that punch for effect. Personally, my connotations of it are rather graphic, physical sex. For one person to fuck another, as opposed to two people fucking, implies that they have some sort of control in the situation over the other person.

      Those are EXTREMELY accurate connotations to conjure when speaking of an adult having sex with someone too young to consent to sex. It’s a reminder that it’s a very physical act, with a lot of emotional consequences, and the adult in the situation ALWAYS, by definition, has more control over the situation than the minor.

      An excellent article cannot be entirely spoiled by one word unless that word is a pretty blatant slur of some sort. Seriously. Please look up “tone argument.” You may find it “grating” the way “fucked” was used in response to one of your comments. That’s understandable. However, considering the topic, a strong response is to be expected. Your original comment was pretty grating to a lot of people as well given the emotionally flammable subject matter. The “but the kid pursued me” defense is used frequently, no matter how indecently. You may have genuinely, decently, innocently been the younger person pursuing the older, appropriate adult, but if that’s the case you are very much the exception. That doesn’t mean you’re a slut. It doesn’t mean you had poor judgement. It means you are the exception floating in an OCEAN of “but what if the kid WANTS it, she seemed older than her age, she was a MATURE 12 year old” Humbert Humbert excusing pedophiles.

      I am as aware as anyone that people mature at different rates. I waited patiently for a year before my boyfriend was as ready for sex as I was. I did that in a culture that screams incessantly that boys only want one thing and good girls don’t have sex. That will cause some issues, but it will make you EXTREMELY aware of the fact that some people are just genuinely ready before others. However, as other comments have explained better than I can, there is no way to have a hazy “whenever they’re really ready” line without it being a hugely problematic spiral of victim blaming. Part of being genuinely mature enough to consent to sex is realizing that just because you may be ready at a younger age, more people of the same age need protection. Being genuinely mature enough would include not pursuing people who, reasonably, would be expected to believe that accepting their advances is morally wrong. And frankly, we can’t have this fuzzy line about whether accepting the advances of a minor is morally wrong. That opens up the door to, “but the eight year old came on to MEEEEEE and I thought she was eleven!” which any reasonable person should see as disgusting and wrong.

      I am NOT making any judgments about what you’ve done in your life, specifically. I don’t think anyone wants to, including and especially the author. I’m trying to explain why the fact that SOME teens are ready for sex at earlier ages in no way mitigates the need for most teens to have legal protection. I think the author makes it quite clear in the original article and in the comments that Romeo/Juliet exceptions should be included in the laws. That would resolve the problems stemming from 17/18, 16/19, 14/15, 17/21, etc. Problems that genuinely DO undermine the public view of statutory rape as a serious and harmful thing. Believe me – the previously mentioned boyfriend turned 18 a couple months before I did and we joked endlessly about the technical legality of the situation. There are obviously ranges of experience between peers that can’t all be subject to a law that really, at its core, is based on the message, “HEY! DON’T FUCK CHILDREN! THAT’S SICK AND CRUEL AND WRONG AND WE AS A CIVILIZATION SAY NO!” which is something I think we can ALL get behind. Yes, the line of who is a child and who isn’t is fuzzy for an individual. It cannot be according to the law, and the burden to follow the law HAS to be on the legal adult.

  21. Jan permalink
    December 30, 2013 12:57 pm

    “Rapes of adult men are less talked about, and far less common, than rapes of adult women, but boys are raped with horrifying frequency, and they are raped by grownups. (And, in fact, the lower one goes in age, the more likely that the adult who sexually molests a boy will be a women. People consistently underestimate the prevalence of women as molesters because it doesn’t fit essentialist notions of uncontrollable male sexuality”

    I really appreciate this little section. Ok, I’m female, but the first sexual assault I experienced (at a very early age) was female-perpetrated and still affects me to this day. Despite the fact that feminist writers tend to focus on male-perpetrated rape, I’ve actually found them to be very receptive to hearing about my experiences and to my requests that those of us who were victims of women are not ignored. This quote helps a lot in explaining why that should be, why ignoring female-perpetrated sexual violence is not just anti-feminist but has the same origins as the very thing feminists talk so much about. I’ll raise the connection to the view of male sexuality as being uncontrollable when the subject comes up in future.

  22. Luke permalink
    September 2, 2014 8:42 pm

    I think the reason it’s called “statutory rape” is because someone decided “oh well it can still happen with consent so we need to make that clear by adding ‘statutory’ to it”, completely ignoring the fact that the whole POINT of the offense is that a child cannot consent under any circumstances. This in turn implies the whole “not REAL rape” thing by suggesting that willingness on the part of the child goes against the definition of rape, which from a legal standpoint simply isn’t true. There are important social reasons for this. The age of consent exists to specify the point at which a person understands what they are consenting to. Below that age, it is assumed that informed consent is impossible.

    It’s like making someone sign a contract they can’t read. Even if they ask you to let them sign it, they STILL CAN’T READ IT. They don’t know what they’re asking for. They have at most an impression of what the contract says that must have been given to them by someone else (or in this case, society at large) and is therefore tainted by that person’s (or society’s) interpretation of it. They cannot look at the situation themselves and make a decision. The kid in the times square example does not understand what she is doing and should be treated like a kid asking to put a fork in an electrical outlet. Do you help them do that? Hell no. Would you help them do that if it benefited you somehow? Still no. You stop them and explain, as effectively as you can, why that and similar actions are a bad idea and damaging to the child in question. I guess what it boils down to is that because of the difference in gender experiences and norms, men like myself don’t naturally understand just how damaging that is. It’s an important thing to learn, guys.

  23. Belle permalink
    March 23, 2015 1:21 am

    I wish this post would make my boyfriend not hate me anymore.

  24. Jaccob permalink
    April 28, 2015 6:22 am

    What I liked best about the article and the comments was that Thomas acknowledged that some minors are mature enough to consent but this is STILL not a reason to make fucking minors legal in general, while it IS a good idea to have exceptions.
    Also how souvereignly he responded to the people who might very well be trolls…
    Thanks for this article and all the others, they’re really putting things together for me!


  1. Taking Statutory Rape Seriously | | Freedom for All
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