Consistent Consent

justiceAs part of my Victim Impact volunteer work, I speak in Juvenile programs, a little over a year ago, I came out to one of my long-standing coordinators about my experience as a juvenile rape victim. Since that time, I have taken on a very difficult program, the juvenile sexual predators Victim Impact. The make-up of this group is tough:

  • 95% male, in fact to date I haven’t seen any girls.
  • All incarcerated, none are on probation or parole when they attend.
  • All under 18, the youngest I have had in a group is twelve (12).
  • All their cases have been adjudicated, some will release as inmates from Juvenile others will be moved to the adult system.

This is a delicate and often troublesome issue, one that crosses many boundaries. People from all walks of life, when asked have an opinion, yet many have not considered the disparities found state to state. There are variations on the theme, the age of consent is neither standard nor clear anywhere in this country, it differs depending upon the situation, for example:

  • South Carolina a female may consent at 14 a male 16, unless either is homosexual in which case they may never consent.
  • West Virginia males and females may consent to heterosexual encounters at 17 but must wait if they are homosexual until they are 18.
  • New York consent is 17 across the board no matter your orientation.
  • New Jersey law says at 16 you can consent without regard to orientation.
  • New Hampshire says that if you are heterosexual you are ready at 16 but have to wait till 18 if you are homosexual.
  • Montana claims that girls at 16 can consent but boys and homosexuals must wait till they are 18.
  • Texas says any person of 17 may consent. Texas has a built in Romeo and Juliet loophole of three (3) years, a DA or Judge may ignore if they choose. The other legal problem Texans have, sodomy for everyone is illegal, at any age; this includes all forms of non-vaginal sex.

The list goes on, state by state, the picture becoming clear. The lack of consistency nationwide places young men and women at risk. These risks include the possibility of becoming victims of predators or becoming victims of a legal system that could brand them as sexual predators for the rest of their lives. Why is this important? Why should we be bothered if predators are put away? Good question, I can answer that.

What about the Jimmy the high-school football hero? You know the one, he worked hard, studied hard, plays hard and hasn’t joined a gang. He caught the winning ball at the last game of the season. He has a shot at college and will be the first one in his family who might make it. You know him, we all have read stories about him. Well, he broke up with his girlfriend and she cried rape. Her father, mad at our hero called the courtesy bleacherreport.compolice and they took our high-school hero and his girlfriend’s claims of rape to the DA, who proceeded to prosecute. Now, instead of college Jimmy is sitting in Jail, when he gets out he will have be on the sexual predator list, for life.

This is the other side of the horror story currently unfolding in Steubenville, Ohio. This case has created a public outcry the facts around it though are not a case of consensual sex. This case is about rape, two of the minors involved go on trial in juvenile court on February 13.

I believe the Age of Consent laws are antiquated, they do not address the needs of our communities nor the realities of our society. We desperately need to ensure we have in place laws that are both unvarying and appropriate so children and young adults are protected wherever they might be and under whatever circumstances they might be in. Where once young people rarely traveled outside of their home town during their teenage years today they do so on a regular basis. Young people today frequently have access to their own credit cards, cell phones and transportation making the possibility of a trip outside their home state likely. Today it is easier to exploit a child than ever before. To ensure there is no question of the consequences of their choices it is critical national standards be in place, be communicated and be consistently administered.

Many today are concerned with states’ rights and the amount of power the federal government is ‘grabbing’, however, there are functions, such as this that would be best addressed by a national standard. As a society, we should consider what is important, what must take precedence; the protection of our next generation is one of those critically important issues. While the age of consent might seem a minor problem in comparison to other more weighty issues facing our country, consider the repercussions of not protecting our children. What will happen as those young unprotected children grow into adults?

I do not claim this single small thing, creating a national Age of Consent standard will stop the growing evil of predators. I do not claim it will suddenly balance the scales for our young people. However, I do believe if everyone understands the rules, our focus will shift to more important issues. With national standards we will start to see consistent prosecution of predators and we will stop seeing young lives ruined with inconsistent or absurd prosecution of laws that should never have been applied in the circumstances. We will start seeing the focus on other more important issues, education, reduction of teenage pregnancy, strengthening the foundation of the future.

Comments

  1. Thank You for the work you are doing Valentine. I think you are a saint to carry such a heavy burden. I just wanted to say Thanks

  2. Talk about disparity. Because I like most things in life to be neat am all for standards on everything across the board. Moving from state to state can indeed be a nightmare. Even in Canada we don’t have the same standards from province to province. As a country, you’d think standardization would be a no brainer…Great post, Valentine.

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Evoking worthwhile discussion, as always.
    There’s a place for us each out here, to be sure. Your blog is great, Valentine.

  4. This is a such a huge and generally overlook issue! I work as youth director at my church. “Jimmy” was one of my students. He was a popular kid, very into theater and the arts. He had just turned 18, in his senior year in high school when the father of his 15 year old sophomore girlfriend found out they’d had sex and had him prosecuted for statutory rape. He could no longer go to the ivy league college he’d been accepted to, because he couldn’t leave the state. Now, as he is about to graduate college, he is finding that, even with a great education, he is nearly unemployable as a registered sex offender. And for what?! The girl is now of age herself, attending college, and they are engaged to be married. Certainly, I don’t think girls should be encouraged to run out and have sex with older boys/men but… seriously?! This boys life has been tarnished forever because of antiquated laws with no “gray areas.”
    On the other hand, a friend’s father-in-law was convicted of the violent rape of his own teenage daughter who is severely disabled. After serving less than 10 years he is back on the street, a free man. Why is he allowed to be near her (or any young woman), ever again???
    How are these two things even considered to be similar crimes? Children being stupid and adults being abusive are two very very different things.
    These things must be judged on an individual basis!

    • Jimmy was two kids I met at the last panel I did. I have met others. Each of their stories, just like the one you told are tragic. Lives ruined, forever and for frankly nothing. You are correct, it isn’t we should encourage young people to run out and become sexually active before they are emotionally ready. The reality though, they will do so at some point. We have to be aware most young people do eventually become active. As a society we are better served by protecting them, giving them good information, protecting them from predators, protecting them emotionally, protecting their health, being honest with them and then hoping they wait until they truly are ready for all it means to be sexually active.

      If we create a national standard this is one way to protect them. If we remove this lifetime punishment, it is another. Clearly a teen is not a sexual predator, when he/she is part of couple, both of who are willing and especially when there is three years or less between them.

      I hope your Jimmy fights this branding. Some young men are doing so and winning. The ACLU is taking on some of these cases, tell him that. His soon to be father in law should chip in for a lawyer if he wants his daughter to have a future.

  5. The South Carolina ages really caught my attention. I have to wonder whether that one is on the books as more of a convenience for the very adult males who target very young girls. I don’t know why, but even after reading this whole very well written, very informative post, that’s what is staying with me.

    • The problem continues, across all of the states. I don’t know that S Carolina is the only state with that young an age, there are others. Consistently, especially in the Southern states female ages are young. I think often it is because they haven’t been rethought since the 19th century when girls married very young, when menses began and they could start having babies. We simply haven’t rethought this.

      Some states have provisions that say, there can only be a 3 year age difference or the age of the youngest partner doesn’t matter, even if they are over the age of consent. I do not think SC is one of them.

  6. Heavy sigh.
    As always Valentine , you make this poor Loon’s head spin. Injustices in the law make me want to scream . Hmm, but then again there wouldn’t be any midday movies to watch 😦 🙂

  7. –All I can add is THANK YOU for continually educating your readers on important issues.

    It is much appreciated.

    I can’t believe all of the stuff “I DO NOT KNOW.”

    Xxx Love.

    btw, have you ever read a book called “The Death of Common Sense?” You would appreciate this very much, Val. Check it out.

    • I suspect it is things none of us know or even think about unless confronted with the issues. Why should we? Why would we?

      I will go find the book and read it. Thank you for the recommendation.

      Much love.

  8. Val, You make a strong case for a national law re age. I’m kind of dumbfounded that there are sometimes different ages for gays. What’s the point? Give them extra time with the hope they see the error of their ways? The case of the football player is heartbreaking but unfortunately our laws seem to look at things in black and white, with little to no gray areas allowed.

    • Jimmy (the football player) was a picture of two boys I met a couple of weeks ago. Heartbreaking indeed.

      I don’t know what the point is on having different ages of consent for gay vs. straight, perhaps you are right, they are hoping it is a stage. The real issue though, trying to shine a light. Protect our young people, from stupid laws, vengeful parents and a host of other things that can and sometimes ruin their futures.

  9. I guess when you go into this kind of a noble work with positive intention, possibilities would always open up to support you. Loved the post.

    Shakti

    • Thank you for loving the post. I am humbled. I don’t think any of us go into the program necessarily with ‘noble’ intentions. Believe me, all of us for the most part are dragged kicking and screaming. Those of us who stay, well perhaps we see sometimes there is a positive outcome, then we begin to feel as if we make a contribution that is worth it.

      Val

  10. I agree. I think that there are a lot of laws and standards that are no longer appropriate. And the whole states rights thing makes me nuts. It has for years and years.

  11. I just can’t see a national age of consent happening because of States Rights. Other than that, I’m too tired to comment …. Hi Val!

    • Agreed, it would be a difficult to tackle because the states are jealous of their independence. Sometimes though we have to find a way around this. Labeling young people sex offenders for consensual sex and destroying their future is simply the wrong answer.

      Hi Frank, welcome home.

  12. Va your posts are so powerful and to the point. You tackle issues that few of us know anything about in our comfortable middle class ghettoes, wherever we live in the world.
    What a pity that with all your knowledge, experience, insight and wisdom you aren’t a legislator. Is there any way you can get your voice heard loud and clear????

    • I don’t think I could put my family in the spotlight of me running for office, it is simply to ugly. But somehow we have to start shining the light on some of these issues. Thanks Valerie.

  13. Anyone who cares to investigate athletes – especially football players – as entitled and untouchable demi-gods should check out Ohio, the hallowed ground where the sport originated. It is a Buckeye religion. The Steubenville case is only scratching the surface. I used to teach there…with athletes in my classes. Mystefying. High schools scout and court players like colleges do…colleges treat players like the pros do…and the professional team has a PR department that specializes in covering up its players misdeeds. Sickness.
    Later….

  14. I have long opposed the draconian application of the age of consent and the outlaw of versions of sex which offend the sexually repressed. I applaud the Romeo and Juliet clauses, where they exist to protect the young, but harbor a resentment evil finds a way to exploit it. Then again, laws are not for the law-abiding.

    The higher the age, the lower the education responsibility. If it is illegal, why bother to teach the children about it? Such inane, circular logic. The national age of maturation in females has dropped so low, in order to alarm health care, a girl must mature before age seven. We all know the resistance children have to urges.

    My question to our lawmakers, as removed from reality as they are, would be how well they would fare with a decade of fighting nature while facing the serious emotional upheaval of adolescence. Is makes me wonder who is profiting from the laws.

    Yes, this makes me want to scream.

    • Jimmy was a composite of two young men I met at the last panel. I nearly wept. I agree with you, laws are not for the law-abiding. The other problem? Very few teens know the laws of their states, certainly not of other states before they set about breaking them.

      Maturation, seven? Please save us all.

  15. This is overwhelming to read….and I’m not sure how to respond.

    So – thank you for your work and thank you for writing this. It’s important and people need to red it.

    • Respond with what you think, shouldn’t we be looking at these laws? Should we be looking to change the rules and demanding justice for some of these young people whose futures have been destroyed by pettiness.

      • ABSOLUTELY we should be!

        The problem I had…and perhaps many others, is I had NO IDEA there was such a major inconsistency…and the HUGE implications of these out-dated and irrelevantly worded laws. So, YES…we should be looking to change the laws…YES! Thank you again for bringing to light something that is a MAJOR, yet sadly overlooked reality.

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