In the Blog

Age of Consent- Protection or Punishment for some teens?

September 28th, 2007     by Stacey May Fowles     Comments has an interesting piece regarding problematic age of consent laws in the United States. You might have heard that this week notorious polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was finally convicted as an accomplice to rape for orchestrating a sexually coercive marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs, who is hailed by his followers as a “prophet,” now faces life in prison, and for many people who have known about how his sect has exploited and abused young girls for many years, the verdict is a welcome one.

There is, however, another side of the age on consent law coin. During the last century countries have been raising and standardizing age of consent laws, meaning that people like Warren Jeffs fall in the same legal category as people like Generlow Wilson:

In Georgia, 21-year-old Genarlow Wilson is serving a mandatory 10-year jail sentence for aggravated child molestation. His crime: When he was 17, he had (consensual) oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.

I think you will agree with me that Wilson’s crime does not fall in the same catagory as Jeffs. As Slate rather unpoetically puts it “Horny teenagers are being thrown in with pedophiles.”

Some other examples I found: A seventeen-year-old girl in River Falls, Wisconsin was arrested for having consensual sex with her 15-year-old boyfriend and charged with the sexual assault of a child. An 18-year-old boy in Milton, Florida had consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, was arrested and charged with sexual assault, and spent a year in jail. Now he has to register as a sex offender.

These cases seem more to me like punishing teenagers for having sex than protecting teenagers from sexual assault and exploitation. They’re also part of a broader hypocricy:

States consider it a crime for adults to have sex with minors, but they allow kids as young as 12 to get married with parental and sometime judicial permission.

That means that a 15-year-old girl can’t engage in oral sex with her 17-year-old boyfriend, but in some states, a 30-year-old man can marry a 12-year-old girl with her parents’ permission?

Age of consent laws in Canada have recently been a hot issue, as Harper was determined to raise the (heterosexual) consent law from 14 to 16. This week that proposed bill expired, meaning an unexpected victory for activists. Unbelievably, the age of consent for anal sex in Canada is 18:

Queer activists say the bill was an unfair attack on youth rights and sexual freedom. As well, C-22 did not remove the age of consent for anal sex, which is now set at 18 under Canada’s Criminal Code.

If you’re interested in learning more about age of consent laws in Canada, go here.

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