Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Statutory Rape

Yes, I'm finally trying to get my thoughts together about this.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there's this excellent essay. (BTW, before you read this: Serious trigger warning. Not even kidding.)

Entering our teenage years in the sex saturated ’90s, my friends and I knew tons about rape. We knew to always be aware while walking, to hold your keys out as a possible weapon against an attack. We knew that we shouldn’t walk alone at night, and if we absolutely had to, we were to avoid shortcuts, dark paths, or alleyways. We even learned ways to combat date rape, even though none of us were old enough to have friends that drove, or to be invited to parties with alcohol. We memorized the mantras, chanting them like a yogic sutra, crafting our words into a protective charm with which to ward off potential rapists: do not walk alone at night. Put a napkin over your drink at parties. Don’t get into cars with strange men. If someone tries to abduct you, scream loudly and try to attack them because a rapist tries to pick women who are easy targets.

Yes, we learned a lot about rape.

What we were not prepared for was everything else. Rape was something we could identify, an act with a strict definition and two distinct scenarios. Not rape was something else entirely.

Not rape was all those other little things that we experienced everyday and struggled to learn how to deal with those situations. In those days, my ears were filled with secrets that were not my own, the confessions of not rapes experienced by the girls I knew then and the women I know now.

When I was twelve, my best friend at the time had met a guy and lied to him about her age. She told him she was sixteen and she did have the body to back it up. Some “poor hapless” guy sleeping with her accidentally would make complete sense - except for the fact that guy was twenty-five. He eventually slept with her, taking her virginity, even after he figured out how old we were. After all, it’s kind of a dead giveaway if you’re picking your girlfriend up at a middle school.

Another friend of mine friend shocked me one day after a guy (man really) walked past us and she broke down into a sobbing heap where we stood. She confided in me that when she was eleven she had a child, but her mother had forced her to put the child up for adoption. The baby’s father was the guy who had nonchalantly passed her by on the street. We were thirteen at the time, a few weeks shy of entering high school.

Later, I found out that she was at school when she met her future abuser/baby daddy. He was aware she was about eleven - what other age group is enrolled in Middle School? At the time, this guy was about nineteen. He strung her along in this grand relationship fantasy, helping her to cut school as they drove around and had sex in the back of his car. When she got pregnant with his child, he dropped her. However, living in the same area means she would run into him about once a month, normally leading to an outburst of tears or screaming fits on her end and cool indifference (with the occasional “you were just a slut anyway”) from him. (...)

The years kept passing and the stories kept coming.

My ex-boyfriend had a friend who had been dating the same girl for about seven years. I found out the girl was eighteen at the time of their breakup. Eighteen minus seven equals what? The girl was eleven when they began dating while the man involved was nineteen. When the relationship ended, he was twenty-seven. I expressed disgust, and my ex had told me that while everyone else in their friend circle had felt the same way, the girl’s parents were fine with it, even allowing the guy to spend the night at their home. “Besides,” my ex offered nonchalantly, “she had the body of a grown woman at age eleven.”

Not rape came in other many other forms as well. No one escaped - all my friends had some kind of experience with it during their teen years.
It's hard for me to read these stories and not feel like these girls were transgressed upon, but...

On the other hand, there's a question of agency. Just as it is not fair to say that adult women are not qualified to make certain decisions (it used to be voting, nowadays for many people it's reproductive control), I hesitate to look at a very young girl with an older partner and say, "She couldn't possibly have really agreed to have sex with him. I mean, she's too young. No young girl thinks about sex or wants to have it, let alone with older guys. They're young and innocent!" Isn't that perpetuating a sexist myth that women are these idealized vessels of purity who become less pure with age and sexual maturity? That men are wicked corrupters,twisting innocent virgins and ruining them by having sex with them!

There's also the fact that people who have sex with younger partners (obviously not always women, but let's say women because it's the iconic example) might end up in sex-offender registries, introducing themselves to their neighbors for the rest of their lives as a sexual deviant because when they were seventeen their girlfriend was sixteen or fifteen or whatever.

Can we say with all the certainty and weight of law that a person below the age of eighteen is not qualified to govern his or her behavior? If we can say that a young girl is not mature enough to consent, is it so different to say that she is not mature enough to refuse?

I don't know how I feel about it. Opinions? Having sex with a much younger partner: rape, Not Rape, or seriously totally fine?

1 comment:

Scott Ferguson said...

I have read at least one article recently discussing the fact that we as a society lump together pedophiles and 18+ men who sleep with 15 year old women (girls?) The difference between the two seems pretty stark to me.

That said, men can be predatory toward teenagers. I think statutory rape laws are a good faith effort to handle the situation of 25 year olds preying on 14 year old girls while accounting for the fact that teenagers sometimes have sex and it isn't a crime. That's why, here in enlightened Alabama :), the law allows an exception if the difference in age is no more two years. Perfect? Nope? Are there better approaches? I'm open.

Full disclosure: My children are both adopted out of situations involving teenage birthmothers. The letter of stautory rape law was a possible concern in one of those situations.