Community News Network

November 19, 2013

Should we lower the age of consent to protect teen?

LOS ANGELES — In 16th-century England, the age of consent was set at 10 years old to protect young girls from sexual abuse by adult men. In 1875, parliament raised the age of consent to 13; in 1885, it upped it to 16. Now, a leading public health advocate has proposed that the United Kingdom bring the age down again in light of the high proportion of British adolescents who are having sex - with one another - before they're legally capable of granting consent.

Lowering the age of consent to 15 (where it stands in Sweden) or 14 (where it's set in Germany and Italy) would "take these enormous pressures off children and young people" who feel they need to hide their sexual activity, said John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health. Concern over running afoul of the law prevents sexually active teenagers from seeking help from adults when they need it, Ashton said. The policy shift would better empower teachers and other supervising adults to provide sexual health education and contraception access to 14- and 15-year-old students. Said Ashton: "They are doing it, and we need to be able to support them and protect them."

The argument for relaxing age of consent laws is typically focused on protecting older sex partners, who can be aggressively prosecuted for having sex with (sometimes, only slightly) younger people. In 2007, Slate's Will Saletan argued that when it comes to sex involving minors, "the ages of the parties vary widely from case to case," and in courtrooms across the United States, "horny teen-agers are being thrown in with pedophiles." He added: "Having sex at 12 is a bad idea. But if you're pubescent, it might be, in part, your bad idea. Conversely, having sex with a 12-year-old, when you're 20, is scummy. But it doesn't necessarily make you the kind of predator who has to be locked up."

Defending a 20-year-old's right to have sex with a 12-year-old is unlikely to make a very powerful case for relaxing age of consent laws. (After all, "pubescent" does not equal "mentally mature," and "is scummy" and "should be locked up" are not mutually exclusive concepts.) But Ashton is making a different argument, and his focus on the health and wellness of sexually active minors (and not the scummy adults who hope to join in) is worth further consideration.

Sex among minors is so seriously policed that it can be difficult for adults to even discuss it with tweens and teens before they reach the legal threshold. But in order for public health outreach to work, it needs to reach kids and adolescents before they actually start having sex. And framing early sexual experiences as against the law - and potentially against the will of both sex partners - doesn't provide the best framework for establishing healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors throughout life.

Some public advocates against lowering the age in the United Kingdom have argued that the main problem is the simple lack of comprehensive sex education for younger students, which could be remedied without touching the age of consent law. Others have said that relaxing the age of consent would make adolescents more vulnerable to sexual abuse: "Predatory adults would be given legitimacy to focus their attentions on even younger teen-agers, and there is a real risk that society would be sending out the message that sex between 14- to 15-year-olds is also acceptable," said Liz Dux, a lawyer who has represented sex abuse victims of British broadcaster Jimmy Savile. But lowering the age of consent wouldn't prevent the U.K. from prohibiting sexual contact between people of considerable age differences. Communicating an acceptance of sex between two 14-year-olds is much, much different than legitimizing contact between a 14-year-old and a predatory adult. Maybe the law should reflect that distinction - in Britain and here.

             

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Search teams will send unmanned sub to look for missing Malaysian airliner

    Teams searching for a missing Malaysian airliner are planning for the first time to send an unmanned submarine into the depths of the Indian Ocean to look for wreckage, an Australian official leading the multi-nation search said Monday.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014