When I wrote last week’s column, I admitted to finding myself in an unusual quandary. I found a situation where the “rightness” and “wrongness” of an issue wasn’t as black or white as I wanted it to be. The issue of “statutory rape” in some instances is one where, depending on the circumstances, the “rapist” and the “victim” may not accurately describe the individuals involved in the act.
As an example, if an 18-year-old girl who is in love with a 15-year-old boy has sex with him, she has committed “statutory rape.” In such a case, is the boy really the “victim” and is the girl a “rapist”? Legally, the response would be yes. But if she gets pregnant and subsequently gives birth, she and other parents like them are labeled “young mothers” and “fathers” and not “rapist” and “victim.” Hospitals and law enforcement won’t go after those mothers or fathers of the children born of such a relationship. And for the most part, when statutory rape is invoked, it is usually by the parent of the younger person who is upset that an 18-year-old (or older) had sex with their child. And rightly so.
Last week I also asked you all to put yourself in the shoes of the parents of a young man who has been charged with “statutory” rape. I created a phony background for that young man. I made him less than perfect, but still someone who tries to do the right thing. Some of you wrote some very eloquent responses (which can be viewed online) to my scenario. One person made an observation with which I must concur. The term “rape” may be the wrong verbiage to use to describe the encounter between two young people who are “dating.” Just like there are degrees to murder, should we have a similar set of degrees in place for sexual encounters?
The law states that a child cannot agree to sex. But we do have young people engaging in sexual intercourse and one of the barometers by which we measure that act is the teen birthrate. How should we as a society address the sexual encounters that don’t easily fit into the literal “rape” mode? Do we need degrees of accountability in judging the behavior of both individuals in the sex act or is the younger one automatically free from being held accountable?
As one commentator on my blog wrote: “There are certainly different degrees of culpability when men and older boys have sex with an underage child. Part of the difficulty in making distinctions is the use of the word rape to describe both non-consensual, forcible sex and consensual underage sex. Without making any excuses for those who have sex with an 11-year-old, however mature looking, willing, and whatever age they represent themselves to be, forcible rape is worse. Perhaps ‘illegal sex with an underage person’ rather than ‘statutory rape’ would be a better term for the sex where the illegality is solely based on the age of the younger participant, and force or threats are not used, would make the distinction clearer.”
I thought that response was very insightful. It helps to ease the grayness of my dilemma. I could see supporting that fictitious child in his journey through the criminal justice system even though the charges against him were horrific. One of the reasons I wrote my last column in the method I did was because, over the Internet, so many people had vilified the parents, neighbors and relatives of those “accused” without even beginning to see it from their perspective. How can one seek justice when, at the core of the crime, there is a perceived injustice?
P.S.: Join me every Wednesday for the Blues at Chez Roue 5200 W. Chicago Ave.