Underage dating debate
Martha Kempner Age of consent laws are meant to protect young people from exploitation by adults but in too many instances they send 18-year-old boys to jail for having consensual sex with their 15-year-old girlfriends.
The boys then end up on sex offender registries for life along side rapists and pedophiles. and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.
While some law enforcement officials thought this was the right approach, many advocates for adolescent health were skeptical at best.
The deputy district attorney in California’s Tulare County told the L. Times: “When we prosecute a few of these guys, we think it’ll make a lot of guys think twice.” By contrast, law professor Michelle Oberman felt these laws would never act as a deterrent: “Drawing a connection between enforcing these laws and lowering adolescent pregnancy rates flies in the face of everything we know about why girls get pregnant and why they choose to continue their pregnancies.
The question remains, however, how do these laws distinguish between exploitative relationships and consensual relationships between young people?
Is there a way to protect teens from exploitation without making them vulnerable to unnecessary prosecution?
And what does all of this say about how society handles teen sex?
(Years later as a sexuality educator, these are among the litmus tests I would suggest to teens.) The problem that really didn’t occur to me until last week, however, is that from a legal standpoint it was not a consensual relationship.
In Massachusetts—which has one of the least nuanced laws regarding age of consent—a person under 16 cannot give consent, and I was three months shy of my 16 birthday that summer.
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So, though I saw it as a normal and mostly positive sexual experience, had authorities been notified of it for whatever reason, they would have declared it a crime.