Age of consent
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The age of consent is a legal definition of the age at which an individual is deemed sufficiently mature to be able to consent to sex. Consent given by individuals below that age is not valid, and the sexual act is legally considered rape, specifically statutory rape (as in, "defined by statute").
The age varies across the world, ranging from onset of puberty[note 1] in the Mexican federal state of Nayarit to 21 in Bahrain. In Europe it ranges from 14 in many countries, such as Germany, to 18 in Turkey and Vatican City. In the USA it varies among states and territories within the range of 16 to 18.
In the late 1800s, the age of consent was 10-12 years of age in most states in the U.S. (though as low as 7 in Delaware[note 2]), and 10 in India. The social purity movement, which included the American Purity Alliance and Woman's Christian Temperance Union, was instrumental in getting the age of consent raised to 16-18 in every state (with the exception of Georgia[note 3]) by 1920. They argued that a low age of consent encouraged prostitution, because once a young woman had been seduced, society left her no choice but to become a prostitute.
In the U.K., the Labouchere Amendment, passed in 1885, raised the age of consent for women from 13 to 16. (This law also criminalized gay sex as "gross indecency"; Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were both prosecuted under this law.) The Holy See changed its age of consent from 12[note 4] to 18 in 2013 under Pope Francis, following priest molestation scandals.[note 5]
Common arguments about the age of consent
- The Imbalance In Power Argument: There is an imbalance in power between the adult and teen. This imbalance in power means that the relationship is inherently abusive.
- The Harm Argument: Sex between an adult and a teenager leads to inherent harm and psychological damage for the younger person, independent of the defining of the act as abuse or harmful (otherwise the argument would be simply self-fulfilling).
- The Lack of Informed Consent Argument: The age of consent refers to the age at which a person can be reasonably expected to be able to give informed consent to sex.[note 6]
- The Adult Only Wants One Thing Argument: Underage sex is abusive because the adult must necessarily be only interested in sex with the teen.
- The Failure to Respect the Teen as a Person Over Time Argument: Similar to above, but not identical. This is a common "philosophical" justification of the age of consent, stating that the adult is only interested in the teen as a teen, rather than as a person.
- The Unmarried Sex With a Teen is Wrong Argument: Proponents of this argument hold that what is wrong in particular with adults having sex with teens is that it is necessarily unmarried sex (in most countries the marriage age is now higher than the age of consent). (For much of human history, men over 18 having sex with girls under 18, either within marriage or shortly before marrying, was considered normal or even was the norm, but those days are over.)
- The Innocent Child Argument: Teens under the age of consent are sexually innocent. An adult having sex with a teen represents an act of defilement and a premature loss of sexual "innocence".
- The Woman Will Later Regret It Argument: This can also be described as "The Woman Will Regret Early Sex Argument". (Obviously, men never will, because men regardless of age always continuously desire sex with anyone, and anyway if they do regret it they're sissy losers because real men don't have feelings.)
- Reluctance to seek or offer advice: young people may be reluctant to seek healthcare advice if they believe their actions may be illegal, and likewise healthcare professionals may be reluctant to offer advice to underage people, leading to risk of pregnancy, STI, and suboptimal treatment.
While far from universal, there are situations where sexual activity involving minors is not considered statutory rape or is treated less severely. Typically these are:
- When both partners are close in age. These exceptions are often called "Romeo and Juliet laws".[note 7]
- Where the partners are legally married. Note that this implies
- that the age for marriage and the age of consent are not necessarily the same. (Brunei is an example of this; also, in the U.S., only 27 states specify a minimum age for marriage, and 10 of those exempt couples who have a child or are expecting one. The other 23 states allow marriage at any age with parental and/or judicial approval.) There is a movement underway to make the minimum age for marriage identical to the minimum age for sex with a significantly older adult.
- that the marriage laws 'trump' the age of consent laws.
In fact, in some jurisdictions, a subsequent marriage between the victim and offender will cause the statutory rape charge to be dismissed. This is definitely a good idea because a rapist would never rape a minor and then coerce them to marry their rapist in order to, *ahem*, get the abuser off. But this is commanded by God Himself, so who are we to judge? An example was Virginia, before the law was changed in 2008.[note 8]
There are also circumstances in which the age of consent may be even higher than the "regular" age, such as:
- Where there is a position of trust. For example, in Britain the age of consent is 16 but rises to 18 in teacher/pupil relationships
- When the relationship is exploitative; for example in Germany and Canada which have their ages at 14 and 16 respectively, it is illegal to do sexual stuff with anyone under the age of 18 if the older partner exploits the younger partner.
- See pubarche: roughly age 11 for girls and 12 for boys, often varying individually by up to a few years
- What the fuck, Delaware?!
- *cue banjo music*
- There, the problem is all fixed now!
- People debating age of consent issues are usually vague about what exactly "informed consent" involves.
- Maybe not the best name, since Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy where both lovers commit suicide at the end (spoiler!), though granted their deaths have nothing to do with their ages, being fairly typical marriage ages in Europe at the time the play was written
by Roger Bacon.
- Meaning that Virginians are destined to be smitten by God for their sinful rebellion against His divine Law unless they hurry up and change it back!
- CÓDIGO PENAL PARA EL ESTADO DE NAYARIT, article 260. There are also rules for people under 11, but it is not clear whether they are only an aggravation or whether it is illegal to have sex with a pubescent under-11 years old. If the person is a "pubescent, chaste and honest woman under eighteen years of age", "obtaining her consent by seduction or deception" is forbidden. "Chastity, honesty and seduction are presumed, unless proven otherwise." (Article 258) But article 258 is only enforced if the girl or her parents complain (article 259). Probably because of article 258 ageofconsent.net states the age of consent as 18.
- but, as ever, it's not that straightforward
- Potts, Andrew (12 July 2013). "Vatican City raises age of consent from 12 to 18 following scandals". Gay Star News.
- Risk management: Young people and the Fraser guidelines: confidentiality and consent, Charlotte F Fleming, The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, 2006; 8:235–239
- This article discusses R&J laws from a US perspective
- Cocca, Carolyn. Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape Laws in the United States
- see paragraph 16