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 seen as rape, usually called statutory rape.
The age varies wildly across the world ranging from 12 in Angola to over 21 in Bahrain. In Europe it ranges from 14 in many countries such as Germany to 18 in Malta and Turkey. In the USA it varies state by state 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), 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 in the Union (with the exception of Georgia) 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 also changed its age of consent laws from 12 to 18 in 2013 under Pope Francis following priest molestation scandals.
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 1]
- 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".
- Age Does Not Reflect Maturity: Individuals mature at different rates: some people above the age of consent may not be mature enough for a relationship, whereas some people below the age may fully understand what they're getting into. Since sex can't be banned entirely, it might as well be legal for all.
- Human Right: As human beings, kids should have the freedom to have sex with adults if they so choose
- Conflict between protection and autonomy: Protective measures deny the agency of individuals and can interfere with the ability of individuals to take control of their own reproductive capacity and sexual health, when autonomy and informed decision-making form the best route towards long-term health and well-being.
- 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, STIs, and suboptimal treatment.
While far from universal, there are several areas where such sexual activity involving minors is not considered statutory rape or is treated less severely. Typically these are:
- When both partners are of a similar age (often called Romeo and Juliet laws)
- 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 case to be dismissed. An example was Virginia (before the law changed in 2008).
There are also circumstances in which the age limit may be even higher than the official age of consent, 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. 
- People debating age of consent issues are usually vague about what exactly "informed consent" involves.
- widely reported but this source says 14
- 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.
- Qualitative research on legal barriers to young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, International Planned Parenthood Federation
- 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