Statutory Rape Laws
Good or Bad?
In the United States, the offense that occurs when an older individual has sex with another individual who is not yet of-age, it is termed “statutory rape.” When it comes to sex, consent is a must. This is widely agreed upon in the United States, and a large reason why statutory rape laws have been enacted. Specifically, statutory rape legislation has been implemented in an attempt to balance the difference of power that exists between the old and the young--at least, that is what most of us would like to believe the law does. Proponents of these laws claim they are necessary in order to protect the interests of young people who are not able (in the eyes of the law) to give sexual consent. Opponents claim these laws are extremely unfair and unequally implemented—often re-enforcing the sexual stereotype of passive females being manipulated into sex by aggressive and forceful males who cannot think. Certainly there are benefits and drawbacks to statutory rape laws, but when considering the overall effect, statutory rape laws are not preventing the problem they seek to address. Statutory rape laws do not protect minors because they are ignorant of the true nature of rape, they are innately sexist, and they do not solve any problems regarding sexual violations against young people.
By taking the position that statutory rape laws are unnecessary, I am definitely not condoning sex between very young adolescents and much older adults. I think these acts are always morally wrong and involve manipulation, force, and coercion. However, I believe these occurrences should be defined as molestation, or as standard (non-statutory) rape and also prosecuted as such. When we throw in the word statutory, we create a subset rape legislation that is only called upon in extremely specific circumstances--statistically speaking, almost all statutory rape cases are brought against males and not females--but why? Is it because men are raping in disproportionate numbers compared to females? Or could it just as likely be that men do not report rape due to societal pressure to always be willing and eager sexual partners? It seems to me that a law called upon only in specific situations where a teenaged female was found to be having sex with an older teenaged male--typically, not that much older--do not do much to protect minors so much as they protect a female's (historically necesssary) sexual purity, and/or to provide a way for the female's family to seek retribution for the destruction of their daughter's virginity. Adolescence is a time when strong urges to have sex are natural. I would venture to assume that an 18 year old male is just as willing to have sex as a 16 year old female.
If statutory law was meant to protect minors, and not simply female sexual purity, we would see a more even amount of cases charged against females as we would males. The fact that many of the cases that are prosecuted under statutory rape laws involve males being charged by females or the female’s family shows either a discrepancy in law implementation (perhaps due to males’ fear of chastisement or scrutiny if they were to report a rape), or a phenomenon of statutory rape only occurring against females. I would like to offer another (just as) possible explanation. It could be likely that in modern society women do not own their sexuality, and therefore any sexual intercourse she participates must be a violation. This attitude goes back very far in history when a woman’s sexual purity was owned by her family. If she were to take control of her sexuality and actually enjoy a sex life regardless of her societal duties or obligations, then people would rather assume that some barbaric male was to blame. Women, after all, are as pure as flowers and would never, ever be so vile. Due to this historical context, it could easily be hypothesized that teenage girls have an extraordinarily high amount of pressure to maintain purity, and could possibly be experiencing shame or guilt after a sexual experience due to society’s unwillingness to grant them their sexual freedom.
It’s also worth pointing out that males can be taken advantage of by females. It seems to be an assumption that a male is always going to be a willing participant. However willing the male seems—their sexual arousal and subsequent participation in intercourse is just as likely to be a coercive response perpetrated by an older female. Sadly, males may feel obligated by society to rejoice in their sexual conquest rather than reflect on the coercive nature of the interaction.
Statutory rape is narrowly defined. Rape is defined as sex by force. Statutory rape is simply defined as sex between a minor and an adult—whether or not force was implemented, it is implied due to the inability of minors to make decisions. Most would agree that children should definitely not be having sex, however—the issue of whether a rape has occurred becomes difficult to ascertain when deciding on the proper “cut off” point between minor and adult—as well as the age difference that is appropriate for sexual intercourse to take place. Certainly, it is a complex question due to the unique maturity levels of teenagers. The statutory rape laws are too sweeping and do not account for individual cases where the age difference is small and likely insignificant.
Conclusively, statutory rape laws do little to protect minors because they are mired in historical rhetoric about a woman’s sexuality, they are unevenly enforced, and they do not do anything to protect young people. Teenagers having sex with other teenagers is not harmful, and is probably even healthy. Statutory rape laws are unnecessary to protect young people from sexual violence.