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It’s Time to Discuss Statutory Rape Laws

This is an uncomfortable topic, so it makes sense that we as a culture try to avoid it, but here it is: teenagers engage in behavior that we would rather they wait on. This has been true from the beginning of time.

Another uncomfortable fact: teenagers are neither children nor adults. They have to be protected (both by parents and the law), but they also need more freedom because they are not completely incapable of making decisions for themselves.

In everyday life, we accept this. We know teenagers are in a gray area. We give them the chance to drive at 16 even though they are still, legally, children in every other sense. Why are we willing to trust children with massive vehicles that can go dangerous speeds and cause great damage? Well, most people would say they aren’t children, at least in that case.

What about leaving a 16-year-old home alone? If they are children, that is surely child abandonment, yet most of us would maintain they are, again, if not quite adults, still not children anymore.

Yet when it comes to issues of sex, we as a society like to think in black and white. Under-18 is a child, and they have no business doing anything a child wouldn’t do.

On the face of it, this is an absurd point. First of all, exactly what the age of consent should be is massively different across the world and even the country. Many Western countries mark consent around 15 or 16, South Korea marks it at 20. In the States, it falls somewhere between 16 and 18. So, when is a person legally able to decide? No one really seems to know.

This is not an arbitrary point. Statutory rape laws are in place in states like Texas that don’t allow for any nuance. There are even cases, though they are rare, of two consenting teenagers, both under age, being charged. The results of a statutory rape charge can be life-shattering. According to the Law Office of Mark T. Lassiter, it can result in years in prison and massive fines.

These punishments may seem fair when the criminal in everyone’s mind is some adult in their 40s praying on the innocent, but they can affect teenagers themselves just as often, if not more. An 18-year-old senior in high school dating a 15-year-old freshman is at risk of criminal charges under this system.

This is a country that can’t really decide when a person should be an adult. At 16, we drive, at 18 we vote, smoke, and join the army, at 21 we drink. Culturally, people are still considered immature halfway through their 20s. So, when is a person an adult? It seems we can see gray on this issue for everything except one thing: sex. And that is destroying lives.

It’s time for America to have an uncomfortable conversation and get this right.