Confounding the Age of Consent
The family of a 14-year-old girl sued the Los Angeles Unified School district in civil court as a result of a six month sexual relationship with a 28-year-old teacher. This was apart from the criminal trial in which the teacher was convicted and sentenced for lewd acts against a child. The school district’s primary defense against being held civilly responsible for this sexual abuse was that the district had no knowledge of the relationship and was therefore not at fault. The jury bought the argument but that is only half of the story.
The district’s attorneys also mounted their defense based upon their assertion that a 14-year-old girl is capable of, and therefore culpable and responsible for, having given consent. Further, the district went so far as to introduce evidence of the child’s previous sexual history as proof thereof.
As reported by Karen Foshey of KPCC, the attorney representing the school district justified the legal strategy by saying that “Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher’”.
How could this be happening in our society today?
One of the most disturbing and foolish constructs in our society was the invention of the teenager. Before the 1950’s this term to describe a veritable no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood did not exist. From the dawn of time, we had children and adults and that was it. The transition between childhood and adulthood was to be a continual and trained graduation in responsibility and maturity with a clear goal in mind and that was to emerge as an adult as soon as possible in terms of stature, poise, judgement and potential.
Today, with the exception of organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, we no longer have a training and mentoring program to help youths make this transition successfully. Instead, we leave our youth at the mercy of their peers, the media and even worse, poor adult role models, as we have allowed them to segregate from adult society into an ill-defined and destructive subculture.
As a result of our having thoroughly blurred the lines between innocent children and irresponsible adults, what we are left with is a group of in-betweens twisting in the wind above an ever-increasing chasm of mixed messages with respect to responsibility and accountability.
Our society today is grossly overly-sexualized and this certainly is the case with teenagers. Today, fourteen-year-olds are considered capable of consent as long as their partner is also underage. We hand out birth control at schools and also facilitate access to abortions all without parental consent. Finally, as a society we have witnessed and tolerated the onset of the hookup culture which serves to completely eviscerate any connection between sex and what was once considered the norm of prudent and meaningful adult relationships.
First Published in the Santa Barbara News Press.
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