Legal, Religious, and Political Issues
With all of the recent accusations about sexual abuse and misconduct involving celebrities and politicians, I decided to look into the history of the age of consent. I have often discussed this topic with women that I personally know because this is such a sensitive subject. The first thing that must be clarified is that there is a difference between consent and molestation. Most of the cases we are seeing deal with molestation or sexual misbehavior, as the accusing victims are describing unwanted sexual advances by the accused. The reason I am writing this article is because there is a mixture of cases where the accusers were minors, and the accused are claiming it was consensual. So let's start with the legal definition of a consensual relationship.
Herein lies the problem. When I googled the federal age of consent, I got a different answer with each article I read. It seems that the federal law sits somewhere between the ages of 12-18 years old. The most definitive answer I got was from The Legal Dictionary which stated that the legal age is between 12-16 years old, as long as the two participants are within three years of age of each other. This means that one partner can be 19 if the other is 16 and consents. But then it gets clouded even more when it says that each state has its own age of consent which can override the federal law.
So each state has its own law, varying between the ages of 16-18. Here is another problem as the state laws already conflict with the federal law. Then most states have something called an age gap to protect sex between teens, that ranges from 0-5 years. In the example given, it says the legal age in Texas is 17 with an age gap of 3 years. So a 17 year old can legally have sex with a 14 year old. Looking at the chart, Maine and Hawaii have legal ages of 16 with a 5 year age gap, making sex with an 11 year old legal, which is even below the federal law.
State-by-state legal age laws
- Age of Consent by State | LegalMatch Law Library
Every state has laws which dictate at what age a person can legally consent to sex, called age of consent laws
When you look at the history of these laws you can understand why Americans are so confused about this subject as this is where religion and politics cross paths. It is stated that when the Europeans brought their laws to America, the age of consent was based on the legal age to get married, which at that time was as low as 9. Most sources I have found say that the first concrete age of consent was established in 1880 between the ages of 10-12, with Delaware being the exception with an age of 7. It makes you wonder if that had anything to do with the abolition of slavery 15 years earlier, which there is no way of proving, but it is something to think about. African Americans were now reproducing without the fear of having their families being torn apart, so the population was growing at a rapid rate.
It wasn't until 1920 that most states had raised there consent ages to 16, 17, and 18. Hawaii wasn't admitted to the union until 1959, so maybe the fact that they were so isolated from the mainland is they reason they just raised their age from 14 to 16 in 2001. Puerto Rico raised theirs from 14 to 16 in 2004 but are considering lowering it back to 14 due to the high number of criminal cases brought by the government since the law was changed.
Politics vs. Religion
Does it seem like politicians are torn between raising the age of consent? Just look at the most recent political turmoil caused by Roy Moore. It seems like the "Good Ole Boys" are all defending him by saying these young girls were in consensual relationships with him. But by law, he was way beyond the age gap allowed by law. It makes you wonder how many more men are going to be accused in the near future. Then you have the people that are defending him based on religious beliefs. Some are willing to forgive even if he he did commit these transgressions as long as it was consensual. So let's take a look at some religious arguments.
I mentioned that I have discussed this issue with several women. No matter what religion you follow, most people agree that there was a supreme creator of this planet we live on. My argument is that this creator gave every living creature, including plants and animals the ability to reproduce. When that living entity reaches the time in their life that they are able to reproduce, there is no set amount of time that they are to wait until they start reproducing.
This is where the age of consent comes into play with humans. The creator gave humans a physical sign that lets them know that their bodies are ready to reproduce, which we know as puberty. Throughout history and around the world, many religions have a ceremony for boys and girls when they reach the age of maturity. It may be a set age even though each child reaches puberty at different times. This age may have been used to set the age that they could get married in their particular culture.
So what determines how an age of consent is established? From the research I have gathered it is established as a way of keeping older men from having sexual relations with children. It seems that every culture is willing to accept that teenagers will experiment with sex once puberty hits, and they have established laws that account for this, by allowing that age gap mentioned earlier. Some places are stricter than others when it comes to the age gap, but no society likes for adults to take advantage of a child's sexuality. At the same time, there is a sickness in this world that allows adults to engage in sex with children to the point where they are kidnapped and sold as sexual slaves. This happens to boys as well as girls. Just like most criminal activity, it can only thrive as long as there are people willing to pay for the sexual exploitation of children.
The cases of Roy Moore and Kevin Spacey have shined a bright light on this problem that has been around for centuries. The victims are often too scared or too embarrassed to speak out while it is happening because the predator knows how to threaten them in such a way that they fear retaliation. As parents, we do whatever we can to protect our children from these predators.
It has just been reported that $15 million has been paid by American taxpayers to silence sexual harassment claims against members of Congress. So the public never knows that they are the ones paying to keep the victims silent. Because of this, the public also never knows who are the ones committing the violations. These people commit these offenses and don't even pay out of their own pockets. Therefore, it becomes obvious that it is even more difficult to solve the problem when the ones who are supposed to be enforcing the laws are the ones violating them.