Saturday, March 12, 2011

A small distinction

There's a big nationwide news story about a group of up to 28 guys (older teens) who gang-raped an 11 year old girl. It's a horrible thing that, sadly, happens far too much these days. A large part of the story now seems to be how it was reported. The New York Times story made it seem as though it was the victim's fault, using phrases like "dressed older than her age" and that the men were "drawn into the act". Lots of outrage for the NYT, and rightly so. The thing I have a bit of confusion over, is the constant assertion that an eleven year old cannot consent to sex. Or more specifically, that anyone under the age of consent cannot consent to sex.

Don't get me wrong, at all. I believe in statutory rape laws. I believe that an 18 year old who has sex with a 15 year old is in the wrong, regardless of circumstances. I once was that 15 year old and I can tell you from experience that it is easy for an older person to take advantage of a kid, to convince her (or him, I guess) to do something she/he might not really want to do. Adults are clever and can manipulate kids; the law has to reflect that reality. That adults can talk kids into just about anything. That is, that they can talk kids into consenting to just about anything. And that's where I get the confusion about statutory rape victims being unable to consent. Not, of course, eleven year olds with 28 men on them, but the average 'he was 18 she was 15' kind of victim.

I read an article that pointed out just how wrong and misleading it is to claim that a statutory rape victim had sex with an adult. Because the kid can't have sex, can only be raped. Any person under the age of consent is legally unable to consent, unable to willingly have sex. And since the kid legally cannot be willing, by definition they were actually unwilling. So, by virtue of birthday, my teenage boyfriend forcibly raped me over and over, right? See, I thought he was just a dick to talked me into it and manipulated my emotions, but apparently I was unwilling the whole time. So, in fact, the guy I thought I loved when I was 15 was way worse than the guy who pinned me down and tore my insides up in a closet after a party 3 years later. Right?

If we dilute the word rape to mean people who legally couldn't consent as opposed to just people who actually didn't consent, we do a disservice to all the women who know what it's like to be forced, physically overpowered and forced. Too drunk to consent is not the same as drugged and raped. Too young to consent is not the same as tried to refuse. And when we equate it all we don't elevate the severity and anger of the legal definition up to the level of the standard, we undermine the standard. When I first read about an 11 year old in Texas gang-raped by 28 men, I assumed an 11 year old in Texas was forced by a gang of men. Now, with all the dickering over terminology, I wonder if maybe she was only "legally" raped. You can argue that there's no difference all you want, and at age 11 there probably isn't much of one, but if you've ever fought against rape you will know that there is a big difference between being forced and being talked into something. Which is kind of odd, since if I put a gun to some 15 year old kid's head and march him into a liquor store and tell him to rob it, he probably won't do any time. But if I tell him all the cool kids are doing it and it's so mature, and then he goes and does it, no one stands there and says he's too young to willingly rob a place. No, he'd go to juvie, if they didn't try him as an adult anyway. Because kids can consent to all sorts of things, as proven by the fact that they do them, but somehow not sex. And like I said, I think adults who fuck kids need to be arrested. I'm stricter on that than most of my friends. I honestly think a senior sleeping with a sophomore should be arrested. Maybe not put on the registry list, but arrested and fined and shit. But I don't think that being 15 is the same as screaming "No!" and raking your nails down some guy's face.

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