Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's time to revise our ideas about "protecting" children

I saw this article—"Florida teen fights expulsion and criminal charges for same sex relationship"—that came out a couple days ago. Florida seems to be intent on winning the label of Cesspool of the Universe what with trying to let George Zimmerman get away with killing Trayvon Martin (until public pressure forced them to do something), then trying to persecuteprosecute Kiera Wilmot (again, pressure). Now, the parents of a 15 year-old girl are siccing the state on their daughter's 18 year-old girlfriend.

Before people say Well, Kaitlyn was breaking the law, after all, let's look a little more carefully:

  1. This is about whether the parents of the 15 year-old approved of her relationship. We all know people with officially underage kids in relationships with someone a little too old (generally, more than 24 months older) to legally be in a relationship with them. The parents we all know like their child's friend, though, so they shield the couple from the law.
  2. The community is persecuting Kaitlyn (and her girlfriend) for being a lesbian and for having a same-sex romantic relationship. The legalities of the situation are merely the vehicle that lets them bring the power of the government into the situation.

Clearly, as a culture we need to get rid of the homophobia that is central to this situation, but I actually want to talk about getting rid of the vehicle used for the persecution: the notion that minors are incapable of consent. First, let me state that I have a daughter who is, at the moment, 16 (lest anyone try to say You'd change your tune if you had a kid). As one of her parents, I share responsibility with my wife for protecting our daughter's interests until she turns 18. For example, my understanding is that she could sue us if we badly mismanaged funds that grandparents have established for her with us as the named custodians. As her parents, we do not have rights so much as responsibilities.

That is the key, here. The law should not be set up so that abusive parents can use it to impose their own narrow visions of the world or morality on their kids (much less so that prosecutors can use it to persecute kids for sharing nude images of themselves with their friends, and, yes, persecution of teen sexting is part of the motivation for this post). The law needs to be such that sex without consent is called rape but not such that minors are incapable of giving consent.

We need nuance in the law, and that nuance should be informed by facts about adolescent development and how adolescents can and do give consent. It should not be based on fantasies of juvenile innocence or the preservation thereof. I am neither a lawyer nor a psychologist, so I have no specifics for a proposal for how the law should look, but I do know it should look more like my vision than like the status quo.

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