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Monday, August 20, 2007

Talk About a Typo!!!

According to the Associate Press, Arkansas lawmakers are in deep dodo.

Recently they passed a law that was supposed to set the age of marriage as 18 unless the girl was pregnant. The problem is, someone forgot to proofread it before they past the law. As passed, the law sets the age of marriage as 18 unless the girl is not pregnant!

This opens the door for me to talk about a very controversial trend that has been taking shape for more than 100 years. Until the late 1800s, the age of consent in most states was 14 or less (some as low as 9, I believe). In the 1890s a group of well intentioned Christian activists began a campaign to raise the age of consent in their states. The good intention was a simple one. They believed that by raising the age of consent that fewer young women would end up involved in prostitution. Yes, they are the same ones that convinced most states to ban prostitution completely.

Over the years, the age of consent has slowly been pushed higher and higher. Statutory rape laws were passed to punish anyone who violated the new edicts. The punishments over the years have also grown, from at one point the crime being considered little more than a misdemeanor in some jurisdictions to one that can land an offending party in prison for decades.

The problem is, no one has really considered whether these laws are truly effective in addressing the problems they claim to, nor are they alone. Patterns of behavior that were once considered potentially romantic (a man pursuing the woman of his dreams incessantly for example) now result more often than not in charges of sexual harrassment and/or stalking. Now, mind you, I am not saying there are not serious nut cases out there that women need to be defended against, but I am asking if we might have over stepped the bounds of reasonability.

Let me give an example. I cannot remember where I read it (I believe it was in a law review magazine many years ago), but there was an article where the author argued that the more strict our laws on such sex and lawful relationships become, the more likely we are to have lovers who choose to elope, hiding the true age of their relationship, in an effort to pursue their hearts' desires. Literally, they would rather be fugitives than to be without each other. Sounds a bit insane to anyone who has never felt irrational love for someone.

I can understand our desire to protect women and young girls from abuse and exploitation, but should we truly be outlawing the potential of true love?

Please understand, I am not advocating any adult/child or forced relationships. What I do question is holding people criminally liable in cases where no criminal intent exists or where the age difference is negligible (say, within 3 or 4 years).

Allow me to give some examples. A while back two young teenagers were arrested and put into juvenile hall for engaging in mutually agreed upon sexual relations and charged with molesting each other. In another case, two children (under the age of twelve) faced similar charges in another state over what was essentially a 'playing doctor' incident. In still another case, two older teenagers ranaway from home, falsified their age on a marriage license application, had a judge perform the marriage, and went on to consumate that marriage. They are both facing charges for the falsified application and for the mutual sexual relations afterwards.

This is what I mean when I ask, have we gone too far on this issue. Understand, I am all for protecting our children. I have a 13-year-old niece that I hope is being looked after properly and taught to respect herself and her future potential enough not to give in to sex before she is truly ready. I do hope that if she does find the right person that they do not end up victims of an over-reactive system like in the cases above.

The fundamental fact is: We spend so much time on cases like these that too often the real situations that need intervention and criminal prosecution end up slipping through the system. The more resources spent on unnecessary cases, the less there is to spend on the real cases. I am, essentially, calling for a little common sense in the application and creation of our laws.

I hope I made my position on this crystal clear.

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