In Defence of Statutory “Rape”
Obvious trigger warning is obvious
The geek blogospheres blew up a little this past week when Glee basically ripped off Jonathan Coulton’s cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”. This has a host of its own problems, which have been covered extensively elsewhere. (Seriously, did they just expect JoCo to be small enough that people wouldn’t notice the unoriginal cover?)
Apart from the plagiarizing douchenocity of this episode, there seem to be other questionable things happening in the plot that Elyse brought up over on Skepchick. You’ll want to read that article, since this is a response to what she said and not the music stuff.
I’ll go ahead and say that I’ve never watched Glee–obsession with that show made me lose respect for someone a long time ago, and it just never sounded fun. The whole ‘covering music with a choir of kids’ thing was already tacky back when we had Kidz Bop commercials between our cartoons. So, I know very little about the show, and basically everything I do know I learned from reading Elyse’s article and doing some minimal background research. This amount of information should suffice, but don’t get mad at my guesses.
Diluting the storyline as far as possible, Kitty the High School Student is flirting with Puckerman the High School Graduate. My understanding is that Kitty is about 15-16 and Puck is 18-19 (see that awesome research?). If seasons work like years, Puck has graduated since the beginning of the show and he’s a pretty fresh adult. The dialogue and mood of the show tell us that these characters end up having sex.
We define ‘rape’ as sexual contact that occurs without consent of one of the parties involved. Elyse says several times that this sexual encounter is bold-faced rape because Kitty is unable to consent to sex due to her age. To address the strictly legal aspect of this argument: If we assume that Kitty is 16, she is legally able to consent to sex in the state of Ohio, as well as 29 other states. If she’s not yet 16, we may be more likely to consider this statutory rape, but I don’t think we should be calling this ‘rape’ at all.
One of the phrases we like to use is “enthusiastic consent” when we’re referring to what should be ideal in terms of consensual sex. Based on the dialogue of the show, Kitty is absolutely enthusiastic about the encounter. This is someone she seems to be familiar with, that she probably knew before he was an adult. They may have been classmates. The age gap is not big enough to warrant a huge fuss over how old her partner is, and she seems to know what she’s getting into.
At what point, exactly, does someone’s consent become valid? Kitty is consenting all over the place. There is not a magic wand that waves at midnight on someone’s birthday, suddenly granting them the power to decide what things to put in their orifices. If we use the blanket standard of ‘you can’t consent to sex until you’re 18’, following that logic would mean that a 17-year-old woman engaged in sex in the moments leading up to her birthday would be being raped from 11:57 p.m. to 11:59, but would suddenly be having consensual intercourse at 12:00 a.m. and beyond.
Following that logic, the majority of times I’ve had sex, I was being raped. I’m 18 and I became sexually active when I was 14, two of my partners were over 18 while I was a minor. However, I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault and not a single one of those encounters was rape. This is just one example, but there are probably a substantial number of young people who engage in completely consensual sex with their peers, give or take a few years.
Back when my husband and I first met and were hanging out as friends, he was very recently 18. Very shortly into this friendship, my mother wildly threatened to “have him thrown in jail” for statutory rape. Thanks to that, I kept my sex life a complete secret from everyone for the duration of my “childhood”, even though I was and have always been a pro-actively sexual person and have never had sex without mutual consent. Someone else’s (particularly my mother’s) power to overrule my consent and have my partner arrested plagued me for years.
It’s incredibly insulting to make the blanket statement that someone is incapable of consenting to sex until they’re 18. 16 is fairly understandable, but this isn’t something that can be easily diagnosed based on the number of star-revolutions you’ve lived through. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand being incensed about the exploitation of children. But how we define “child” is seriously a problem.
If we in the skeptic, atheist, feminist, social justice communities truly value young people and want them to be interested in our causes, we have to give them more consideration and more credit than this. It’s extremely condescending and off-putting to have your right to bodily autonomy thrown under the bus by the people who are supposed to understand sexual freedom and support informed decision-making.
Featured image from www.glennsacks.com