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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Age of Consent

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Author Topic: Age of Consent
justinbieberfan
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I've heard about age of consent, legal age of sexual activity, acceptable age of sexual activity, etc. but what all does it mean and am I affected by it? [Confused]
FYI - I live in West Virginia and am 13 years of age.

-jbf

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Stephanie_1
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Age of consent is the minimum or lowest age that a person is considered to be legally competent to consent to sex of any kind. Some places make allowances for when both people are below a certain age while others don't. Virginia the legal age of consent is 18.

From the books:
quote:
However, if such child is thirteen years of age or older but under fifteen years of age and consents to sexual intercourse and the accused is a minor and such consenting child is three years or more the accused's junior, the accused shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony. If such consenting child is less than three years the accused's junior, the accused shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

In calculating whether such child is three years or more a junior of the accused minor, the actual dates of birth of the child and the accused, respectively, shall be used.

For the purposes of this section, (i) a child under the age of thirteen years shall not be considered a consenting child and (ii) "carnal knowledge" includes the acts of sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, anallingus, anal intercourse, and animate and inanimate object sexual penetration.



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"Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side" ~Anon

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justinbieberfan
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So I'm affected by this? Oh man, it's looking like abstinence is the only thing I'm allowed to do, according to the law in my state. Is that what's happening?

[ 09-24-2011, 11:00 AM: Message edited by: justinbieberfan ]

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BrightStar171
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Just want to be clear- the law Stephanie gave you is VIRGINIA's, not West Virginia. The law that's stated above DOES NOT apply to your state.

In West Virginia, the age of consent is 16, but there is an exception if both people having sex are within 4 years of age of each other. That means that at age 13, you could engage in sexual activity, but it would be legal ONLY if your partner was your age, or no more than four years older. If someone more than four years older than you had sex with you, they would be guilty of statutory rape, a felony that carries a prison term of up to five years.

(It's also a good idea to note, as this mixup illustrates, that these law can vary dramatically from state to state, which is something you should think about if you're a young person who might have a boyfriend or girlfriend in another state.)

Just generally, the age of consent, or legal age of sexual activity, is a term that means the youngest possible age that the state recognizes a minor as being legally competent to make the decision whether or not they want to have sex. A lot of states (like West Virginia) then have exceptions to that age, where if BOTH people having sex are younger than a certain age, it's legal. The reason for these laws is based around the (largely correct) assumption that if an adult is having sex with a young person (say, someone who's thirteen, like yourself), there's a power imbalance between these people that's so big, so insurmountable, that there's really no way to make sure that the young person isn't being coerced, tricked, forced, or otherwise taken advantage of. States then make exceptions to these laws, because of the assumption that if a young person is having sex with another young person, there's much less of a power imbalance than there would be between a young person and an adult. Does that make sense?

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Cesario
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I find it odd that people believe there is any defense for the existence of a law that legally requires some people to focus all their sexual attention on minors who are legally deemed incapable of providing meaningful consent.

Is there some greater detail to this "power imbalance" concept? Especially "insurmountable" ones. It seems that this imbalance only seems to matter to anyone when it comes to sex, and even on that subject, details on what the specific imbalances being worried over are scarce.

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Jill2000Plus
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Cesario, I'm very much an advocate for youth rights and I think adults take advantage of their position of power in all sorts of ways, and I still don't see any defence whatsoever for claims you have made on this board that there could ever be nothing wrong with an adult having "sex" with a 7 year old, or that an infant masturbating in public is equivalent to an adult masturbating in public.

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Stephanie_1
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BrightStar171: Thanks for catching that! (justinbieberfan sorry I missed the West in there)

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"Sometimes the majority only means that all the fools are on the same side" ~Anon

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BrightStar171
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I disagree, actually, both that the imbalance only matters when it comes to sex (though certainly, sex is something with potentially graver consequences and is therefore treated more seriously), and that details over what specific imbalances are worried about are scarce. Some examples: adults have access to political power; children don't. Adults have access to contraception; children don't. Adults have access to motor vehicles; children don't. Adults have access to life experience that allows them greater assertiveness; children (usually) don't. Adults have access to confidential medical care; children don't. Adults have access to abortion; children (in most states) don't. Adults have a position in society where they are more likely than children to be believed by police or taken seriously by the media. I think that if only one person in a "relationship" is legally or practically able to purchase contraception, for instance, that's a massive power imbalance right there when it comes to negotiating about contraception use. Which then is a big part of negotiating about sexual activity generally.
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Saffron Raymie
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Spot on, BrightStar. Sex can be more dangerous in relationship with a power imblance; but so can all other aspects of the relationahip as well. Emotional, verbal and phyisical intimate partner harm can occur in a relationship without sex. Also there are developmental differences:

0-2 is infancy
3-6 is a young child
7-11 is an older child
11-22 is an adolescent
and 22 onwards is an adult.

Coercion and deception can be very easy for an adult to carry out on someone in a previous state of development than them, especially coupled with all the adult having all the rights the other person does not have, as BrightStar listed above. (I's also add that adults have more unlimited access to the internet and books. Therefore they can look up proper sex education, rather than having limited time on a parents' computer if they're lucky - or rely on Absinance Only Education or bits and pieces of hetronormative, gender essentialist, penis-in-vagina sex as the real-deal type stuff, that doesnt bother explaining active, excited consent and arousal.)

Another factor is how young people and adults are treated in society; children and adolencents are talked down to and believed to be stupid; therefore many a keen to show adults that they are in fact the opposite. When sex and relationship readiness is seen as the benchmark for 'maturity' (it's not), young people are often keen to show that they are just as mature as any adult. They feel pressure to be developmentally in the same head space as an adult reguarding assertiveness and knowledge - rather than feeling relaxed enough to celebrate and acknowledge the difference between them.

The young person will also be continuously hearing the viewpoint that, just because the other person is a lot older, they are abusing them or grooming them, even if this is not the case. This can lead to the young person becoming very confused, feeling vulnerable and powerless in the relationship. This can be avoided by the acknowledgement of the social and developmental power imbalance; cultivating an awareness of how to keep oneself (and others) safe when in an age-gap relationship.

This is not to say that all adults will definately abuse this power at all. I had a fantastic relationship with an adult when I was an adolescent. This was because he was well aware of the social and developmental power difference between us. He made sure I wasn't trying to impress him when it came to sex, and did not feel like I always had to say yes to keep him from getting bored of me.

It is up to the adult to either be careful or reckless with their power - the latter causing dire emotional and/or physical results for the young person. However, we can teach younger people to be extra vigilant when it comes to older partners and to instantly recognise an abuse of power; be that abuse be emotional, verbal, sexual, phyisical, or the signs of an unhealthy realtionship: generally uncaring with their partner's emotions, parents, friends, schoolwork, contraception, health, desires, vulnerabilities, being unfair, being selfish etc.

[ 10-02-2011, 04:27 PM: Message edited by: RaeRay2112 ]

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'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' - Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

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Cesario
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quote:
Originally posted by Jill2000Plus:
Cesario, I'm very much an advocate for youth rights and I think adults take advantage of their position of power in all sorts of ways, and I still don't see any defence whatsoever for claims you have made on this board that there could ever be nothing wrong with an adult having "sex" with a 7 year old,

I see, so you advocate youth rights, but not to the extent of them being allowed to choose their own partners.
quote:
Originally posted by Jill2000Plus:

or that an infant masturbating in public is equivalent to an adult masturbating in public.

"Equivalent"? Can you refresh my memory as to where you got this one from? I'd rather not try to defend claims I've never made, and I don't recall the details on this one.
quote:
Originally posted by BrightStar171:
I disagree, actually, both that the imbalance only matters when it comes to sex (though certainly, sex is something with potentially graver consequences and is therefore treated more seriously),

The imbalance practically seems to be celebrated in other circumstances, rather than treated as a problem by the wider society.
quote:
Originally posted by BrightStar171:

and that details over what specific imbalances are worried about are scarce. Some examples: adults have access to political power; children don't. Adults have access to contraception; children don't. Adults have access to motor vehicles; children don't.

These are all major problems, and certainly imbalances between adults and children in need of being addressed.

Though I disagree that these are items that our society actually cares about, because we're still allowing politicians to have sex with foreign nationals and non-voting fellons without calling it rape. We're still allowing people with cars to have sex with people who can't afford one. And we're still allowing people who have the knowledge and finances to get ahold of condoms to have sex with people who don't.
quote:
Originally posted by BrightStar171:

Adults have access to life experience that allows them greater assertiveness; children (usually) don't.

Ah, "life experience". Can we get some more detail on that one? It's apparently responsible for assertiveness. That's something new I've learned. So, we're not allowing meek people to consent to sex with assertive people?
quote:
Originally posted by BrightStar171:

Adults have access to confidential medical care; children don't. Adults have access to abortion; children (in most states) don't. Adults have a position in society where they are more likely than children to be believed by police or taken seriously by the media.

Once again, a great set of items that ought to be addressed. And, I'll note, more examples of using one unreasonable age line to justify another. But if we applied them to equally to adults, we'd be prohibiting a lot of sex between adults as well, and we're just not doing that.

Men are still allowed to consent to sex with women, to point to one glaring example.
quote:
Originally posted by BrightStar171:

I think that if only one person in a "relationship" is legally or practically able to purchase contraception, for instance, that's a massive power imbalance right there when it comes to negotiating about contraception use. Which then is a big part of negotiating about sexual activity generally.

I agree completely. Which is why poor people should never be allowed to consent to sex with people who have disposable income, no matter what that poor person thinks. Their opinion doesn't matter.

[ 10-02-2011, 08:08 PM: Message edited by: Cesario ]

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Saffron Raymie
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Children are also taught to do what adults want, for example obeying a teacher, a parent, grandparent, babysitter etc. This also extends to adolescents. Adults decide when and what they eat, when and if they wear a coat, when they go to bed. They cannot just arrange to sleep over at a same-age friend's house without permission from both children's parents, let alone a partner twenty years their senior.

If an adult cannot afford contraception, that adult can get a job, or walk into a Planned Parenthood and recieve a bag of free condoms. Sure, for poor people, accidents such as sex without protection can and does happen, but they can get checked for STI's. Children cannot. If a child tried to get a job or free condoms? Their parents/ the police would be called. Poor people can also borrow money from others for contraception, children cannot even purchace it without the store manager and police possibly being called. It's not just income, it's accessibilty. Very young children, such as a seven year old, would not even be allowed on a bus to travel to a shop that sells condoms, lube, EC, let alone go there and buy it.

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'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' - Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

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BrightStar171
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I think, Cesario, to directly address your argument, that sure, it's easy to come up with any number of relationships where one or another of the factors I've listed comes up. But I genuinely can't think of any other societal power gap that features ALL of those power imbalances, plus the ones RaeRay listed, plus the basic psychological facts of children's brain development (i.e. children's decision-making abilities are not fully formed; adults' are).

And, given that, I'm perfectly happy to admit that the law is a blunt instrument. It's imperfect. It's overinclusive and underinclusive- statutory rape laws punish some small percentage of conduct that should probably be legal, and don't punish some percentage of conduct that should probably be illegal. But most every law we have is like that, and, personally, I'd rather take the risk of imposing a little bit on the rights of people to have sex with whoever they want whenever they want, than take the risk that a large spectrum of predatory behavior isn't punishable. But that's how I feel about the law generally, and certainly, reasonable minds can differ.

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Heather
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(Just a reminder that often when talking with people on these boards, many ARE youth, so "them" is often "you.)

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Saffron Raymie
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If we lived in a world in which people in infancy through to early adolescence had the exact same social and political rights as those in late adolescence?

Psychological and atonomical development of sexuality would still matter.

To quote Heather from another thread:

"But in one sense, yes, motivations vary widely amongst all adults. However sexual development in life stages, particularly from pre-infancy through adolescence, while still with its variances, does tend to have pretty distinct stages, just like much anatomical development, even though they aren't exactly the same for all people at every age. And the sexuality of, say, infants and grade schoolers does generally tend to be pretty radically different than that of most adults from the view of most folks working in both sexuality and human development.

As someone who has also worked in the field for a long time now talking with and listening to many people of all ages talk about sex -- including, albeit informally, when I was a classroom teacher in ECE and elementary -- I can attest to some of those big differences..."

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'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' - Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

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bump on a log
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quote:
Originally posted by RaeRay2112:
Very young children, such as a seven year old, would not even be allowed on a bus to travel to a shop that sells condoms, lube, EC, let alone go there and buy it.

This is a minor point, but it occurs to me that it probably would have been relatively common a generation ago for kids to get on buses by themselves. Kids tend to have less freedom these days.

quote:
Originally posted by RaeRay2112:
Children are also taught to do what adults want, for example obeying a teacher, a parent, grandparent, babysitter etc. This also extends to adolescents. Adults decide when and what they eat, when and if they wear a coat, when they go to bed. They cannot just arrange to sleep over at a same-age friend's house without permission from both children's parents, let alone a partner twenty years their senior.

Makes you think, doesn't it: a child in a relationship with a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, a babysitter, is in a relationship with a massive power imbalance, and massive potential for harm. "They f**k you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do..." [Wink]

So suppose as a kind of thought experiment that we have a reasonably old kid -- eleven? thirteen? -- who is friends with an adult. Suppose things get sexual in the friendship, but the adult avoids pregnancy and STD risks by limiting the sex to mutual masturbation. Suppose the adult is kind and gentle with the child and does all he/she can to avoid the child's feeling upset in any way. Can we say this sort of thing is always, without exception, harmful? I don't feel I can. Of course the big problem is that it is so wildly socially unacceptable as to put a massive burden on the child, which the child is probably too young to carry. On the other hand, being in a gay relationship can put a massive burden on you as well, say if your family would throw you out if they knew, and in the country where I am now, fifteen-year-olds in precisely that situation are permitted to get into gay relationships.

The problem, of course, is that line in the sand. Every person, every situation, every relationship is different, and it would be peachy keen if we could evaluate everything on a case-by-case basis instead of making blanket sex laws, but it seems that we can't, and anyway won't somebody please think of the children seldom fails.

[ 10-03-2011, 12:20 PM: Message edited by: bump on a log ]

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Heather
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Just an FYI, I'm personally finding some posts in this thread -- it's a tonal issue for me, really, more than content -- a little triggering for me, so I'm staying out of it for now. So, if anything needs to be moderated, and another volunteer doesn't step in, just give a shout as usual with the mod alert ("report post") button. Cheers.

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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And it seems that it might have been ideal for me to check my email before posting that reply, as there were already notes in it from some of our users not feeling comfortable with some of the tone and content occurring in this thread.

I'm going to suggest this, which I think is sound and should address the mailed concerns, as well as what I think got me triggered here.

justinbieberfan is a young, teen user, not an older adult. He was asking about how the AOC might impact him, as a very young teen (and without making any reference to relationships with people far older than he was, or any reference to another person's potential age as a possible partner at all).

Maybe in alignment with that, we can radically shift this conversation so that only people themselves currently or very recently UNDER the age of consent laws in their area are talking about how they do or might impact them and how they feel about that are taking the lead and having most of the conversation, rather than anyone leading with their feelings as anyone well over the age of consent.

I think that way, we also counter some of the very adultism that's being called up here as a (very real) issue. I think some of my discomfort, and also what I'm getting from the alters in my box, is that people are feeling like this is being tonally led by you, Cesario, at this point, speaking for young people while not being one yourself now or very recently. I think some of that feeling isn't just about this post but previous posts and the way some users have felt about those, something Jill spoke to in terms of her own feelings very candidly here.

That was some of my point with the note that saying "them" here when talking with users and referring to youth is most typically unsound because that "them" is "you" for many, and often most, of our users. (Just FYI, I'd say the same thing with "them" statements in general, like making low-income people here a "them." Low-income people are here, too.)

Okay? That's the best approach I can think of that I think speaks to everyone's concerns, and putting the concerns of the age group we primarily serve and privilege here and the nature of the original post.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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bump on a log
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quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
justinbieberfan is a young, teen user, not an older adult. He was asking about how the AOC might impact him, as a very young teen (and without making any reference to relationships with people far older than he was, or any reference to another person's potential age as a possible partner at all).

Yeah, you're right. We all kind of ran away with this thread, and we shouldn't've, because there may be a thread for these discussions but this isn't it. Sorry all.
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Cesario
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I apologize for my word choice, since some found that triggering.

I have adopted a habit of speaking of groups in the third person, regardless of whether I or anyone else in the conversation is in said groups. I do not intend to use it to dehumanize, but rather in an effort to maintain objective distance. Second person always felt more confrontational to me.

And I'll bow out from the board now, since clearly my presence is making trouble for the moderators.

[ 10-03-2011, 07:50 PM: Message edited by: Cesario ]

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Saffron Raymie
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Sorry to run away with your thread JustinBieberFan.

To make things clear for you, no: abstinance is not the only thing you can do. You can choose to have any kind of sex, if you want, with someone who is between 13 and 16 years of age. This will be legal for both you and the other person.

Feel free to chat about this with other people aged 13 to 16 in this Topic. All of us older people are clearing off now.

[ 10-04-2011, 08:01 AM: Message edited by: RaeRay2112 ]

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'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' - Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

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Heather
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(Just FYI, the age of consent in the US is as high as 18 in some places. I don't know of anywhere where it's older than that, so why don't we just say we'll limit the rest of this conversation to those under 20.)

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Violet1234
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As I'm definitely under 20, and curious about this topic, does anybody know what the age of consent is in California? Or is there some website that has all the state's consent info? Because I would look it up myself, but I've run into faulty info before and I want to verify it's right.

Personally, I think the age difference law in West Virginia sounds pretty fair to me- I think maybe one in a million people could be mature enough in adolescence (let alone in childhood, ew) to be in a sexual relationship with someone over 4 years their senior. The only provision for the hypothetical child would be like an adult's brain transplanted into a child's body or something (I've been reading too many science fiction novels [Smile] ).

The conversation seemed to be going into the twisty logic path of ethics earlier, and although some of the comparisons were true in their own right, I think they were the wrong type of comparisons. (By no means am I trying to, like, trash anyone's opinion or anything like that, I just wanted to give my own.) The types I would use are things like college and professional sports- nobody would expect an eight year old to be able to play sports like a person in their 20s, or be able to do the same level of classwork. And yes, that's unfair, but it's also really natural, because we humans tend to grow into our abilities- including our abilities to healthily handle intimate relationships, of which sexual relationships are a spectrum.

And of course there's the whole issue (if I understood it correctly) that was brought up about hypothetical pedophilia- and no, that's never ever ever going to be okay. As someone who remembers what it was like to be a child (it's a pretty recent portion of my life) a sexual relationship when you're a child is never going to be healthy unless it's with yourself, and only yourself, and even that's not for everyone.

When you're a kid, adults (pretty much everyone from sixteen up, at least how that's how I viewed from my eight-year-old perspective) represent safety and security. They're mostly your family and your teachers, and they take care of you and teach you. It is never ever right for one of those adults to take advantage of that kind of trust. And there's the added reason that pedophilia is just plain wrong, simply because it is. It's a huge cultural taboo (in America at least), because the idea of thinking of a child in a sexual way is just unthinkable.

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Karybu
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The age of consent in California is 18 right across the board. Depending on the age of those involved, it may be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, but is always a crime. (Meaning that two people who are underage engaging in sexual activity would technically both be breaking the law, unfortunately.)

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"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." -Arundhati Roy

Posts: 5799 | From: Canada/Australia | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Cesario
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quote:
Originally posted by Violet1234:
And there's the added reason that pedophilia is just plain wrong, simply because it is. It's a huge cultural taboo (in America at least), because the idea of thinking of a child in a sexual way is just unthinkable.

So much for the idea of a safe zone.

Whether they're willing to admit it or not, whether they're allowed to admit it or not, there are people on this board with taboo fetishes here.

While I'm generally of a mind to leave this messageboard so as not to stir up trouble for the moderators, I won't have people who can't defend themselves insulted, objectified, marginalized and generally attacked without comment or rebuttal.

Not everyone attracted to prepubescents is some creepy 40 year old man, and there are indeed plenty in the target age bracket this site purports to be about helping.

The overwhelming majority of pedophiles never molest children, and the overwhelming majority of child molesters aren't pedophiles either.

But you go a step beyond even that and go into thought-crime territory, insulting and denigrating people for just thinking, not acting. And that's a line too far, no matter what the thought.

I was content to bow out quietly, but this is worth flaming out over.

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Violet1234
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By no means was I trying to equate thinking something to actually doing it, but... I totally agree it came out sounding like I did.

I don't actually think that having certain thoughts makes you a bad person, even though the part that you quoted can't really be taken any other way. I retract that statement.

It's just that my general philosophy about partnered sex (that I'm sort of making up as I go) is that if it's between two or more consenting mature people (and that's very vague, I know, but it's the words I use in my head), it's okay. And I guess that makes me really condemn anything where there's a child involved, to the point of saying things that can be taken in very obvious (but different, perhaps broader) contexts that I don't believe.

[ 10-08-2011, 12:22 AM: Message edited by: Violet1234 ]

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Violet1234
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Oh, thanks Karybu! Well, that limits all non-illegal sex for three years. *snarks* As if I'm just magically going to develop a sexuality at 18? But I suppose it is what it is.
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Karybu
Scarleteen Volunteer
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Since it seems this thread is making a few people uncomfortable (and is again veering away from the original poster's question), I'm going to move it to the locked & saved area for now.

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"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." -Arundhati Roy

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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I'm reopening this for just one second, then will close it again.

The reminder I'm reopening it to make is that when we set a limit or a boundary here, we expect people to respect it,especially anyone outside the age group the boards and the organization as a whole are both intended to serve and put first.

I'd also put forth that I expect that, Cesario, without your stepping back in after asked to please step out, the conversation would have addressed some of the things you brought up anyway, and all from the perspective of younger people. I'd also posit that when voicing concerns about marginalizing people, there's a certain irony in having done so in this context: I feel you marginalized the youth in stepping back in the way you did. And that's doubly ironic given the topic and the thesis you've put forward about them being able to sometimes be given equal agency by older people, you know?

If we're going to talk about young people being in that position sometimes, we need to let them be in that position sometimes, and that includes leaving room for their process and giving them room for their own conversations, even if and when adults may feel uncomfortable in that process, something it's perhaps obvious I understand as an older person who works with them every day making these kinds of spaces. I can also assure you that when someone who is in that age group does talk about minor-attraction, they're given the kind of understanding and support it seems you're not sure they are. But you posited them as a hypothetical rather than allowing them to speak for themselves. One thing we don't need here are older people speaking for younger people, because this community is primarily made of and for young people speaking for themselves.

I really hope that all gets heard, both by you and anyone else reading. I also hope it's always heard that when it comes to safe spaces, our first priority is always going to be safe space for the group this is intended for. Accepting and respecting that is the very least we need anyone outside that group who wants to participate here to do.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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