Statutory rape laws can trace their lineage back to the Middle Ages when they were developed to protect the chastity of young women. They have since been transformed into the latest solution to solve the teenage pregnancy problem in the United States, after a 1995 study found that two thirds of teen mothers were impregnated by adult males. In the wake of that study states across the nation began to ratchet up enforcement of statutory rape statutes. the highest priority for prosecution were cases in which teen women were impregnated by men older than them by five or more years. These laws have been touted by some as promoting family values and chastised by others as remnants of an oppressive past. Statutory rape laws are generally strict liability crimes with no Mens Rea requirement. This means that, no matter the circumstance, sexual conduct with a person under the age prescribed by statute is punishable. Most jurisdictions do not recognize “reasonable belief” defenses. The punishments for statutory rape are serious. They usually require significant prison time and lifetime registration as a sexual offender. In a day and age when over fifty percent of teens under the age of eighteen are sexually active laws functioning to “protect young women’s chastity” are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Without significant reform, statutory rape laws will likely become unenforceable and go the way of the Dodo.
There is a strong argument for keeping statutory rape laws on the books. In the extreme cases, they protect young children from sexual exploitation. There can obviously be no excuse made for sexual conduct between an adult and a young child. Even laws that cover adolescents still serve the valid purpose of protecting teens from manipulation by older, more mature, people. However, these laws need to be refined. Simply setting a bright line age is not complex enough to deal with every situation. These sorts of bright line rules invite selective enforcement. Consider that most statutory rape laws in this country set the age of consent around fifteen or sixteen years of age. Now consider that the median age of first intercourse for women in this country is seventeen, for men it is slightly lower. That means that a large percentage of young men belong behind bars. This evidence shows that many statutory rape laws have lost touch with social norms and cannot be enforced, except unevenly.
Statutory rape laws in today’s society are most often used to prosecute unpopular groups of men. Generally men who are significantly older or minority men who have sex with women from privileged backgrounds or impregnate their partner and add to the welfare rolls. As long as these laws are enforced selectively they do not function to protect young people from grown sexual predators as much as they function to punish unpopular social groups. These laws need to be refined. Instead of merely setting a bright line, difference in age laws seem to represent a better option. While a basement age (say 13 or so) could still be recognized, adolescents who engage in consensual sexual conduct with someone within five years of their age would be legal. This law would offer some respite to the punishment of what have become socially acceptable teenage relationships while still providing punishment to much older men who prey on the naivety and emotional vulnerability of teenagers. The continuing viability of these laws is debatable and there are many questions which must be confronted. However, these current bright line age laws with their Puritanical overtones no longer serve to protect modern social interests.
Statutory rape laws must be reformed in order to maintain their viability in today’s increasingly permissive society. The rigid, mechanical, structure of current laws prevent them from recognizing what have become common place teenage relationships, instead labeling them as serious felony offenses. Because these laws do not reflect social norms they can only be enforced selectively. No prosecutor is going to lock up a majority of sexually active teens. Moreover, the harsh punishments that result from a conviction of statutory rape label an individual with a scarlet letter that will follow them for the rest of their life. Most jurisdictions do not allow a “reasonable mistake of age defense”. Because of this a twenty-two year old who meets a sixteen year old in a bar is just as guilty as a pederast who sexually assaults children. These two offenses are completely different. In the first case the man would not even be able to introduce evidence that he believed the girl he met in the bar was twenty-one. As a result, even if their sexual conduct was consensual, he would be forced to suffer the same punishment as the adult assaulting children. Also, introducing a difference in age standard for minors gives some legal recognition to normal teenage sexual relationships while still protecting teens from being taken advantage of by more mature adults. These are only several of the ways statutory rape laws could be changed to reflect the social norms of modern society. These laws present an interesting problem that the legislature will no doubt wrestle with for years to come.
Domestic abuse should not happen to anyone. Ever. Period. Sadly, however, thousands of people across the country suffer as victims of domestic abuse each day. If you have been abused, or know of someone who is being abused, seek help immediately. Domestic abuse can be both physical and emotional. Victims can be of any race, gender, age, and be in a variety of different relationships. The acts do not have to be criminal in order to be abuse. Name calling and put downs can have negative emotional effects that are just as serious as physical abuse. There are lawyers all around the country who specialize in dealing with the ramifications of abuse and legal remedies available to protect those suffering from abuse. In order to receive this help, however, you must be proactive in seeking protection. If you are being abused it is important to remember that you are not alone, it is not your fault, and help is available.
There are several common myths about domestic violence. You may here the excuse that some people deserve to get hit or “ask” to be abused. This is ludicrous. The only person responsible for abuse is the abuser. Physical abuse, even amongst family members, is wrong and against the law. Many people believe that domestic violence is caused by drug or alcohol abuse. This is untrue. Domestic abuse is often learned. It may be exacerbated by drug or alcohol use but they are generally used as excuses to explain away abusive behavior. Domestic violence is not a merely a personal problem between a husband wife. Domestic violence affects everyone. About one in three women have been physically or sexually abused by a boyfriend or spouse during their lives. Thirty percent of female murder victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Forty to Sixty percent of people who abuse their spouse also abuse children. Many people believe that if the abuse must not be bad if the victim does not leave. There are many reasons a victim may not leave. Their reluctance to leave does not excuse the abuse. Leaving is the most dangerous time for an abuse victim.
The quickest and easiest way for a victim of domestic abuse to gain a legal remedy is to seek an order of protection against the abuser. An order of protection offers a variety of protections to the victim. A victim may ask that the court for protection of him or herself, any other people he or she feel may be in danger from the abuser, any property or pets, and the victim may ask that the abuser be excluded from their place of residence. People who are eligible for an order of protection may differ slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Generally, orders of protection are available to people who have been physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally abused or threatened by someone who they have been married to, someone they have a child with, a family member, a current or former roommate or someone they have dated. Applying for an order of protection will generally include taking a trip to whichever courthouse handles domestic relations in your jurisdiction. An easy way to figure out where to go is to do a simple Google search about domestic violence and the state you live in. Once you get to the courthouse there will be some paperwork to fill out before you will be taken up to the courtroom to explain the abuse to a judge. That judge will then grant the order of protection. It is important to remember that the order of protection is nothing but a piece of paper. In order for it to serve its purpose, you must be proactive. If your abuser attempts to contact you in any way, call 911.
No one should ever have to suffer from domestic violence. It is a pervasive problem affecting thousands of people a year. It is important for victims of domestic violence to remember that they are not alone and that help is available. There are legal remedies offered in every state to help protect victims of domestic violence. However, those remedies are only available when the victim is proactive in seeking help. If you know someone suffering from domestic abuse it is important to encourage them to seek help. Domestic abuse is never normal or acceptable behavior. It is imperative to inform victims of abuse that they do not have to suffer in silence. Many former abuse victims escape the cycle of violence and go on to live healthy, successful, happy lives. If you are, or know someone who is, suffering from domestic violence seek help now. Do not wait for the violence to escalate. If, as a society, we take this problem seriously we may be able to end domestic violence once and for all.