Thursday, June 13, 2013

Stop the hate - free Kate

The "Stop the hate - Free Kate" campaign continues to gain momentum in the face of the outrageous decision by local courts to press charges against the kid. Basically the scenario is this: two schoolgirls, one is 14, the other 17, both girls. They get involved, somebody happens to record a conversation between the two where they mention the consensual sexual activity in which they indulged. This is then used as evidence to press charges against the older girl, as the parents of the younger girl (who by all accounts appears to be the more streetwise of the two, and doesn't support this action at all) don't approve. Some right-wing commentaries have not only legitimised the actions of local courts, they've tried to insinuate that this is some kind of case of what used to be known as a sex pest. One blogger who posted a comment on the article I wrote for Gaelick even tried to say that this was paedophile "grooming." This is even more outrageous than the original wrong. Disapprove if you like, but suggesting that a 17 year old kid who has sex is a sex monster? Please.


I think we need a little perspective here. The question is (or should be), if this were a boy/girl couple, in an identical situation, would we expect to see the same action taken? I'm fairly sure that the answer of almost all reasonable people would be "no." And nobody, in their right mind would suggest for 5 seconds that a boy of 18 who was with a 14 year old girl was "grooming" or a "predator." In all honesty, given the differing maturity levels of boys and girls in their teenage years (though again - I hesitate to generalise - I taught in schools myself in my twenties and mostly taught boys in the 9-18 age group, and the divergence of maturity levels is huge) in many cases I wouldn't be surprised to find a 14 year old girl more socially "advanced" (for want of a better word) than many 18 year old boys. In my experience a lot of teenage boys are very protected (especially by doting mothers) and very naive. But that doesn't mean that girls in a same sex relationship should be treated differently. Nobody should be treated differently. This is why Kaitlyn's parents - justifiably - are campaigning publicly - they are absolutely correct to do so.
I think its important to realise also that neither of these kids are actually identifying as "gay" or "bisexual." These are labels, nothing more, and Kaitlyn's parents have the insight to recognise this and realise that it may not be something permanent. If anything, the victimising nature of the prosecution is reading more into the situation than is actually there. Also the poster of the comment on my article, and others like her really assume things that are not proven on any level. We cannot assume that an 18 year old who has had one relationship and one physical encounter is a "predator." That's an extremely harsh judgement on the young person that says far more about the mind of that commenter than it does about the young people in question.
The real question is whether or not it is appropriate to take court action in the event of a significant age different in adolescent relationships in general, and whether or not the action in this case constitutes an inappropriate use of the court: which I think it is. I think its a malicious and vindictive use of the law. It does not make a case for justice on any level. You might not like what other families teenagers do, but it generally does not justify bringing serious criminal charges against them that might harm their lives perpetually. Analogous scenarios include handling of teenage charges for other crime: except for killings, violent crime and sexual offences, we tend not to impose higher level punishments. And with good reason: we need to distinguish between very dangerous young people who really cannot simply be left to roam the streets and those whose tender years might leave them unable to make sound judgments about right and wrong. For this reason only exceptional crimes are treated in the same way as adults, and in the case of sexual offences only where consent is impaired by age, situation or power.
For that reason, despite the existence of age of consent legislation, we tend not to charge a 14 or 15 year old boy for having consensual relations with a girl of the same age in the same way as we might charge a 35 year old adult, because the latter case clearly involves somebody who is aware of the levity of what they are doing, and unlikely to be coerced. However a teenager around the same age might not. It is more difficult these days as cases do emerge where coercion was used (one of my 14 year old friends at school did tell us she was raped by local boys - which may well have been true). I think its critical that laws in the western world are reexamined in order to prevent malicious use such as this in order to achieve a quasi political form of revenge on a young person or family.

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