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Imagine that you are an 18-year-old boy, and have decided to start dating the 16-year-old girl you really like. As your relationship gets serious you both decide to take your relationship to the next level and become sexually active.

After a year of dating, like most teenage relationships, the relationship begins to die. You decide to break up with her, and she is devastated. The heartbroken teenage girl decides to press charges against you for statutory rape, in spite of the break up. California law states that it is illegal to have sexual relations with anyone under the age of 18; any violation would make you guilty of statutory rape. You are found guilty in court for this crime and now are sentenced to registering as a sex offender for the rest of your life. You must report your address to the police station anytime you decide to move, you cannot live within 500 feet of a park, school or any other public place with children present. You must shop at stores in the hours where there will not be any children present; you cannot be in the same room with anyone under the age of 18 (that includes family members). People now classify you in the same category as rapists and child molesters just because your ex decided to abuse the power of the law. You are not a menace to society, but you must spend the rest of your life treated that way.

There are hundreds of cases similar to this where young men are convicted of statutory rape because of having a consensual sexual relationship with a minor. Even though this does not sound like a harsh punishment, it really does have a huge impact on their lives. What kind of high-paying job would want to hire someone who is a sex offender? What kind of neighborhood is going to want to accept a sex offender moving in? When you think sex offender, your first thought is an old perverted man who wants to lure little kids off the street with candy. You do not think about what exactly was the crime that they committed, or who they really are; you just see a sex offender.

MTV’s “True Life: I’m a Sex Offender” recently aired exhibiting the hardships of two men who had to face after being charged with statutory rape. These men did not force their partner to have sex with them; it was all consensual. However, even if both girl and boy agree to have sex, the adult is still guilty of the crime. The main controversy around statutory rape laws is that there is no real defense for the accused. The victim does not even have to testify against the defendant in order to find him guilty. In one of the cases on the show, a mother testified against the boy even after the “victim” confessed that she gave her consent in the act and he was found guilty anyways.

With all of the injustice surrounding this law, why do we even have it in the first place? Statutory rape laws were enforced in order to protect youth from being victimized by sexual predators, and potentially preventing teen pregnancy. The law states that anyone under the age of 18 is incapable of giving consent to engaging in sexual activity, but the fact is most teenagers are having sex by the age of 15. So does that mean that they should all be charged with statutory rape? Whether it is a parent interfering with a teenage relationship, or a spiteful ex-girlfriend who wants to punish her older boyfriend; these young boys still face an unnecessary danger of their lives being ruined. That leaves us with two options, either lower the consent age, or to give a less extreme form of punishment to those who are found guilty of having consensual underage sex.

Seems like a simple and logical solution however, the few legislators who do take action receive no support from their fellow colleagues. Majority of legislators see teen sex as an irresponsible act and see this law as a protective blanket over young girls who do not a have a parent to guide them. They would not feel comfortable supporting any changes to be made because they think it would be more difficult to protect the youth from sex crimes and provide a window of opportunity for real rapists to find a way out of being prosecuted.  With most legislators disagreeing with a change it makes sense that most bills advocating a solution die before even making it to the floor to be debated. An article published March 2010 on IdahoReporter.com described how the state of Idaho, along with 35 other states, are attempting to amend the consent age from 18 to 16. Senator Brent Hill describes how the law we have now has the potential of “destroying a boy’s life” and laws that can “destroy the lives of innocent people need to be changed.” Wife of Senator Curt McKenzie supported the change by saying “These boys’ lives are ending, even before they’ve begun. I don’t condone sexual acts between teens. But sending teen boys to prison isn’t the answer either.”

Our generation today faces numerous amounts of teens engaging in sexual activity than ever before, and as the times change the law must adapt to the change. The term “rape” applies to any sexual act that is forced upon an individual. If these boys did not rape their partner then they are innocent. These boys are not menaces to society and do not deserve to wear the title of “sex offender.” If we lowered the age of consent, we would be saving the lives of so many boys and defend the innocence of those persecuted unjustly. If the state of California recognizes that you are capable to drive a car by 16, then shouldn’t you be capable of consenting to sex?

 

Emily Centeno is a first-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at centenoe@uci.edu.

 

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