Sex and the Law


Sexual predators allegedly preying on children through the Internet have become the subject of near mass hysteria in this country, thanks to all the people trying to make a buck off the subject.

Turns out, according to a scholarly study, your child is safer with the Internet than at the local mall.

The Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire has completed three nationwide surveys and concludes that Internet-related crimes against children are a pretty small proportion of the sex crimes that adolescents suffer.

Furthermore, the study found that sex crimes against adolescents are down, not up. They fell 52 percent between 1995 and 2003. Moreover, the majority of Internet predators are not pedophiles.

You can always count on the press and popular entertainment to abuse the language. Anybody, real or fictional, with sexual interest in an adolescent is in the popular vocabulary a pedophile. In fact, pedophiles are defined as people who are aroused by prepubescent children. Most are not interested in teenagers, even early teens.

Most Internet predators are adult males looking for sex with young teenage girls. Only 5 percent pose as teenagers themselves. And here’s a shocker — three-quarters of the teens meet their Internet pal face to face with the full intention of having sex with the person. In other words, we are talking about statutory rape, not sexual assault.

Statutory rape is consensual sex with a person whom some legislative body has arbitrarily decided cannot give his or her consent. I say arbitrary because age-of-consent laws vary from country to country. The law and biology are two different things. It may please politicians to decide that a young woman cannot have sex until she is 18, but that has nothing to do with her biology, her desires or her real-life situation.

I personally don’t think it is a good idea for teenagers to have sex. No birth-control method is foolproof, and our society, which demands long years of education and provides fewer and fewer jobs to those without the education, is ill-suited to early marriage. Abortion ought not to be an option. Death is too high a penalty for a child to pay for someone else’s carelessness.

But I also think that this is another problem better handled with education and parental counsel than with the criminal courts. Someone who has consensual sex is not a predator in the same way a rapist is. Statutory rape is a case of creating a crime by legislative decision and calling something rape that is not rape. The true rapist is a person more interested in violence and inflicting pain (and sometimes death) than in sex. Statutory rape involves sweethearts, or at least a couple who are mutually horny.

I’m sure there are plenty of men of my generation who, seeing stories about attractive young female teachers having sex with 15-year-old boys, say to themselves, "Where were these teachers when I was in high school?" Does that shock you? Hey, 15-year-old boys are extremely interested in sex. I think you would be hard-pressed to find any 15-year-old boy who would turn down an invitation from an attractive young woman to have a roll in the hay. Whether we who have escaped adolescence approve or not, I frankly don’t see the boy as a victim or the woman as a criminal.

To quote the beadle in Oliver Twist, if the law says that, then the law is an ass. And in our time, the law is frequently an ass on account of the people who make the laws being, for the most part, low-watt bulbs in a dimly lit chamber.

As is often the case, the problem of children having sex is a problem of children, not the technology used for communication.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.