When the perpetrator is the victim

Under Utah law, a 13-year-old girl may be treated as a sex offender and a victim for the same act.

By Carol Lloyd
Published December 8, 2006 12:19AM (EST)

Wednesday the Utah Supreme Court found itself in legal pickle, as it looked at a case in which a 13-year-old girl who'd gotten pregnant with her 12-year-old boyfriend as simultaneously a victim and a sex offender. Comparing the state's ill-conceived statutory rape laws with those concerning 19th century honor killings, Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins told the Salt Lake Tribune: "The only thing that comes close to this is dueling."

As a mother of two girls, I want age-of-consent laws to scare off creepy guys. And since some pedophile groups have made it their cause cilhbre to fight for sexual rights, some part of me would like to set the planetary AoC around 28 and call it a day. On the other hand, I shudder to think of my girl getting "protected" by any law like Utah's. When it means treating a kid unfortunate enough to get pregnant at the tender age of 13 as a sex offender, there's something seriously twisted in Mayberry. No doubt after a notorious history as a breeding ground for polygamous megalomaniacal assholes who prey on young girls in hopes of siring the next messiah, Utah's eager not to look too flaccid when it comes to age of consent. (In fairness, megalomaniacal assholes reside in other states, too.)

But let's face it, these laws are a colander of legal worms. Yes, when grown men or women have sex with children, it's a serious crime, but drawing those lines isn't always easy. Given the variance among state laws, what's legal as a consensual act of love between two people in one location can become statutory rape a mile away. Many states try to make mitigate these laws by creating "close-in-age exceptions." For instance, Utah doesn't criminalize 16- and 17-year-old teens having sex with others in their own age group; even 14- or 15-year-olds who have sex with peers fewer than four years older are committing no more than a misdemeanor. Unfortunately, the 13-year-old falls into neither of these categories -- so in the eyes of the law, she's considered a full-fledged sex offender. (Utah's high court hasn't ruled on whether she can be prosecuted yet, but lower courts have held that she can, according to the SLTrib.)

On the global stage, age-of-consent laws grow even more confounding. (For a partial list of worldwide AoC laws, go here; if you prefer a more cartographical experience look here.) From country to country, similar laws sometimes span radically different attitudes toward sex and children's rights. Spain, a generally progressive country with same-sex marriage laws, has an AoC law of 13, thereby giving it some strange bedfellows: Japan (and its micro-mini schoolgirl fetishes), Nigeria (a nation with deplorable women's rights) and Saudi Arabia (where one must be married to consent and adultery can carry a death sentence). One of the only countries with a lower AoC is Yemen -- where a nine-year-old may "consent" as long as she is married. Even within the U.S. age-of-consent laws taken in concert with marriage laws end up reflecting some disturbing ideas vis ` vis sexuality and children, and the sticky line between protection and paternalism. For instance, in New Hampshire, as long as a girl's parents agree, a 13-year-old can get married. Should that girl decide she's gay, however, she's not able to give consent until she's 18.

That's just the sort of protection most little girls don't need.

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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