Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sex Crime Crimes

No one wants to talk about teenage sex. We push it out of our minds, pretend it doesn't exist. When it reaches the surface, and it always will, we react like the teenagers at hand are the first teenagers ever to get busy. And that's a problem.

Vanderpeople remember the awful case of Marcus Dixon, a senior in high school, an honor student, and Vandy football recruit who was jailed for sleeping with a sophomore. The case reached the Georgia Supreme Court, who finally did the right thing and set him free. (The racial element of the case prompted me to write this Slant article.) A few weeks ago reported on the distressingly similar case of Genarlow Wilson, another promising high school football recruit who was jailed for receiving a blow job from a younger student. And lest you think that the craziness is limited to Georgia, we find out this week about two Florida teens jailed for child pornography Their crime: making a sex tape of themselves.

Yes. They were found guilty of exploiting themselves. And the conviction was upheld by the appeals court - and by the way, a three-year-old could have written a more reasonable opinion than the majority opinion in this case.

Ridiculous, certainly. But no one, including me, would question the laws they were guilty of breaking. Child pornography is rightfully a crime. So is aggravated child molestation, the crime for which Wilson and Dixon were convicted. But the intent of these crimes is to prevent minors from being exploited and abused by others. It was certainly not to outlaw consensual sexual activity between teens.

The problem here is not the laws, though one could argue that this kind of abuse is allowed because the laws were passed so hurriedly that they were unable to completely work out the details. The problem is this: we, as a society, believe that teen sex shouldn't exist. When we find out - shocker - that it does, we want to send a message to our kids that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated. And all too often, we do so through the legal system.

The intent of these laws was not to declare certain teenage activities "immoral." The intent of these laws was to prevent young people from being exploited and abused. But the prosecutors in each of these cases believes that it is more important to make a moral statement than to enforce the law as it was meant to be enforced. They justify their reprehensible behavior by saying that this is the kind of behavior that young people should not be engaging in. Perhaps not, but that debate is not one for the legal system.

Whenever the legal system and consensual sex cross paths, bad things happen. Injustices like this will continue to occur as long as we continue to believe that the legal system ought to be used to regulate what goes on behind closed doors. Perhaps a young lady's pants is no place for a young man to be going - but it's also no place for prosecutors and judges either.


Mike said...

To me the main problem with teenage sex has always been that not enough of it happened when I was a teenager. Certainly not that I was aware of.

But yeah, the law should not be used for moral posturing on sexuality.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'm almost tempted to throw my semi-contrary "law should be used to make good people" opinion into the mix here, but instead I'll leave it with this comment:

Who are these idiots that pass these hurried laws without working out details? The fact that non-comprehensive/non-specific legislation gets passed is easily one of my biggest pet peeves. ARGH!

Mike said...

Law should be used to protect good people, not make them. Actually, since no one is 100% good or evil, maybe the law should also protect them from the tyranny of other people's definitions of "good".