Thursday, 10 May 2012

Age of Consent Laws

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

A YouTuber, Ujames1978Forever, has recently posted a lot of videos about age of consent laws. I'm not subscribed to him, but a lot of people I am subscribed to have been responding to him. This is a sensitive issue, so the potential for uninformed emotional opinions is high, even amongst a community which prides itself on its skepticism, and this is why I'm making this post.

I'll state right off the bat that I think age of consent laws are terrible. However, I can't see a better way of addressing the problem. The laws are terrible because people mature at different rates, so they don't really reflect reality. It's also ageism by definition. Ujames eschews them completely, arguing that the kind of situations that these laws deal with should be taken on a case-by-case basis. The YouTubers I'm subscribed to unanimously disagree with him, although I'm not convinced a few of them understand his position. Today, Richard Coughlan, someone I've been subscribed to now for 3 years, mirrored a video by pamew. pamew asked Ujames to provide a lower age bound at which he considers people to be able to consent to sex. This misses the point of Ujames' argument as I understand it. He's not giving an answer because he doesn't see it as an issue of age but of maturity. For example, he might say in 1 case that a 13 year old is mature enough to consent, but in another case, another 13 year old might not. I don't know exactly what criteria he'd be using: most likely their knowledge of what can happen, and how confidently they assert their consent. I don't agree with Ujames, as dealing with each case on a case-by-case basis would be costly and time consuming, as there are likely to be many cases, but if you're asserting that Ujames needs to provide any sort of lower age bound, you've fundamentally misunderstood his position.

I said that there are no better ways of doing it. I'll explain this further using alternatives. Let's say we scrapped age of consent laws. By "consent", I'm simply referring to the ability to give legal consent, not consent for any particular issue. I've already explained why I don't think Ujames' idea would work. One idea would be to license that consent. The idea is that a person of any age can sit an "exam" of sorts to demonstrate some minimum understanding of the responsibilities they will be faced with: the risks associated with sex, STDs, alcohol use, etc. This is already done for driving, it just seems logical to apply it to anything else, right? I don't think this can work. If the exam is well thought out there shouldn't be cases of people that clearly are too young to understand getting through, but the law would mean that everyone, regardless of age, will need to take this exam to consent to anything. In practice, not only would this law be deeply unpopular, but completely unenforceable as well. On these 2 points alone, it can't be considered further.

Off the top of my head, that's it. What other way could there be to do it? Now, are there problems with existing consent laws? I would argue that there is, and the most significant problem is consistency. In the UK, the age of consent is 16, but you need to be 17 to begin learning to drive and 18 to buy alcohol or vote. Why have a discrepancy at all? Some might argue that granting responsibilities step-by-step is a good idea as you become accustomed to the responsibility of 1 task before you move on to another greater responsibility, but, in practice, I don't see the effect of such an idea. Before I became 18, there was an element of fun to drinking which died when I became 18. The atmosphere completely changed when me and my friends became 18. I have a number of theories why. First, the underground element cuts underage drinkers off from 18+ drinkers for the most part, and part of the thrill for underage drinkers is getting alcohol at all. This make the 2 scenes very different. There is some overlap at nightclubs, as under 18s are still perfectly able to obtain fake ID or pass for 18. Also, as with anything else, the novelty of being able to legally buy alcohol wears off fast after becoming 18. There's also the change in surroundings as many people go off to uni where there are no detentions or headteacher visits, you just show up to lectures or don't, and you alone are responsible for your own education. People need to adapt fast and this necessarily makes them more mature. Finally, if you treat people as irresponsible, it's expected for them to act that way. In practice, I think consistent age limits is better. There's no ambiguity: 1 day, you're too young, the next, you're a full adult with no strings attached. No-one will be thinking "why can I do this and not that?" The subtleties to consenting to sex such as "if one's 16 and the other's 15 it's OK" can remain.

The final point I'd like to make would be to consider what the best age of consent would be if it was applied consistently to all activities? I think the ultimate acid test for this is what teenagers themselves think. I want to be clear here, I'm not talking about someone saying "I want to do this", I'm talking about someone saying "I feel like I'm old enough to be trusted to do this". Based on that mindset, I think at the very least that the alcohol age is too high. Pretty much no-one aged 16-17 respects this law. A lot of things a teenager does is dismissed as "rebellion" but think about what "rebellion" means. It means "I'm not going to stand for this". While laws are there for a reason, if it's so unpopular with the group it affects that they disobey it in gigantic numbers, in most cases, people would consider that law to be really bad, yet the drinking age stands, and people have even tried to make it higher. I say make the age of consent 16 across all activities. The novelty will wear off in the same way that it wears off at 18, but earlier. Schools retain their tough stance on people who turn up to class drunk, but the responsibility is there where it wasn't before. As the law is more consistent, I predict there will be a lot more respect for it, and the number of 14-15 year olds drinking won't skyrocket. It might rise a bit, but it will surely be offset by the fall in consumption by 16-17 year olds. In the year leading up to their 16th birthdays, education about the risks and responsibilities are emphasised at school in an honest factual presentation to maximise awareness and appreciation for the responsibilities they'll be granted.

As usual, thoughts and comments welcome.


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