Genarlow Wilson Freed; Time to Decriminalize Teen Sexuality

Georgia’s Supreme Court today ordered Genarlow Wilson released from prison, where he has already served 2 years of a 10-year sentence. Wilson, 17 in 2003, was convicted of having consensual oral sex with a then-15-year-old.

The release is great news for Wilson, tragically held hostage to adult fears of teen hormones.

The larger American tragedy continues, however, in inconsistent age-of-consent laws, statutory rape convictions, and the new crusade against teens circulating erotic photos of themselves on the internet.

In 2002, for example, Todd Senters had consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, which the romantic couple videotaped. Because the age of consent in Nebraska is 16, the sex itself was legal, but Senters was busted for creating child pornography, and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

The whole idea that human beings don’t get to own their sexuality until they reach some magic age is repulsive.

Statutory rape and age-of-consent laws come from medieval English society. These laws were originally intended to protect the chastity of young women, whose value as brides would plummet if they weren’t virgins. Of course, a medieval woman’s body was the property of her father or husband. Rape was considered a crime against the man who owned her, not against the violated woman. In tribal cultures like Syria and Nigeria, this is still often true.

American legislatures and “morality” groups who champion age-of-consent laws claim they are for the good of the teens. True, sexual intercourse is not advisable for many teens. But punitive laws that criminalize teen sexuality not only damage the teens who get caught; they contribute to an environment that demonizes sexuality for everyone, sowing confusion, anxiety, and powerlessness about sex among teens and grownups alike.

If legislators, parents, and “decency” groups really want to protect teenage “children” (who can typically drive, hold jobs, fire guns, and after 17 even enlist in the military) from sexual exploitation, they should establish laws that criminalize exploitation, not sex.

Proposal: decriminalize all consensual sex between young people whose ages are within four years of each other.

That means that teens could legally have sex with each other, and older high school kids could have sex with a college sweetheart. The law would prohibit adults from having sex with actual children.

And if anyone found an 8-year-old involved in sex with another kid, the question would be about consent: were the kids in a position to understand what they were doing (hello, sex education calling)? Was the 11-year-old coercing the 8-year-old?

Parents who don’t have the stomach to handle their kids’ sexuality need to grow up. A church, state legislature, or “morality” group declaring that the problem is sex is simply colluding with inadequate parenting. The “abuse” is not when a 16-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old, it’s when the parents of either one are so unable to deal with their kids’ sexuality that they want the state to criminalize it.

And protecting kids from a broken heart? Was Genarlow Wilson’s blow-job Juliet protected by jailing Wilson? Does anyone imagine she has no guilt, shame, or self-criticism about how much he paid for a moment of her attention?

Kids can handle broken hearts. We all did. Kids are horribly damaged by the instruction that their sexuality is evil.


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