Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The demonization of adolescent sexuality

I originally posted this as a response to the following entry on LaShawn Barber's Blog: http://lashawnbarber.com/archives/2007/05/29/death-to-pedophiles/

"Something that I think I need to address here is the disturbing trend towards labeling consensual sex between two teenagers as abuse and/or pedophilia.

In one particular case in Utah, a 13 year old girl and her 12 year old boyfriend were both found guilty of delinquency (the juvenile equivalent of a felony) and labeled as sex offenders for the "crime" of having consensual sex. This is a perfect example of why hysteria never leads to anything but sorrow. In this case both were simultaneously labeled as "victim" and "perpetrator," a mutually exclusive arrangement whose preposterousness could not have been lost upon officers of the court involved.

I'm 34 years old now. Back when I was a teenager in the late 80's and early 90's, sex between teenagers was seen as an undesirable but ordinary fact of life. If a young couple was found to be sleeping together, they might be in trouble with their families, but they would not be in trouble with the law. Somewhere along the line this changed. Now in many places a young couple who sleep together are risking serious jail time, callous and even malicious misidentification as "victim" or "abuser" by mental health professionals and the judicial system, and the life-long stigma of being painted as a sex offender. All for doing what everyone else has done throughout human history.

I grew up in the south, and I'm just barely old enough to have gotten a sense of how teenaged sexuality was seen and dealt with in years past. My generations that my grandparents and great-grandparents belonged to didn't have any illusions about when sexual desire began to manifest itself in a person's life. In those days the biggest problem with teenaged sex was not that two teenagers were having sex, but whether they were married at the time they were having it. In other words the issue was not sex at a young age, but sex outside of marriage. If the couple was married, which in those days many teenaged couples were, their sexual relationship was not a problem.

In today's world, the idea of two 15 year old's being married is almost absurd, and in many placed would likely land their parents in legal trouble. Today people that age are not seen as young adults, but as children, which is dreadfully unfortunate. They are infantilized and forced into mental and emotional roles that they have either already outgrown, or are quickly in the process of outgrowing. Part of this mischaracterization is the demonization of their sexuality. Children are not supposed to be sexual after all. Those children who are sexual are seen as having something wrong with them. When teenagers are miscast as children, their sexuality is similarly labelled a dysfunctional. Those teenagers who defy this label and express their sexuality are punished and made to feel that their normal sexuality is an emotional and mental disfigurement, a sign that they are mentally diseased and tainted with the indelible stain that comes with being branded a sex offender.

Don't believe me? Watch the news.

The sexual abuse of children is a serious crime, among the worst that society has to deal with. But when society begins gnawing upon itself in trying to deal with this problem and begins persecuting the innocent for the crime of being young, the only thing that is created are more victims. "

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