In an essay submitted for a college class, a young woman recently wrote about her sexual relationship and resulting pregnancy with her high school band director. Though she changed some of the details and names in her paper, enough autobiography was left intact that statutory rape charges against the man have been filed. Various news agencies, websites, and blogs have pursued different angles when presenting the details of this case. The story found within the link posted above treats the accused like a common criminal, inviting us to view him in the worst possible light, while simultaneously encouraging our sympathy for the victim. If this were a clear-cut case of non-consensual sexual assault, then this approach would be more appropriate and justified. But as we learn more, and confront different perspectives of this multi-layered story, the truth itself begins to drift into grey area territory. Separating facts from bias might as well be our eternal homework assignment.
To begin, statutory rape laws are designed to protect innocent children. As we know, it is thought that even older teenagers are not emotionally and psychologically mature enough to know the implications and consequences of sexual conduct. It's a paternalistic statute, likely designed by men, but as is true with so much regarding human sexual behavior, we often find ourselves with a foot in two supposedly mutually exclusive camps. This story follows a very familiar script. The story linked above shows a creepy, seemingly unrepentant mug shot of the accused. Its routine placement prefaces another instance of violent, dangerous men preying on women. Watch one of the 24 hour news channels for a few hours, regardless of the time of day, and you'll see at least one such story just like that.
Complicating the issue is this quote, taken directly from the student's essay.
"It was as if he wanted me as bad as I had him that entire year," the student wrote. "I drove home wide-eyed and full of energy. Who in their right mind would ever believe that I had almost had sex with our band director?"
Here we see evidence of the virgin/whore dichotomy so injurious to young women. There is no in between available. She can be cast in terms of wide-eyed, innocent victim, which is a script present in some news reports of this situation. Or, the door can be opened to show that there was a highly consensual aspect to this relationship, no matter how inappropriate or illegal it may have been. What is not in debate here is the basic moral character of the band director. I myself find it hard to excuse sleeping with two separate students, lying about the exclusivity of their relationship, impregnating said student, then ditching her. That facet of this story isn't technically illegal, but it's extremely sleazy, reprehensible behavior. The word my father would use, in typically Southern fashion, is sorry. And by sorry, one means deplorable or worthless.
Yet, to me, the sexual offense noted here is not nearly as offensive as the implication. We've already seen advertisements and billboards equating abortion in women of color to genocide. The woman in this case has linked her own tragic circumstances to a medical procedure, projecting her own hurt and anguish onto it. She has every right to choose her opinion, but I also have every right to say that not every woman's experience with abortion is like this.
'I lay on the cold table with my legs propped up watching the doctor prepare to give me a sonogram. "Can I see it?" I fearfully asked the doctor as he pulled my baby up on the screen.
He said no. I guess that was best. If I had seen the shape of the creature I was about to kill I probably would have freaked and walked out of Planned Parenthood. A few seconds passed and the doctor said he had found it.
My seven-week foetus was down in the lower part of my stomach on the left side. I still feel like he was hiding in there - his little ass probably knew what was coming.
The sound of the vacuum still rings in my ears almost three years later.'
That anti-choicers have latched onto this confession and statement of regret as some means of justifying their own cause is not surprising, but neither is it appropriate. I can emotionally associate a bad breakup with a particular song, but that doesn't mean that the song becomes corrupted and terrible as a result. Male and female friends of mine who went through awful divorces have projected their own hurt towards their children, but this doesn't mean that the children are the source of the problem. A classmate of mine in college got pregnant at a young age, kept the child, and mentioned, guiltily, that she is filled with anger when she sees the resemblance of her ex reflected in her own child. Let's not confuse bitterness and spite with some greater proof that abortion is evil and wrong.
Like so much about human behavior, there are many nuances present here. I've chosen to avoid addressing the racial aspect, because it has the ability to be the most explosive. And I'm not even sure it's really relevant. Already, internet comments posted to websites have implied, and sometimes directly asserted that this is typical behavior in a rudderless, amoral African-American community. I'm not getting anywhere near that debate. I'd rather focus instead on a topic I introduced earlier in this essay. Here is the inevitable Wikipedia citation.
...some sex-positive feminists do not consider all consensual activity between young adolescents and older people as inherently harmful, and there has been debate between feminists about whether statutory rape laws are misogynist. Their argument is that statutory rape laws were made with non-gender neutral intentions and are presently enforced as such, with the assumption that young pubescent women are naive and nonsexual and need to be protected. Sex-positive feminists with this view believe that "teen girls and boys are equally capable of making informed choices in regard to their sexuality",and that statutory rape laws are actually meant to protect "good girls" from sex.
In "Sex-Bias Topics in the Criminal Law Course: A Survey of Criminal Law Professors" 24 U. Mich. J.L. Ref. 189 (1990), it is said: "Other feminists are opposed to or ambivalent about strengthening statutory rape statutes because such protection also precludes a young woman from entering a consensual sexual relationship, to which she may be competent to consent. These feminists view statutory rape laws as more controlling than protective -- and of course part of the law's historic role was protecting the female's chastity as valuable property".
This circumstance reveals how difficult it to determine fair punishment when historical precedent gets in the way of enforcement. Some Feminists reject marriage for similar reasons, because the practice often implied that a wife was his husband's property. Regarding statutory rape laws, some women under the age of consent may possess the maturation necessary to make their own decisions for themselves. The real issue here is whether or not any arbitrary measurement will ever suffice for all people. And, if it does not, what metrics can we use to modify and keep up-to-date laws usually designed with good intentions? The choice is ours as to whether we see the spirit of the law, or the letter of the law.