Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, you have probably seen several articles and news stories about Owen Labrie, the young man who was accused of sexually assaulting a 15 year old girl during his senior year at the uber elite St. Paul’s school. This story is distressing to me for several reasons, but mainly because I see a microcosm of a cultural shift among our young people. A shift that says it’s okay to have sex with someone without any meaningful commitment or even before minimal conversation has taken place. But more importantly, this shift somehow regards sex as some sort of disposable utility, disrespected and with plenty more where it came from.
Sex is a precious thing, but it can also get you into trouble when it is mishandled. Let’s take the opportunity to make ourselves better parents, mentors, and people by learning from St. Paul’s mistakes, and teaching our youngsters to do the same.
Statutory Rape = Rape
Rape is engaging in sexual intercourse with someone without their consent. By law, or “statute,” it is impossible for an underage person to consent to sex, which is where the term statutory rape comes from. State laws that define the age threshold for legal sexual consent vary, but click here for a decent website that lists each state’s requirements. To be on the safe side, just assume that if your partner is under the age of 18 years, you’re taking a serious risk.
Minors’ inherent lack of consent is also why they can’t enter into contracts. This is understandable because their brains are still developing and aren’t usually capable of fully comprehending the true depth of decisions that will affect them for long periods, or consequences for the stupid things that they do. And we all know that kids regularly do really stupid stuff.
Statutory rape can also mean that the age gap between two otherwise consenting minors is too big. In Texas, if there is more than a three year age difference, that too is sufficient grounds for a statutory rape charge.
Our young men and women need to understand that when they engage in intercourse with a younger person who is either underage, or with someone who’s age differential is too great, they are engaging in risky behavior that may be categorized as rape. Statutory rape laws have an intentionally low burden of proof, so the only things that need to be proven is that intercourse actually took place and the ages of the individuals.
Depending on the facts of a case, a conviction could result in fines, probation, jail time, or prison. In many states, a statutory rape conviction requires the perpetrator to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life. Some jurisdictions don’t make the details of a conviction available on sex offender registries. It may just say “sexual assault of a minor” and let the worst possible fears and scenarios percolate through the reader’s mind.
So say in 15 years, they want to volunteer at their kid’s school? Can’t do it. Want to become a school teacher? Forget it. They will forever be slotted as the creep whose house nobody’s kid is allowed to walk past, and everyone will whisper “hide yo kids, hide yo wife” whenever they come around. The rest of their existence will be defined by that time they got busy behind the bleachers with a 15 year old, which will forever be coined as “sexual assault of a minor.”
Forget Polite and Speak Up!
Labrie’s 15 year old victim repeatedly claimed that her silly text messages and non-confrontational Facebook messages to Labrie were written that way to keep from “offending” him. She said she felt like she “couldn’t say no.”
Please, please, please, let’s remind our daughters and sons that their bodies are NOT the property of someone else. They do not have to seek permission to say no to unwanted sexual intercourse, advances, or contact of any sort. Nobody else is entitled to their body. They need to understand that their bodies are the most valuable commodity they have–they won’t get another, and once it’s used up, it’s gone.
So speak up! Sex is not the time or place to be shy about what you do or don’t want. If you don’t want to have sex, then say it clearly, loudly, and repeatedly if necessary. And don’t back down. I’m a firm believer that when you’re about to do the deed, if ANYTHING doesn’t feel, smell, or even look right, it’s time to pack the show up and move along your separate ways.
And if, heaven forbid, something were to happen where they were sexually assaulted, they need to tell their story truthfully, but consistently. No telling all their friends that they had an “awesome” time, or the other guy/girl was a “gem” and later say the encounter was rape. Be truthful and consistent. And if someone asks them about the goings on, they shouldn’t feel compelled to give a detailed answer. “I don’t want to talk about it” is good enough because, again, nobody is entitled to that sort of information except maybe an authority figure. Saying anything that contradicts assault will seriously undermine any future claims of abuse.
So let’s use this St. Paul travesty as an opportunity to educate our young men and women of the long term consequences of their sexual interactions.
Questions and comments are always welcome.