a human being and a public servant February 5, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I haven't seen this happen on the site before. Is it something we should talk about?

As a prosecutor in another jurisdiction who has seen the effects of child sexual abuse, I implore you to report your friend, both for his own sake and for the sake of the (quite possibly real) child. If he's never been in trouble with the law before, he can be helped and may never have to spend a day in jail.

Otherwise, I don't see how I---as a human being and a public servant--cannot forward this posting to the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
posted by saslett at 12:06 AM on February 5 [28 favorites +] [!]
posted by gerryblog to Etiquette/Policy at 8:39 AM (166 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Huh. That might've been a good question to ask anonymously.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:41 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course I absolutely see where saslett is coming from. But if this is an acceptable outcome for an AskMe post it seems to significantly upend the assumptions I had about how this site works. What about drug questions? Adultery questions? Plagiarism questions? Declawing questions?

I feel really conflicted, and thought others might too.
posted by gerryblog at 8:41 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course I absolutely see where saslett is coming from. But if this is an acceptable outcome for an AskMe post it seems to significantly upend the assumptions I had about how this site works. What about drug questions? Adultery questions? Plagiarism questions? Declawing questions?

The mods can't control actions people who read the site take on their own.
posted by Diablevert at 8:43 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Uh oh, I think I had an old cache. I think the comment is gone now anyway.
posted by gerryblog at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2012


Though of course that doesn't impact the larger question of whether or not it's okay to call the cops on each other when we feel we should.
posted by gerryblog at 8:44 AM on February 5, 2012


Looks like the comment was deleted. Do we still need to talk about it? I think I've seen other threats to report askme behavior, generally about something like pirating or scam-running, and it's almost always deleted. I think the comment deletion spells out the site's perspective pretty clearly, though I would not want to have been the one who made that decision either way. What a crappy situation.
posted by lilac girl at 8:45 AM on February 5, 2012


I deleted that comment. If that user feels that they have to report this to the authorities, that is their business. We see people doing this from time to time, especially in drug, child abuse and immigration questions. It's our feeling that at the point at which you are threatening to send MeFi users or MeFi threads to the cops, you should probably not be using the site to do that. We usually MeMail people who make these sorts of threats and ask them to make a choice between continuing to be on the site [with access to additional user information and etc] and making legal threats against the site or its members.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:45 AM on February 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


I think the thread is worth talking about, even absent of the comment. I doubt saslett was alone in the inclination to just forward the thread on. There have been other AskMes about various activities of sketchy or dangerous or illegal nature, and I've never felt the slightest desire to report them. This one felt different, especially when it took the turn toward "oh, she's a resilient 15 year old". I typed and deleted dozens of different comments yesterday, and thought about it again when I opened my computer this morning.

Not a request for anything to be done, just wondering if anyone else found it as disturbingly conflicting.
posted by donnagirl at 8:56 AM on February 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


So should mandatory reporters (such as a prosecutor, teacher, etc) try to avoid reading these kinds of questions? Or just not tell people in the thread that they may be legally obligated to report the thread?

In the state of Oregon at least, "By law, mandatory reporters must report suspected abuse or neglect of a child regardless of whether or not the knowledge of the abuse was gained in the reporter’s official capacity. In other words, the mandatory reporting of abuse or neglect of children is a 24-hour obligation.[cite]"
posted by misterbrandt at 8:57 AM on February 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


If you you need to report content you read on the Internet to the authorities, whether for legal or moral reasons, just report it. There is no reason to threaten anyone with the prospect of material being reported to the authorities, because the threat itself is just disruptive noise (and more often than not trollish).
posted by planet at 9:04 AM on February 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yeah, generally speaking we're getting into dealbreaker territory as far as membership in this community goes when you start making noises on the site about taking legal action against other members or the site or similar things.

It's complicated territory because, like folks have said, the site and we as mods don't have any control over what folks do or whether they feel a need to do something external to the site, and ultimately folks are beholden first to their own moral compass, but it's pretty incompatible with the idea of this place as a community of shared trust to have "I am going to instigate legal action/create real-world consequences for you because of your participation here" be part of your participation.

That askme is certainly a weird tarpit in terms of topic, but part of what makes the green a place that has wide-ranging value is that it's okay for folks to ask about difficult stuff or have morally unenlightened premises or whatever; we're here to try and help, and sometimes people need help with pretty crappy or creepy situations. Being able either to say "this is a really bad idea and here's why and what actions you should consider" and leave it at that or to walk away from a thread if you can't is an important thing in general; the specific comment this thread was referencing is it's own thing in some ways but in another sense is just an extreme example of not doing the above successfully.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:06 AM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Can we remove the poster's name from the quoted bit of this post? If the comment is gone that doesn't seem like fair play.
posted by mintcake! at 9:08 AM on February 5, 2012


cortex: but it's pretty incompatible with the idea of this place as a community of shared trust to have "I am going to instigate legal action/create real-world consequences for you because of your participation here" be part of your participation.

Are you saying that making that statement is pretty incompatible, or are you saying that taking that action is pretty incompatible?
posted by introp at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, donnagirl. I've been feeling incredibly freaked out by that post, on a number of levels. I had to walk away to avoid just blasting the OP after his last followup. I've been trying ever since then to think what the right way to respond is. Among the upsetting things: he seemed to start out with a pretty good idea of how bad this situation is, but by the last followup he was defending it. I've certainly seen posts where people warned someone that a situation was seriously not OK, and where it looks like the person being warned has pretty much blown the warnings off, but never anywhere near as bad as this.
posted by BibiRose at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2012


Has anyone memailed saslett to let them know about this meTa?
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I advised the OP to anonymize their question, but at the same time I saved the user's info in case I had the inclination to report this mess. I doubt I would actually do it, but you never know.
posted by two lights above the sea at 9:14 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


mintcakel, that makes sense, and rtha I didn't because I really didn't think of it as a callout. I can do that.
posted by gerryblog at 9:14 AM on February 5, 2012


Or just not tell people in the thread that they may be legally obligated to report the thread?

If you feel that you need to report something, go report it. Commenting in the thread that you may or may not report something is just turning an already-difficult thread into something worse. We understand that people's legal or ethical responsibilities may require them to report stuff. But similar to the FIAMO edict, just do what you have to do and don't turn it into some thread spectacle.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:15 AM on February 5, 2012 [17 favorites]


That question and the responses made me uneasy. It seemed obvious to me that the poster is struggling to do the right thing, and it feels clear to me that this is one case where metafilter's fervent moral absolutism (of which I'm sometimes no doubt guilty) might really work against OP doing the best thing because by just asking this question, people are essentially threatening the OP himself. So he's reacting defensively, but on a human level, I think that defensiveness is understandable. You might say, "Well, it's okay for him to feel threatened," but having had a friend in a similar situation (her father was busted online for soliciting a minor for sex, and eventually jailed), I know that it can take some time to process this sort of thing and readjust your mental image of that person, much less take the first proper legal steps.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:16 AM on February 5, 2012 [42 favorites]


What PhoBWanKenobi said. The question made me uneasy, but the self-righteous pileon by a zillion MeFites with pitchforks and torches made me a lot more so. Answer the poster's question and, if you feel the need, provide supporting information; don't attack the poster's sense of morals or (for god's sake) threaten to go to the cops yourself. That's bizarre and a blight on AskMe.
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on February 5, 2012 [21 favorites]


"don't turn it into some thread spectacle." I understand what you're saying here, especially as regards what is in the best interest of MetaFilter and the maintenance of a civil and coherent discussion that stays on target...

On the other hand, I think it is worthwhile to entertain the thought that sometimes it is a "spectacle" and people's awareness that a topic might result in a spectacle that might be a deterrent to the behavior both specific to this instance and generally as people involved (or just aware of the discussion) make future decisions.

Do we always want to be quiet about our culture's norms and the ramifications of the violation of those norms?
posted by HuronBob at 9:25 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do we always want to be quiet about our culture's norms and the ramifications of the violation of those norms?

In general, when that comes up, MetaTalk is the place to discuss the culture's norms, not the thread in question. That's how the site has always worked, and it works pretty well, I think.

Specifically regarding legal threats, though, I have never worked at a place where the policy was anything other than insta-delete. There's no community value gained by allowing that sort of thing that is outweighed by both the negative community impact and also the legal issues. (I've mostly worked at biiiig corporations with utterly humorless lawyers - this is one topic I never disagreed with them on.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:30 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


people's awareness that a topic might result in a spectacle that might be a deterrent to the behavior both specific to this instance and generally as people involved

I'm aware that is, in some cases, what is driving people to harass the OP in that thread. However, it's not okay for AskMe. We do not think, generally speaking, that people are going to be using AskMe for tips on how to become a better sexual predator. There are many people in that thread who are giving very good "This is why you need to pay very close attention to what your friend is saying and this is why he is quite possible involved in something wrong and/or illegal and this is what you should be doing" feedback without flipping out.

If you think the only way you can highlight the very bad things that are happening in the world surrounding whatever your topic of choice is is by basically breaking the rules and harassing and threatening people into doing what you want, then you need to come to MetaTalk, period. So, again, we understand that people may feel that they need to report things. That is okay. However, freaking out in the thread is still Not Okay. People can come to MetaTalk to talk about those things. I do not feel that the ramifications for someone trying to get a handle on how to deal with their friend's problematic behavior should be a bunch of people threatening to sic the authorities on them, no. There are better ways of getting across what our cultural norms are. The OP is not anonymous, anyone can contact them to discuss this more with them at length,
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


self-righteous pileon

Yeah, I can see how it reads that way. I will say, though, that I didn't feel any sense of self-righteousness in the different comments I ultimately didn't post. I felt a weird urgency to get the poster to see that his friend wasn't just off on a crazy mid-life-crisis lark. The tags alone created such a weird cognitive dissonance. Seriously, "younglove", "folly", "interpol", "webcamsex"?

Usually things that upset me on Metafilter prompt a "close the computer and go outside" response, which fixes everything. It didn't fix this. I agree that deleting the comment that prompted this thread was necessary. I hope the other comments, self-righteous or otherwise, were enough to prompt the poster to act.
posted by donnagirl at 9:39 AM on February 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


This is a fascinating discussion, probably more so because of the recent events at Penn State, and since then, at other institutions. Our society is taking a very close look at where the responsibility for reporting lies, especially the reporting of child abuse.

I'm falling into the camp that saslett's comment was more a statement of fact than a "threat" (as it's being defined in this thread). It seemed to clearly lay out what he felt was his responsibility as a public servant, and communicated that in a fairly neutral manner.

I realize that Metafilter is not a sanctioned public institution like a school, a university, or a youth serving non-profit, but, in the end, we all ( individually and in our various social/business/school/community groups) need to clearly define where we fall in terms of what we see as our responsibility to report.

/disclaimer: I view this from the perspective of someone, in my state, that is a mandated reporter in any case of actual or suspected child abuse.
posted by HuronBob at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi makes a great point and is a good reason to allow the OP some time to digest this all. Most of us have stereotypes about who ends up doing this kind of thing - creepy guys in vans, obviously skeevy people. The sad reality is it's usually 'regular' seeming people, with families and lives, who never struck you as having a problem with obsession with underage kids.

I learned this to my chagrin about a dozen years ago when a member of one of my social circles was accused of statutory rape. Just didn't seem the type; I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. We all did - he was such a "nice guy," a regular guy, funny, functional, normal, talented. He asked people who knew him to write character reference letters to the judge. Ultimately, several of us decided we could not do this. Despite our initial surprise at the accusation, it just seemed by the facts of the situation that there was no way he didn't do this, and we didn't want to be part of the defense. He was convicted.

It takes some time to realize that, oh my God yeah, some people do this, and they may not be people who ever crossed your mind as the kind of people who might do this. The images we get from pop culture are not totally reliable.

Incidentally, this is also one reason that as a girl it's possible to be quite vulnerable to guys like this - because they don't seem the 'creepy' type that you've been instructed to stay away from, and want to stay away from. They seem instead the cool, interesting type of mature person who is taking an exceptional interest in you, to the surprise of you both, despite the age difference. This can feed into a romantic conception of events where you tell yourself you were cursed by the universe and oddly star-crossed to be drawn to someone of such a different age, but you can surmount this obstacle because of your compelling feelings of love, even though people don't understand.

So not "seeming creepy" is never a guarantee of a person's not behaving as a creep. But it can take a lot of effort to get over the prejudices caused by the ideas we generally have about who is and isn't a creep, and it's heartbreaking to deal with the idea that someone you've actually been close to, and thought you liked and understood, might be a creep.
posted by Miko at 9:55 AM on February 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


to allow the OP some time to digest this all.

On review, I want to emphasize that this isn't an argument to recommend not reporting. It's just an argument not to leap all over the OP in a way that alienates him and makes him stop listening to the people in the thread. Better if the channel remains open, the group is firm but supportive in making the difficult decision he has to make.

It's awful. The Penn State thing definitely made me consider a lot about how people are implicated in the ongoing tragedies of abuse just by looking the other way or deciding 'it's none of my business.' Unfortunately, it is sometimes our business.
posted by Miko at 9:59 AM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


We usually MeMail people who make these sorts of threats and ask them to make a choice between continuing to be on the site [with access to additional user information and etc] and making legal threats against the site or its members.

I understand this policy in the context of legal threats against the site and its members, but the deleted comment was neither of those.

In any situation in which a kid is in danger of sexual exploitation by an adult, reasonable people who find out about it will be expected to notify authorities. There's nothing at all surprising about that. When a real-life exploitation situation is unfolding, it is not really inconsistent with "community" for someone to say "hey everyone, head's up, I've called the Georgia authorities and they are looking into it."

Everyone in the community who isn't exploiting children doesn't have anything to worry about.

Imagine a posting here where someone said "hey everyone, my buddy has a woman chained up in his basement and I'm trying to convince him that's not cool. I don't want to call the police so please don't suggest that," and provides some location-specific information that make calling the police worthwhile. Would a comment to the effect of, "if you don't call the police, I will" be deleted?

If so, that doesn't really make sense to me.
posted by jayder at 10:01 AM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I know that it can take some time to process this sort of thing and readjust your mental image of that person, much less take the first proper legal steps.

Agreed. I didn't like some of these answers; they got a bit personal about the OP's character and morals for not already having acted in your preferred way when it's clear he sees there's a problem and sees a need to do something.
posted by Hoopo at 10:03 AM on February 5, 2012


need to clearly define where we fall in terms of what we see as our responsibility to report.

I'm a mandated reporter at the school I work at. I understand mandated reporting. People who feel that they should report should go ahead and report it. And we've said repeatedly in MeTa that if the cops come to us because they are investigating something we will decide how to deal with that [this is a "see mathowie" question, basically].

Saying, in thread, that you are going to report the OP is not an answer to the question. We need people to follow their conscience but at the same time keep the "I am going to report you" drama off the site. And to be crystal clear, this is not a person saying they are 15 and they are in love with an adult man, and this is not even an adult man saying that they are in love with a 15 year old [we would delete or not approve that question in the first place]. This is someone asking how to deal with their friend's bad decisions. "I am going to report this situation" is not an answer and is a huge derailing comment in an already difficult thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


Would a comment to the effect of, "if you don't call the police, I will" be deleted?

That question would not be on the site in the first place. Hyperbolic hypotheticals do not help us deal with the situation at hand.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the point is "do it don't talk about it." Makes sense to me in this context. The poster surely would have to already know that was a possibility to start with.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:16 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Imagine a posting here where someone said "hey everyone, my buddy has a woman chained up in his basement and I'm trying to convince him that's not cool. I don't want to call the police so please don't suggest that," and provides some location-specific information that make calling the police worthwhile. Would a comment to the effect of, "if you don't call the police, I will" be deleted?
Wow. I would have thought this was clear, but if you think someone has a woman chained in their basement, call the goddamn cops. Don't get on the internet and try to negotiate with some random stranger about who will call the cops.

If two people call the cops about the same woman chained in a basement, I'm pretty sure the cops and the woman will be just fine with that. So even in your crazy hypothetical, the benefit of creating internet drama still is not clear.
posted by planet at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


The OP hasn't anonymized his question or profile in spite of repeated advice to do so. I think he wants someone to report this so he doesn't have to.
posted by Dasein at 10:23 AM on February 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


So should mandatory reporters (such as a prosecutor, teacher, etc) try to avoid reading these kinds of questions?

I am a mandatory reporter. My understanding is based on a workshop at a public university that I went to. It is very very unlikely that I would be making a call to the hotline based on a ask.metafilter thread. Reporting suspected child abuse is a serious thing. In NY at least there is a dedicated hotline for mandated reporters. There must be "suspicions" but it can't be based on hearsay. If I see marks on a child, or a client says they beat their kid, or a child reports to me they were abused, I am mandated to report that and I will do so.

If someone tells me so-and-so beats their kid, or another kids tells about another kid being abused, or even if someone comes to me with first hand knowledge, my understanding based on the workshop I attended, is that dos not feall under mandatory reporting guidelines. Obviously, the ethical thing to do would be to do further investigation. Anyone who witnesses child abuse needs to report it and needs to be encouraged to report it. This is very serious shit.

The seriousness of it is why I don't think I would ever base reporting a suspected case of child abuse on an ask.metafilter question. First, there is no way to know if the information reported in an ask.metafilter question is true. OP could be trolling, off their meds, posing a hypothetical to get human reactions to use in their next novel, etc. Second, the OP isn't involved, just reporting on something that they have heard. Third, what is one to say to the person on the other end of the hotline? "THERE'S REALLY SKETCHY THINGS HAPPENING ON THE INTERNET!!!!!!! CHECK OUT THIS THREAD OMG WTF". I can't imagine a situation occurring within the normal operation of psuedononymous and moderated ask.metafilter that I would have enough information for me or most users to make a credible report.

If my understanding of my responsibilities as a mandatory reporter are wrong please correct me. If you feel the need to call in a suspected case of child abuse, do it.

Ask.metafilter is ethically problematic for professional practitioners of some fields, but I do not think the mandatory reporting of suspected cases of child abuse is problematic for normal users of ask.metafiler.

Disclaimer: Nothing I say should be taken as an indication of competency in any field: I'm just some shmuck talking informally on the internet. Don't make decisions based on what I say.
posted by fuq at 10:25 AM on February 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


having had a friend in a similar situation (her father was busted online for soliciting a minor for sex, and eventually jailed), I know that it can take some time to process this sort of thing and readjust your mental image of that person, much less take the first proper legal steps.

Having been in the situation of being sexually abused by a man 40+ years older who thought I was "resilient" enough that I'd be cool with it, pardon me for not giving a metric fuck.

If that comes off as self-righteous to anyone, see above status report on fucks given.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2012 [23 favorites]


I disagree that the thread is a "self-righteous pileon." Again, assuming that his friend is not being targeted by a scam or a sting operation (and I fervently hope it's one or the other), the OP has knowledge of activities that seem to involve, at the very least, child pornography, and has foreknowledge of possible child rape. What may read like "self-righteous pileon" to some reads a lot like trying to shake some awareness and urgency into the OP, who is trying to deny the grave seriousness of the situation (and his own moral responsibility regarding the situation) by saying he doesn't want to judge his friend, that the child is "resilient," etc.

On preview: The OP hasn't anonymized his question or profile in spite of repeated advice to do so. I think he wants someone to report this so he doesn't have to.

Yep, that's largely been my conclusion, too, whether he's aware that this is is motivation or not. (Not to go all "paging Dr. Freud" on things, but really.)
posted by scody at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2012 [23 favorites]


er, "...reads a lot to me like trying to shake some awareness, etc."
posted by scody at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2012


Having been in the situation of being sexually abused by a man 40+ years older who thought I was "resilient" enough that I'd be cool with it, pardon me for not giving a metric fuck.

If that comes off as self-righteous to anyone, see above status report on fucks given.


You know, I'm very genuinely sorry you went through that, and I wish I could have helped. Had I been in that position, I would have.

But you don't have to be a jerk to me about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:31 AM on February 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


The grave seriousness of the situation isn't entirely obvious to me.

Not because the poster's friend hasn't committed corruption of a minor. Maybe he has. It depends on how that law is written in the particular jurisdiction this ends up in, supposing it ever does go to court.

Rather, I can't see where people are getting the idea that either the girl has already been harmed in some way, or the poster's friend is seriously intent on getting a very expensive ticket to the girl's house.

I suppose some people would consider webcam-based lewdness to be injury unto itself, but if ChatRoulette is any indication, it's about as common as underage drinking. If you think it shouldn't be, well... I imagine you must be trying very hard to get more police monitoring of ChatRoulette? That would make more sense than hounding this one guy about it.

Maybe the age difference makes the situation creepier than usual, but since it's just webcams after all, the adult's ability to induce the minor to do anything not immediately visible on the webcam is a bit limited by the adult's lack of knowledge of the same.

In any case, the snap moral judgments seem to be made entirely on the basis of the ages of the people involved, which is a crude sort of compass. The age difference suggests that a power differential might be an issue, but it doesn't provide any certainty, save perhaps when the law explicitly denies a minor some power. Counter-questioning would be appropriate, to better ascertain what damage the poster's friend has done.

Instead, we get a paedo hunt.

Rock on.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:38 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


The age difference suggests that a power differential might be an issue, but it doesn't provide any certainty,

Oh really? You think there are many scenarios in which a 15-year-old girl from a poor country is just as powerful as a 50-year-old man from the US? I would like to hear about them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2012 [31 favorites]


OK, as one of the commenters in that thread:

- To me it doesn't seem like a self-righteous moral pile-on so much as - as scody mentioned above - trying to persuade the OP to take things seriously. There's some overreaction (like, oh, the entire trafficking stuff; seriously, how do you get from outside the USA = automatic poverty / criminal underground?), but for everything else, I'd say the reaction's tempered for what it could be.

- We don't really know how much has gone on, especially considering the friend originally mentioned this a few weeks ago, but we can assume there was at least a webcam and nudity involved (already beyond dicey), and we can assume it's an extended thing, not just one stray Chatroulette outing. The key? The word "love." Whether the friend really thinks he loves this girl, or whether he chose that word to soften and smooth things in the retelling, you don't use that word for someone you've met once. And an extended thing, of course = more chances for the girl to get hurt.
posted by dekathelon at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case, the snap moral judgments seem to be made entirely on the basis of the ages of the people involved

Yes, in the interest of protecting children. It's backed up by laws.
posted by marimeko at 10:50 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It depends on how that law is written in the particular jurisdiction this ends up in, supposing it ever does go to court.

As already pointed out in the thread, what the OP is describing appears to violate Georgia law regarding contacting a minor for sexual purposes. If the OP's friend intends meets the girl for purposes of having sex (since, you know, he claims that the two of them are "in love," just like that old man in that book by Nabokov), then he's planning on committing rape, also according to Georgia law. But hey, maybe the girl -- again, assuming there is one -- is located in a state or country where 15 is the age of consent! No harm, no foul, right?
posted by scody at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh really? You think there are many scenarios in which a 15-year-old girl from a poor country is just as powerful as a 50-year-old man from the US? I would like to hear about them.

I can think of one, and I actually think it's the most likely scenario, which is why I can't get too worked up about it: The 15 year old is cold-bloodedly playing the stupid old American. She'll be asking for money and gifts. He's one of a dozen, and she makes a fair living at it. She laughs at them. God help the old man if he ever showed up, because her real boyfriend makes her look like a saint, and has already murdered one person that she knows about when he joined the local mafia/yakuza equivalent.

If I thought the guy was predator, I'd be all for reporting it. But I think he's the chump.
posted by tyllwin at 11:04 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I think he's the chump.

He may very well be a chump, but a chump who likes little girls is still a predator and still poses a threat.
posted by marimeko at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


"Oh really? You think there are many scenarios in which a 15-year-old girl from a poor country is just as powerful as a 50-year-old man from the US? I would like to hear about them."

"I can think of one, and I actually think it's the most likely scenario, which is why I can't get too worked up about it: The 15 year old is cold-bloodedly playing the stupid old American. She'll be asking for money and gifts. He's one of a dozen, and she makes a fair living at it. She laughs at them. God help the old man if he ever showed up, because her real boyfriend makes her look like a saint, and has already murdered one person that she knows about when he joined the local mafia/yakuza equivalent.

If I thought the guy was predator, I'd be all for reporting it. But I think he's the chump."

One can be simultaneously a chump and a predator. A chump who supports the sexual trafficking of children, as in your example, is also a predator and someone who needs stopping. But yes of course, forgive me, this hypothetical child could also be some kind of evil seductress and that would indeed make it all ok and her fault she is being trafficked.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:11 AM on February 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


"If I thought the guy was predator, I'd be all for reporting it. But I think he's the chump."

well then, we can all rest easy.
posted by HuronBob at 11:11 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh really? You think there are many scenarios in which a 15-year-old girl from a poor country is just as powerful as a 50-year-old man from the US? I would like to hear about them.

It's possible, for instance, that they're both just flirting on a chat room on the internet, and neither of them intend to take it any further.

Illegal? Possibly. Dangerous? Eh.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:11 AM on February 5, 2012


"But hey, maybe the girl -- again, assuming there is one -- is located in a state or country where 15 is the age of consent! No harm, no foul, right?"

The United States has federal laws which prohibit raping children or producing pornography involving children while traveling in other countries, regardless of the local age of consent. Incidentally, regardless of legal liability, I fail to see how any argument of any kind could possibly be made that this is somehow a bad thing.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I were the OP and the whole internet started screaming at me about how wrong I was, I'm not sure, but I think I might be less likely to report. When people get hostile and tell me how bad I am, my natural instinct and response is to get defensive.

And, if the OP bears the burden of reporting, then so does everyone in that thread. Someone else can call the cops and say "look at this ask.metafilter." I have no idea whether they would take it seriously and really investigate (the information is rather thin), but I guess that's their call as the rest of us are not professionals.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:13 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


No harm, no foul, right?

we can all rest easy.


With respect, I'd prefer we didn't play the "You don't care about child abuse!" game here. We're trying to discuss a difficult topic and making offhand statements that people are okay with child rape is really not a great way to find positions of mutual understanding. I know it's a natural sarcastic reaction to something that people find troubling, but it's not great for conversation and makes it difficult to talk about what we know is actually happening not what scenarios people have made up in their own heads.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi, you're aces with me, and I wasn't angry with you, but with your comment.

I felt like your comment was being a jerk to me and to everyone in the thread who was sharing their personal experience of having been abused in an attempt to make the OP see that the person on the other end of the "webcamsex", if she really was a 15 year old girl, was a person who deserved protection from his friend.

I understand loyalty to friends, I really do. I don't understand loyalty to friends that extends that far.

I certainly don't mean to be a jerk to you, and I don't think you meant to be a jerk to me. Your comment made me really angry, though.

I am truly sorry that your friend had the experience of finding out about her father's predatory behavior, though, and I understand your point about it being hard to change your perception of someone. The OP in the thread, though, seems to have a pretty clear perception of the shit his friend is doing--he's just still enmeshed in denial and excuse-making.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: even in your crazy hypothetical, the benefit of creating internet drama still is not clear
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Forgot to actually link to the Georgia law in question, which the OP's friend has apparently already broken:
(1) A person commits the offense of obscene Internet contact with a child if he or she has contact with someone he or she knows to be a child or with someone he or she believes to be a child via a computer on-line service or Internet service, including but not limited to a local bulletin board service, Internet chat room, e-mail, or on-line messaging service, and the contact involves any matter containing explicit verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexually explicit nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse that is intended to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of either the child or the person, provided that no conviction shall be had for a violation of this subsection on the unsupported testimony of a child.
(2) Any person who violates paragraph (1) of this subsection shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years or by a fine of not more than $10,000.00; provided, however, that, if at the time of the offense the victim was 14 or 15 years of age and the defendant was no more than three years older than the victim, then the defendant shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.
And if the OP's friend meets his "young love," here are the relevant Georgia laws, covering statutory rape, child molestation, and enticing a child for indecent persons.

On preview:
I think he's the chump.

Sure, I hope so -- I think everyone hopes so. But there is no way to know if that is really what's going on. The odds of this being a scenario in which a girl is actually being sexually exploited are not zero; the odds aren't even all that small. That's why a number of us are arguing that this can't be dismissed out of hand. None of us (the OP included) cannot telepathically divine if this is a scam, a sting, or an actual case of sexual exploitation, and therefore cannot simply revert to assuming that the best case scenario (in which the OP's friend gets scammed out of money) is the one that's actually in play.

On preview:
If I were the OP and the whole internet started screaming at me about how wrong I was, I'm not sure, but I think I might be less likely to report. When people get hostile and tell me how bad I am, my natural instinct and response is to get defensive.

Look, the OP himself is at legal risk here. He has knowledge of what already appears to be a felony against a child. His profile is extremely public, as his his twitter feed and blog (I found them in exactly one and two clicks). If his friend is investigated for sexual exploitation of a minor, the OP has made it clear here that he knew about it and failed to go to the authorities. Fair or not, in this immediate post-Penn State moment, there is a not-at-all-unlikely chance that this could blow up in the OP's face as well, potentially harming him and his own family.

On preview:
The United States has federal laws which prohibit raping children or producing pornography involving children while traveling in other countries, regardless of the local age of consent. Incidentally, regardless of legal liability, I fail to see how any argument of any kind could possibly be made that this is somehow a bad thing.

blasdelb, I agree with you 100%, as I thought my sarcastic tone (which jessamyn subsequently asked me to dial back, and which I will do) would make clear.
posted by scody at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Unless the "webcamsex" tag is an error on the OP's part, US laws have already been broken, so the "maybe none of this is illegal" dog isn't going to hunt.

Even from the point of view of worrying about the OP's friend rather than the teenager, the OP's friend needs help. A 50+-year-old man who thinks that a 15-year-old girl is "in love" with him needs help, in the form of a reality check from a professional.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi, I meant to actually say "I'm sorry" in my apology above, but apparently my fingers got a case of the stupids. I meant to express anger on the topic, but not personal anger or animus toward you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:21 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Would the laws of the United States, and in this case, the state of Georgia, apply to him in the same way if the girl was in a different country, when the alleged illegality (I only saw the tags) happened?
posted by infini at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2012


I know that the general consensus has so far been that the most likely scenario is that the girl does not exist, but I'm not so sure.

As a law enforcement sting, apparently making her one year younger would have made the online only charge a felony rather than an aggravated misdemeanor, so presumably they would want to catch the predator on their way to what the predator would believe to be the child so as to make larger charges stick. But then why complicate it by including an entirely different country's jurisdiction? How would they fake webcam sex?

As some kind of scam, there would clearly still be a child being harmed. A child being trafficked via webcam is being harmed and a child working independently to extract "gifts" or whatever from an adult using sex is still being exploited. Assuming that we can believe the tags, which I think we can, we are not talking about preventing some future hypothetical harm, we are talking about stopping present and continuing harm being done to a child.

I don't really see how any rational scenario with this question, aside from perhaps the friend bouncing a fantasy off of the OP for gratification inherent to that, that does not involve a child being exploited makes sense. Even then, as was said in the thread, it always pays to believe the things people tell you about themselves which are not flattering.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am truly sorry that your friend had the experience of finding out about her father's predatory behavior, though, and I understand your point about it being hard to change your perception of someone. The OP in the thread, though, seems to have a pretty clear perception of the shit his friend is doing--he's just still enmeshed in denial and excuse-making.

Sidhedevil, I want to start by saying how much I appreciate your thoughts and perspective on this. Speaking as someone who has not been on any side of this situation, I think part of the problem for the OP and others like him is that we get this idea of "predators" as horrible, creepy people with no redeeming qualities. It's very hard to fit someone about whom you care into that image. I'm not excusing the OP, I'm saying that when you have an idea of "predators" as "people who are completely bad" it's hard to reconcile that with someone you know to have good qualities and even someone you believe to be, fundamentally, a good person. Putting a big, scary (if accurate) label on someone's friend could easily make him or her feel like "Well, the situation can't be that bad because I know for sure they're not a predator because they aren't exclusively a horrible, evil person."
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:28 AM on February 5, 2012


Anyway, to answer the spirit of your question, nobody can have power in general. Always, you must have power to do something, or prevent something from happening, or get someone else to do something. In our society the most general form of power is money, with legal rights and privileges a close second in my opinion. In the U.S., the 15-year-old lacks the legal right to consent, which in itself makes her the underpowered party in this situation, supposing of course that the sexual dimension progresses beyond "webcam sex". This is not the case in Canada.

Moneywise, it's unlikely that the 15-year-old has much to her name, while one might reasonably assume that a 40-year-old American (not 50--unless you meant to present a different case than the one in the AskMe?) should have some savings. But there are homeless people that age. Sleeping with a homeless person might be a bad idea for any number of reasons, but the power differential probably isn't one of them.

There's this other thing that tends to get trotted out in these conversations, which is the idea that the 40-year-old's additional life experience, all on its own, counts as a form of power. The implications vary. Sometimes people assume that the adult is going to manipulate the child, and the child will not notice. That's plausible--at any rate, teachers and parents do that to children all the time... and to one another... and bosses do it to their subordinates... basically, I'm saying that the mere fact of manipulating someone doesn't have any moral weight, or we're all monsters. Manipulating them into doing something they'll regret is a different story, but if that's your angle, then the power differential actually doesn't matter at all. What matters is the harm that would come to the girl.

I can certainly understand how boning some dude from the 'states would be bad for the girl. Apart from the normal medical risks there's additional social baggage that comes from pedo hunts like this one. There are emotional risks too--is there a difference in those between flings at summer camp with boys your age, and the same thing with an older man? I guess there could be; I admit I'm inexperienced in these matters. But nobody's talking about that in this thread or the AskMe. It's all PEDOSPEDOSPEDOS.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2012


I felt like your comment was being a jerk to me and to everyone in the thread who was sharing their personal experience of having been abused in an attempt to make the OP see that the person on the other end of the "webcamsex", if she really was a 15 year old girl, was a person who deserved protection from his friend. . . . PhoBWanKenobi, I meant to actually say "I'm sorry" in my apology above, but apparently my fingers got a case of the stupids. I meant to express anger on the topic, but not personal anger or animus toward you.

Yeah, you actually kind of ramped up the anger at me and I'm feeling very prickly and defensive and feeling it necessary to step away. Telling me I'm being a jerk when I actually agree with you . . . what the fuck? Seriously.

I'll say this, though: I agree with you about how wrong the situation is. But I also saw my friend groping for excuses like "entrapment" to explain her father's behavior as she watched her family fall apart. It took her a few months to see his actions as the monstrous acts they were. Because she loved her father, and it's shocking to find out the people you love are monsters. I think the way to deal with this is not to say, "You are complicit in the actions of this creep" because the first answer is going to be, "but he's NOT a creep! I know him!" I think it's, "monsters don't always look like monsters. Let's judge people by their actions. Which are monstrous."

You might not be sympathetic to the innocent bystanders who are hurt by the horrific actions of sexual predators, but families are destroyed, friendships obliterated. In a situation like this, if your goal is to convince the person to report, you're more likely to sway them if you're sympathetic to how they're hurt by the acts of sexual predators, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


"It's possible, for instance, that they're both just flirting on a chat room on the internet, and neither of them intend to take it any further.

Illegal? Possibly. Dangerous? Eh.
"

I think I would rather let the survivors of childhood sexual assault who are currently in this thread calibrate my "Eh"-meter instead. Thank you though.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


There are emotional risks too--is there a difference in those between flings at summer camp with boys your age, and the same thing with an older man?

Yes, there are not only emotional and social differences and risks, there are often legal distinctions (as well there should be) between a 15-year-old sleeping with a 17-year-old vs. a 15-year-old sleeping with a 50-year-old.
posted by scody at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Seriously, though. Can we stop with the knee-jerk trafficking/scam/etc talk? It's possible, but it's in no way the certainty people are making it. There are 15-year-old girls on the Internet who aren't running elaborate scam operations or being exploited. Hell, I was one when I was 15. Go on MMOs. Go on Tumblr. Go on Livejournal. Go anyplace, really.

To put the "1000 miles" talk into perspective, it's roughly 1000 miles from Georgia to Montreal.

And to put the 15-year-old talk into perspective, that's a freshman or sophomore in high school.
posted by dekathelon at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2012


Scody, my point was that if we're worried about convincing the OP to see the error of his ways, yelling and screaming at him is likely to be an ineffective method in achieving that end. If we just want to yell and scream, sure, yelling and screaming is effective at achieving the end of yelling and screaming.

Look, the OP himself is at legal risk here.

I don't actually think that's right. He has some information suggesting that a crime may have occurred or be occurring. I'm not a criminal law expert, but as I understand it there is generally no legal duty to act to prevent or report a crime.

I agree that he probably has a moral duty to act, though. (I say "probably" only because it's not clear to me if they're having sexy cam chat sessions. They could have just been in a chat room, had non-sexual contact, and the 50 year old creeper decided "oh I'm in love." It may be clear to the OP, I don't know.)
posted by J. Wilson at 11:32 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying it's all cool. I was only replying to a comment that there weren't any scenarios which didn't involve a large power imbalance.

Nor would I dismiss it out of hand if I were a Georgia law enforcement officer.
posted by tyllwin at 11:34 AM on February 5, 2012



And to put the 15-year-old talk into perspective, that's a freshman or sophomore in high school.


And it's still illegal for a 50-year-old guy to be having webcam sex with her. Nobody's screaming pedophilia except for LogicalDash. (Common definitions of "pedophilia" usually involve pre-pubescent children, don't they?)
posted by BibiRose at 11:49 AM on February 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


BibiRose: Common definitions of "pedophilia" usually involve pre-pubescent children, don't they?

Technically, I believe, attraction to younger pubescents would be Hebephilia and adolescents would be Ephebophilia.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 11:56 AM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Can we stop with the knee-jerk trafficking/scam/etc talk? It's possible, but it's in no way the certainty people are making it.

The same is true of the OMG PEDOPHILIA IS HAPPENING RIGHT IN OUR LIVING ROOM responses. I am thoroughly aware of the evils of older men having "relationships" with girls that young, and I would never defend such a thing. But we do not know what is happening. We know that a MeFi member posted a question about what to do about his friend who says he is in love with a fifteen-year-old girl he met online. That's it. There are many possibilities about what is actually going on and equally many about what might happen in the future. I know everyone here means well and thinks they're only doing what's right (see above: "I didn't feel any sense of self-righteousness [...] I felt a weird urgency to get the poster to see that his friend wasn't just off on a crazy mid-life-crisis lark"), but it is very clear that people are bringing a lot of personal baggage to this, and it is exactly this "weird urgency" that fuels mobthink (not to mention actual mobs). Please take a step back and make yourself realize that no one is actually tied to the tracks somewhere as a train barrels down on them; at worst, a fifteen-year-old girl somewhere is carrying on inappropriate online chat with the poster's (ex-?)friend. It has been made abundantly clear to the poster that this is a bad situation, and as far as I can see all the breast-beating about how horrible it all is now serves only to reinforce a collective sense of righteousness. If there's one thing I've learned in decades of observing, and sometimes immersing myself in, public affairs, it's that a collective sense of righteousness is a very dangerous thing.

tl;dr: What exactly is to be gained by further attacks on the poster?
posted by languagehat at 11:57 AM on February 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


Yes, there are not only emotional and social differences and risks, there are often legal distinctions

Yeah, I've never to this point denied that. I'm speaking about the paedo-hunt mentality.

Nobody's screaming pedophilia except for LogicalDash. (Common definitions of "pedophilia" usually involve pre-pubescent children, don't they?)

I don't think most people even know the word "ephebophilia". So blaming me for using the term that the hystericists in-thread would recognize seems like little more than a way to blame me for the sake of blaming.

I think I would rather let the survivors of childhood sexual assault who are currently in this thread calibrate my "Eh"-meter instead.

Then you are letting survivors of sexual assault determine your response to cybersex, which is rather a different thing.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:57 AM on February 5, 2012


Underage is underage.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:08 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't actually think that's right. He has some information suggesting that a crime may have occurred or be occurring. I'm not a criminal law expert, but as I understand it there is generally no legal duty to act to prevent or report a crime.

The OP says that he does not fall into the guidelines for mandatory reporting in Georgia regarding child abuse. If that's true, then it's strictly due to his profession (i.e., he's not a teacher, doctor, counselor, etc.) and not because there's no legal duty to act to report the suspicion of sexual abuse of a minor. States also have separate laws regarding the failure to report a crime. (I'm not a criminal law expert, either, fwiw.)

And given the Penn State scandal, incidentally, there are discussions in Georgia (and in other states too, presumably) to expand the mandatory reporting requirements. Not that that would affect the OP's current status in regards to being a mandatory reporter, but it does underscore the notion that if the worst-case scenario really comes to pass -- i.e., there is a girl being sexually exploited and the OP's friend is investigated based on the info the OP provided here -- then, right or wrong, the OP has opened himself up to a lot of questions from the police, his friends and family, etc.

At this point, I think the OP ought to be thinking of his own family's interests, and how they might be affected by things if this all really blows up and he has to go to the police (and even ultimately testify at a trial) regarding what he knows and what he did (or didn't) do.
posted by scody at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2012


Languagehat stated: "a friend who says he is in love with a fifteen-year-old girl he met online. That's it."

The OP said:"he's engaged in some online activities that I believe could land him in jail RIGHT NOW if he was caught" Perhaps we should believe that he has knowledge of illegal activities, since he indicates he does.

I don't think it's a good idea to minimize the discussion.
posted by HuronBob at 12:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


Yeah but most people on Askme were not using the term pedophile/paedophile-- I spotted two instances in that whole thread-- and, in my opinion, most people are not talking about it like it's pedophilia. They are talking about it like it is underage cybersex, which can land you in the slammer and on the sex offender registry. This is not some kind of hysteria here. (I don't at all mean to sound like underage sex is not bad because it's not pedophilia; I just mean that here is a lot more going on here than people running around screaming a scary word.)

tl;dr: What exactly is to be gained by further attacks on the poster?

Probably not much; it'll probably just make him more defensive. But I really don't get the second-guessing about how serious this is. I daresay a lot of people who've gone to jail for this kind of thing didn't think it was serious, for all the sorts of reasons that some are suggesting here.
posted by BibiRose at 12:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then you are letting survivors of sexual assault determine your response to cybersex, which is rather a different thing.

I think there's a common tendency to assume that non-physical assault or abuse are automatically less of a big deal, and maybe not even "real" abuse at all. Or that, at the very least, one needs to make a case for why non-physical abuse should be seen as such and taken seriously.

I have known several people who suffered from emotional abuse as children or adolescents. The attitude described above made them doubt that their own abuse "counted" and prevented them from seeking the help they needed. In some cases, it meant that the adults in their lives caused them further pain by dismissing them. One was told that she should just be grateful that she hadn't been molested, and was selfish and childish for trying to pretend that her own situation merited the same level of sympathy or intervention.

"Cybering" with a minor when you are an adult IS sexual assault and should be taken just as seriously as any other form of abuse.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:23 PM on February 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


There is a problem when you are repeatedly referring to women talking about sexual abuse as hysterical. That is a very loaded word with a lot of misogynist baggage attached. If folks could choose a different word, this conversation would look a little less ugly.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:34 PM on February 5, 2012 [28 favorites]


Sleeping with a homeless person might be a bad idea for any number of reasons, but the power differential probably isn't one of them.

Well, you started by assuming your premise that only two kinds of power matter - money and legal rights. But there's no reason to grant your premise. There are certainly other kinds of power, and some kinds to which young people are particularly vulnerable.

The various laws we have about ages of consent aren't there to protect against the extraction of money under false pretenses. They're not there on the basis of individual rights, because minors don't have many of the legal rights that adults do, which is one reason they are objectively unequal to adults. They're there because we have a history of evidence that sexual relations between adults and minors can be harmful and exploitive, especially but not exclusively when they involve result in pregnancy.

I understand that there are situations in which there can be debate about the appropriateness of a relationship where someone is a legal adult and someone is a minor, but they are ages 17 and 18, or similar. Even so, it's up to the individual who is a legal adult to understand the consequences of their choices, because they will ultimately be responsible for them if something goes wrong. There are good reasons for laws like this to exist.
posted by Miko at 12:37 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's plausible--at any rate, teachers and parents do that to children all the time... and to one another... and bosses do it to their subordinates...

Interesting. So you recognize that adults are able to manipulate children but don't think that is "inherently" the case. To try to justify manipulation in an "everyone does it" sort of way, you list different relationships all of which have an inherent imbalance of power. That doesn't bolster your point, it undermines it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:50 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It also totally ignores socially sanctioned forms of manipulation and non-sanctioned forms, as if the judgments of the society about the aims and methods of manipulation don't matter.

The argument is an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum - either manipulation is always good or it's always bad. The truth is, cast in the grand terms chosen, it's not always either. The worthiness and appropriateness of the use of manipulation is situation-dependent and pretty clearly spelled out.

For instance, yes teachers can manipulate children in socially sanctioned ways, such as giving them assignments, requiring discussion in class, challenging their thinking, giving them grades and certain other incentives to improve their knowledge of subject matter or increase their motivation, and the like.

But teachers cannot manipulate children in non-sanctioned ways, such as seducing them, speaking inappropriately to them, or asking them for sexual favors.

Because all humans do manipulate one another, social sanction for both means and ends is required in order to support the healthy and safe growth of individuals.
posted by Miko at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I completely do not understand the attitude some people in this thread have about it "just being cybersex". If that is, in fact, what is happening between the OP's friend and the girl, that's child pornography- a child is creating porn for a middle aged man in another country. Consuming child pornography is illegal in the US, so the laws of the country where this girl might be don't matter at all. And a 15 year old getting involved in a sexual and emotional online relationship and (possibly) having webcam sex with an older man might not be rape, but it sure as hell isn't OK and is very definitely illegal for the man in the US.
posted by MadamM at 1:00 PM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is a problem when you are repeatedly referring to women talking about sexual abuse as hysterical.

Who is this straw man you're attacking? No one in this thread used the word "hysterical," and it's been used once in the original thread.
posted by Dasein at 1:02 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


at worst, a fifteen-year-old girl somewhere is carrying on inappropriate online chat with the poster's (ex-?)friend.

A fifteen-year-old girl having "webcam sex" (per the OP's tag) with a 50+ year old man who is intending to meet her in person is in danger.

Yeah, you actually kind of ramped up the anger at me and I'm feeling very prickly and defensive and feeling it necessary to step away....You might not be sympathetic to the innocent bystanders who are hurt by the horrific actions of sexual predators, but families are destroyed, friendships obliterated.

PhoBWanKenobi, I'm truly sorry that I did such a shitty job of apologizing to you. I was trying to distinguish between anger prompted by your comment, which I experienced, and anger at you personally, which I did not experience. I regret that I failed.

So I was just on a long walk in the out of the doors, and I realized what was upsetting me about that post, and why I was so raegy in response to PBWK's comment.

I think the thing is that I didn't get the sense from the OP in that comment that the 15-year-old girl, even if she was a real 15-year-old girl, was important at all and that her experience mattered. The "Oh, she's resilient" comment just solidified that to me.

One of the ways people do horrible shit to other people is by distancing themselves from them and making them unreal. In this case it seemed to me like the OP experiences his friend's issues as real, but the potential 15-year-old's issues as not real, and not to be worried about.

So I think that was why I inappropriately flipped out at your comment, PBWK. On reflection, I see that your point is very important. At the time I made my first comment, I was still enmeshed in my reaction to the way the OP framed his post ("my friend is heading for a fall" rather than "my friend is breaking US laws about sexual exploitation of minors").
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2012 [25 favorites]


I seriously cannot believe that we are honestly debating whether a 50+ year old man exploiting a 15-year-old girl to generate pornography and planning to rape that child is a bad thing or not, or whether exploiting a child for pornography might be ok even if potential plans visit and rape that child might not be, or whether sexually assaulting a child is ok so long as the child is also 'exploiting' the predator for money or 'gifts', or whether the fact that she might not be American could possibly be relevant to how ok this is, or how webcam sex might actually just be "inappropriate conversations", or whether a 50+ year old man having a clearly sexual online relationship with a child might be only 'inappropriate', or whether an adult raping a child might be the same thing as two children having sex.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2012 [30 favorites]


What really gets me is how we've spent a little bit of time discussing how this might affect the OP, a lot of time talking about how this might affect the friend if the girl is real, and what time we've spent talking about the girl herself with the assumption that she is real has mostly been dominated by how her experience shouldn't matter to us. Fuck that noise, the OP's feelings don't matter*, the friend's feelings/freedom/legal issues don't really matter, the child that the OP's friend claims that he is currently exploiting matters.

*Of course calling him names or whatever is unlikely to produce the desired result of him giving a shit, and so we shouldn't, but that doesn't mean that his feelings matter. He is a grown man who can get over losing a friend.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:18 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sleeping with a homeless person might be a bad idea for any number of reasons, but the power differential probably isn't one of them.

I may be missing your point, but the (potential) power differential in having sex with homeless people has a special name all of its own, survival sex.
posted by Iteki at 1:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think it is probably a romance scammer but there really isn't anything to be gained by any sort of reply other then, "I am going to the police if you don't."

We don't really need a million different answers to this one to pop up in Google for anyone facing the same question in their own lives. If a child is potentially in danger, you should report it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:22 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]



I think the thing is that I didn't get the sense from the OP in that comment that the 15-year-old girl, even if she was a real 15-year-old girl, was important at all and that her experience mattered. The "Oh, she's resilient" comment just solidified that to me.


That's what got me upset too. Up to that point, I thought the OP had a pretty good idea of how bad it was but, yes, now that you mention it it all seemed to be about what was going on with his friend.

I've often noticed myself- not saying this applies to you in any way, Sidhedevil-- getting angrier with peripheral people, the friends or bystanders or enablers-- than with the perpetrators. I'll even get angry with people who make it emphatically clear that the offenders are wrong, just disagree about how to handle it. Not sure why; maybe it's some belief that the actual sexual predators are just broken, unfixable, whereas the people on the periphery should know better.
posted by BibiRose at 1:25 PM on February 5, 2012


I really appreciate your apology, Sidhedevil, and I'm sorry if anything I said contributed to your feeling of being dismissed . Believe me, I have another very good friend whose parents refused to report her sexual assault BECAUSE they didn't want to break up the guy's family and . . . ugh, a million hugs to you, seriously. What she went through, what you went through, what a thousand other girls went through--real and important and I don't want to make it sound like I think the needs of the perpetrators' friends and families are more than the victims'--rather that the pain and shock and defensiveness they feel is part of why these things often go unreported, and maybe part of why OP seemed to have his head so very in the sand. I usually hate tone arguments, and you have every right to be angry, but in this case, when action is important, I think an empathetic approach is likely going to lead to a better outcome. That's all.

Hugs!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:27 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Update from the OP.
posted by bakerina at 1:30 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The age difference suggests that a power differential might be an issue, but it doesn't provide any certainty

This sort of argument is a rough one to make on Metafilter given the, ah, unfortunate history involved. Though I suppose we're getting enough years into the past that most people don't remember it.
posted by Justinian at 1:31 PM on February 5, 2012


My concern here is with those who recommend seeing a mental health professional--once behavior has gotten to this point (viewing what is considered child pornography in the US), reporting yourself to a professional just isn't the best choice, unfortunately. I wish it was an option. If it were, the dangers we are rightly associating with this behavior (falling in love and "cybering" with an underaged person) could be stopped...at the point when we begin to see it as a problem. His friend hasn't hurt anyone physically. The friend might never do that. But, being able to be honest with a professional would lower that likelihood to much more manageable levels, and generally we don't recognize it's time to get therapy (for anything) until the behavior begins to cross some lines.

Sadly, reporting this behavior in a therapy setting may just result in legal repercussions. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be illegal to sexually harm underage people. But, it should never be illegal to get help for yourself when you know you may need it. The way the laws are structured now, it's just "repress, repress, act, JAIL". And that just isn't right.
posted by zinful at 1:34 PM on February 5, 2012


Oops, shoulda checked the preview. Looks like this is under control.
posted by zinful at 1:35 PM on February 5, 2012


You succeeded only in making my decision more difficult because I don't like to feel I'm giving in to assholes, even if they're on the side of the angels.

Stay classy, Infinity_8.
posted by jayder at 1:45 PM on February 5, 2012 [34 favorites]


Stay classy, Infinity_8.

I was thinking the same thing.

I just don't get people sometimes.
posted by lampshade at 1:50 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for proving my point that you're dehumanizing the 15-year-old potentially involved, Infinity_8. Yeah, the important thing here is that we're being assholes, not that your friend has a sexual obsession with a minor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2012 [27 favorites]


Wow.Just wow.

I think someone's a-hole meter needs some serious recalibration.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:54 PM on February 5, 2012 [18 favorites]


"I would have done the right thing sooner, if you people had been nicer to me."

Good to know that we're all on the same page regarding the real victim here.
posted by scody at 1:58 PM on February 5, 2012 [27 favorites]


You know if that had been his daughter I bet he wouldn't have needed to ask us what the right thing to do was.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:03 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like stumbling toward doing the right thing while feeling defensive and not being totally gracious about a strong negative reception is, while not what anybody would hold up as prize-winning material, still maybe an okay resolution and not something we need to dump on a bunch more in here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:11 PM on February 5, 2012 [18 favorites]


"You know if that had been his daughter I bet he wouldn't have needed to ask us what the right thing to do was."

Well... The fact is that he did, and I know that at least I'm glad that he did. He seems to have arrived at a great answer using resources that we didn't know were available. A therapist will have a better idea of how much a danger this man is to anyone presently and be able to both get him help and prevent him from causing further harm, if a third party can help keep the friend honest thats all the better.

Our feelings of moral indignation are no more important than the things holding the OP back from doing the right thing in relation to the safety of any children the OP's friend might have been interacting with. So, yay for the OP.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:15 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, what's the point of being hostile, again? it allows us to judge him and express that we are judging him? It's not like it's a secret that people feel backed into a corner and want to fight when confronted with this kind of hostility.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:15 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


> I seriously cannot believe that we are honestly debating whether [a whole bunch of bad things] is a bad thing or not

Nobody's doing that, but it sure is easy to get worked up if you feel like people are doing that.

> Yeah, the important thing here is that we're being assholes, not that your friend has a sexual obsession with a minor.

The latter is, of course, more important, but that doesn't entitle us to write off the fact of being assholes. As J. Wilson so wisely says:

> So, what's the point of being hostile, again? it allows us to judge him and express that we are judging him? It's not like it's a secret that people feel backed into a corner and want to fight when confronted with this kind of hostility.

Venting hostility makes us feel better, but it rarely does much to improve a situation.
posted by languagehat at 2:25 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


On this website all you can do is offer well-intentioned advice and move on with your day. You'll never know the outcome for certain and you have to live with that. That's just the way it is.
posted by vincele at 2:35 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My apologies, the word 'hysterical' was used in the other forms of 'hysteria' and 'hystericists' and I only called out one word instead of acknowledging the use of all of them as being equally troubling. I believe all forms have the same etymology and the same history of being used to dismiss women's concerns.

I encourage people not to use that particular root in any form, including ones which I have not enumerated here and/or which may have been deleted by the moderators since my initial comment on the subject.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:40 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My apologies, the word 'hysterical' was used in the other forms of 'hysteria' and 'hystericists' and I only called out one word instead of acknowledging the use of all of them as being equally troubling. I believe all forms have the same etymology and the same history of being used to dismiss women's concerns.

I encourage people not to use that particular root in any form, including ones which I have not enumerated here and/or which may have been deleted by the moderators since my initial comment on the subject.


It is a perfectly good word and wasn't being used in anything like a mysoginistic manner here so do we really need the word police stepping in?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 3:05 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


this is not even an adult man saying that they are in love with a 15 year old [we would delete or not approve that question in the first place].


So, given there's an established set of actions - presumably askme's like that have come up in the past then ? Was any action taken other than non-approval/deletion ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:36 PM on February 5, 2012


Are you asking about this particular question, or about those theoretical prior deleted questions? (I don't know offhand about any previous ones.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:41 PM on February 5, 2012


What a tremendously disturbing pair of threads.

On the one hand, the wrongness of the situation is obvious, the girl is being exploited, the friend's lack of awareness of this is disturbing, the legal issues are serious, and the poster's emphasis on the well-being of his friend rather than that of the girl is at the very least problematic.

On the other hand, I find that I'm absolutely certain that were the age of the girl to be just three years older, then almost the entirety of the moral outrage present in these two threads wouldn't exist, even though everything I wrote above excepting the legal issues would still be true.

This really bothers me. It bothers me in both directions. That is, we're using a legal fiction—that an eighteen year-old girl is magically mature and "resilient" and capable of informed consent and self-determination while a fifteen year-old girl is none of these things—to do all the ethical heavy-lifting for us. It either underestimates how much that age difference could be harmful to the older girl, or overestimates how harmful the age difference necessarily must be for the younger girl, or both.

But, more importantly and disturbingly to me, is just how intimately connected the trigger for moral outrage is to an arbitrary line in the sand drawn by a (arguably necessary) legal distinction.

What should be the trigger is the likelihood of exploitation, which correlates to the power imbalance.

But I'll tell you why this isn't the case.

If it were the case, then we'd have to think a lot more carefully about a lot of things that we don't really want to think carefully about. We'd have to, as a society, take sexual harassment claims in the workplace much more seriously than we do. Half the pairing in movies and television between older men and younger women would be right out the window. We'd have to take much more seriously the abusive aspects of older women and teen boys, which right now is still more in wink-and-grin territory than it is in moral outrage territory. Related to that, we'd have to abandon the extremely sexist, gendered mode that these discussion exist within—it's no accident that every single one of the hypotheticals involving a child related to the poster used a gendered form: daughter or niece or the like. We'd have to think about the power imbalances involved in women seen as sexual objects and youth as being especially attractive—and understand that being seen as "attractive" is not at all the same thing as being empowered. In general, we'd have to think carefully about how children are and are not empowered, how they actually, in reality, transition from being vastly unempowered to being empowered. We might have to protect them in some ways we're currently not, and recognize rights that we're currently not.

Or, you know, we could just draw an arbitrary line in the sand and gather in mobs with pitchforks when that line is crossed, but not when it isn't, and rest easily pretending that the line is doing all the moral work that we ought to be doing ourselves.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:47 PM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Or, Ivan Fyodorovich, some of us can be doing all that work. And still be upset when this shit comes to AskMe.

The thing about the mote/beam problem is that you have to work to get the beam AND the mote. You don't just sit around going "Meh, I've got a beam, you've got a mote, let's see what's on TV."
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2012


So, what's the point of being hostile, again?

Negative reinforcement.

Also, being vocally angry about the sexual exploitation of minors keeps me from wanting to kill myself when I hear about it. Anger can be a powerful motivator, especially for people who have experienced trauma.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:56 PM on February 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm absolutely certain that were the age of the girl to be just three years older, then almost the entirety of the moral outrage present in these two threads wouldn't exist

I think the Russian women who were rescued by mefites from sexual exploitation were over 18.
posted by b33j at 3:58 PM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


If he doesn't take him up on that, I'm going to make a report.

And people are still giving this guy shit? Yow.
posted by mediareport at 4:01 PM on February 5, 2012


It may be a bit late in the thread to comment on this (and maybe someone already has), but it's a totally useless threat to make. Having dealt with CPS on several occasions in the past, I can pretty much assure everyone that if they receive a report that some unknown man from somewhere in the US is chatting with some unknown girl from somewhere outside the US, they will do absolutely jack shit about it.
posted by namesarehard at 4:03 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, we could just draw an arbitrary line in the sand and gather in mobs with pitchforks when that line is crossed, but not when it isn't, and rest easily pretending that the line is doing all the moral work that we ought to be doing ourselves.

IF: Huh, you're still going here. Okay, the last time somebody was so adamant on Metafilter about how the rules about sex with minors are arbitrary and we need to look at these things on a case by case basis and maturity blah blah blah... well guess what that dude got busted for, IIRC?

So, yeah, be aware of the history.
posted by Justinian at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he's never been in trouble with the law before, he can be helped and may never have to spend a day in jail.

Is this really true? My understanding is that if he admits and/or there is sufficient proof that he is using child pornography (or worse, helping create it), he is going to get jail time + get entered onto the sex offender registry. In other words, reporting him is going to lead to him having enormous difficulties find housing or work in the future, as well as a prison sentence.

Since saslett is a prosecutor, presumably he/she knows what he/she is talking about, but I find it really surprising.

(This does not, of course, mean that the OP should not consider reporting her friend anyway, and I'm glad to see the follow-up she posted recently.)
posted by lollusc at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2012


if they receive a report that some unknown man from somewhere in the US is chatting with some unknown girl from somewhere outside the US

Except that it's not "an unknown man somewhere in the U.S."; it's the "best friend" of the OP, and the OP has provided his own full name, location, and tons of other identifying information via his very public twitter feed and blog (all of which are linked to on his profile). And it's not "chatting with some unknown girl," it's -- again, by the OP's own description -- enough to land his friend in jail right now.

Adults most certainly are actually investigated for this sort of thing after being reported to the relevant authorities, as this recent story here in CA illustrates.
posted by scody at 4:15 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


This really bothers me. It bothers me in both directions. That is, we're using a legal fiction—that an eighteen year-old girl is magically mature and "resilient" and capable of informed consent and self-determination while a fifteen year-old girl is none of these things—to do all the ethical heavy-lifting for us.

Isn't that problem a much bigger one, Ivan, that of the fact that law-bound societies must draw lines in the sand? Laws do this, and they have to do it somewhat arbitrarily. The reason is that otherwise, we'd find ourselves in endless debate in courtrooms with no structure around the discussion. We'd have to individually evaluate the intellect, upbringing, behavior, advantages and disadvantages, medical history, and who knows what else about each party in the situation. We'd have to trust judges and juries to be far more astute, insightful, and wise than they are, because we'd be giving them no guidelines by which to rule other than "see what you can suss out about these folks - is this interaction okay or not okay?". The potential for discrimination and bias is, I hope, obvious.

So that's not feasible. What we've arrived at -- with all our laws, not just laws pertaining to legal minors - acknowledges that below or above certain relatively arbitrary points, (whether they are ages, speeds, blood alcohol limits, grams of coke, ability to stand for murder trial, ability to receive the death penalty, number of shots, malice aforethought, or any other arbitrarily set standard) evidence argues and chances are good that certain outcomes may be either helpful or hurtful to people. And after that point, chances of that outcome are less likely to produce a non-desired social result. In this sense, all written law is arbitrary.

People chafe against all of these restrictions, but perhaps most around ones having to do with age, whether it's age of draft/military service, voting, drinking, sexual consent or legal responsibility. It's true that one doesn't wake up on one's eighteenth birthday suddenly armed with the wisdom, life experience and insight to avoid exploitive situations.

I certainly didn't, when at the age of eighteen and still naive, I dated a disgusting 31-year-old who neglected to inform me of his prior prison conviction. Had I been a few months younger, I'm sure my parents would have dropped the law on him. As it was, I had to deal with the fallout as one of my introductions to adult relationships. Now, the point is that I would have had to do that anyway, but there might have been a very, very different outcome for him that could have been a disincentive to further predatory relationships. The existence of the arbitrary law falling where it did probably didn't work in my favor even then, it favored him. There was no way this relationship could be healthy, and the outcomes were different only based on a couple of months on the calendar. But we understand that. It's the deal we cut as a society - we don't have graduated maturity. At some point we have to be able to say "this is prosecutable because it's so very likely to be harmful; this is not prosecutable because we have now passed the point where the preponderance of evidence is that it's going to be harmful -- even if, for some people it's harmful, and for others it's unfairly advantageous.

It cuts both ways. To me the important issue is not where we set the arbitrary age milestone, but that we all understand it and recognize it for what it is: the law. It doesn't matter to the officer who pulls me over whether I was only going three miles over the limit, if I was indeed over the limit. He can give me a ticket if he wants. And it doesn't need to matter to the law whether the girl is three months - or three years - from her eighteenth birthday. It's clear cut, one set of conditions kicks in in one case, one set in another. And it is very hard for me to imagine any situation in which a fifteen-year-old goal is intellectually, emotionally, or physically the same as an eighteen-year-old girl, even if the eighteen-year-old is still quite naive, and even if the fifteen-year-old is quite precocious. The fact is that our society over the past century or two has become deeply uncomfortable with the differential between older and younger people uniting in sexual relationships, for good reasons, and has had to choose a point to write that into law when things go badly awry.
posted by Miko at 4:24 PM on February 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


"The thing about the mote/beam problem is that you have to work to get the beam AND the mote. You don't just sit around going 'Meh, I've got a beam, you've got a mote, let's see what's on TV.'"

Yes, which is why, for example, I've done rape crisis work and am, in general, outspoken against all forms of sexual violence. It seems to me that the substance of my comment was that we should be outraged about a whole bunch more things than we are, not just when some arbitrary legal definition is involved.

"I think the Russian women who were rescued by mefites from sexual exploitation were over 18."

That's not comparable for numerous reasons. There wasn't this kind of moral outrage in those thread (I just read them a couple of months ago), and that's because the whole perspective on the situation was different. But even if the post had been "my Russian friend is involved with bringing over young Russian women under false pretenses and forcing them into sex-slavery; how do I explain to him that what he's doing is a really bad idea?", I think there would have been a lot of moral outrage, but not the kind of really intense outrage we see with anything that involves what's defined legally as pedophilia. I understand the desire to protect children. Indeed, I understand that desire intensely. And, sure, I share the sense that somewhere from 13 to 22 children become adults in some way that makes, in general, a 13 year-old very, very different from a 22 year-old. What I don't understand is how it is that the moral outrage provoked by pedophilia is dependent upon drawing the line between 17 and 18.

Because I assure you that it is. Not for everyone, certainly, but for enough people and strongly enough that it makes a big difference in how all this stuff is discussed and dealt with and thought about. If someone calls a 50 year-old male having sex with a 17 year-old female a "pedophile", many people might think that's a bit of hyperbole, others that it's entirely appropriate. But if the same thing happens when the female is 18 years-old, then almost everyone would think that's hyperbole, or just plain absurd. There's something not right about that. It's placing far, far too much emphasis on something that means very, very little in itself.

Laws by necessity involve arbitrary dividing lines. Our moral reasoning does not. When we hitch our moral intuition to legality to the point where we are condemnatory or not depending upon the letter of the law then we are not actually being moral creatures, we are not using our rational moral capacity. All of the instincts which are triggered in this case that are causing outrage are based upon factors that are active in a large number of cases which don't result in similar outrage. This is a problem. It's a big problem.

Think about the history of rape as its defined legally. Rapists are usually abhorred by society...and yet this abhorrence has been dependent upon some extremely arbitrary and extremely biased and suspect definitions of what rape is and isn't rather than the actual harm that's caused. It's only recently that most jurisdictions in the US even recognized the possibility of rape within marriage, yet every credible contemporary argument against rape relies upon nothing that is dependent upon marital status.

"IF: Huh, you're still going here. Okay, the last time somebody was so adamant on Metafilter about how the rules about sex with minors are arbitrary and we need to look at these things on a case by case basis and maturity blah blah blah... well guess what that dude got busted for, IIRC?

So, yeah, be aware of the history."


There's a whole lot that's wrong with that comment.

"And it is very hard for me to imagine any situation in which a fifteen-year-old goal is intellectually, emotionally, or physically the same as an eighteen-year-old girl, even if the eighteen-year-old is still quite naive, and even if the fifteen-year-old is quite precocious."

First, I don't have a problem with the necessity of law involving arbitrary lines in the sand. That's the nature of the best.

But, you know, I think that the 31 year-old you dated when you were 18 was doing something negligibly less wrong than he would have been doing were you 15. I do not agree that there's necessarily a huge difference between fifteen and eighteen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:45 PM on February 5, 2012


Would you allow a 15 year old to enlist in the armed forces, buy a pack of cigarettes, and get a lapdance?
posted by palomar at 4:52 PM on February 5, 2012


Or sign legal contracts? That's something else we can do the instant we turn 18, and not before. Would you let a 15 year old sign paperwork to buy a house?
posted by palomar at 4:53 PM on February 5, 2012


palomar: Would you allow a 15 year old to enlist in the armed forces, buy a pack of cigarettes, and get a lapdance?

No, but to be honest, I don't think people who are 18 are old enough to know what they're getting themselves into by joining the armed forces, either. And while you didn't specifically mention alcohol, there are people of all ages who can't handle their booze. And definitely 16 year olds who shouldn't be driving. Then again, plenty of people lack the confidence to be behind the wheel. Age limits are a totally arbitrary number.
posted by gman at 4:58 PM on February 5, 2012


Right. A lot of laws are arbitrary, when you get right down to it. And age limits are a little ridiculous in a lot of cases. But the only arbitrary age limit issue I see being defended here is the age limit around sexual activity. Nobody's ever advocating to send 15 year olds to fight in our wars, but plenty of people will argue 'til they're blue in the face that 15 year old girls are fair game for adult men, sexually. I say, let's put that girl in a uniform and give her a gun, if age limits are so bad.
posted by palomar at 5:04 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


It seems to me that the substance of my comment was that we should be outraged about a whole bunch more things than we are, not just when some arbitrary legal definition is involved.

You're wrong about that. We see human relations questions here all the damn time where Mefites get outraged about perfectly legal things. So I don't really know what you're talking about.

But, it is probably true that the question is motivated by the poster's knowledge that the girl was legally underage; you don't see questions to the effect of "oh my God, my 45 year old friend is corresponding with a nineteen year old woman!" because everyone knows that is legal. So, since such questions don't get posted, there's no occasion for us to vent our outrage about it. (But if there WERE an occasion for us to discuss it, I am confident that many sensible Mefites would condemn that too.)

That's not comparable for numerous reasons. There wasn't this kind of moral outrage in those thread (I just read them a couple of months ago), and that's because the whole perspective on the situation was different.

But there WAS this kind of moral outrage in the Russian-women-almost-lured-into-human-trafficking question. There definitely was. Again, no idea what you are talking about.
posted by jayder at 5:04 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


IvanF, there's not necessarily that big a difference between 15 and 18, but assume a distribution curve around a mean of some continuous measure that reflects the construct of "emotional maturity". For age 15, that mean maturity will be lower, and the curve will be spread more widely than the corresponding measures for age 18. That's why we worry more about 15-year-olds; we proscribe sexual activity for those people because we've decided the bulk of them still need protection more than the few of them need sexual freedom.

I definitely engage in moral outrage when faced with people who have relationships with much younger people, particularly when the younger person has only recently entered adulthood. My moral outrage is expressed with eye-rolling and muttering, "Ew," not brandishing pitchforks, but it's still there. Many find this prudish, I'm sure, but whatever.
posted by gingerest at 5:10 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think there would have been a lot of moral outrage, but not the kind of really intense outrage we see with anything that involves what's defined legally as pedophilia.

So you're upset because we're not hypothetically upset enough over a hypothetical situation, when there is a very real situation in which many, many people became very upset?
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:13 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Would you allow a 15 year old to enlist in the armed forces, buy a pack of cigarettes, and get a lapdance?"

Look, I think that people are missing how I've repeatedly made an explicit distinction between law and moral reasoning. When you ask what I "would allow", I assume you must mean what I would support or oppose in terms of law. And that's just not what I've been writing about.

My comments have been about when and when not moral outrage is provoked and how that implies how much we're truly engaging our moral reasoning...which is our most important responsibility, in my opinion.

If you must know, in the legal realm, I do tend toward favoring making things more gradated and varied and moving away from the 18 and 21 bright lines that mostly apply to everything. But we've been going in that direction for awhile, anyway, moving age restrictions up and down for different things, specifically.

Also, however, it's true that ultimately my argument intersects law. Again, I don't disagree that we have to make formal distinctions in the law that don't always and fully reflect the distinctions the law is intended to address. The world is imperfect. However, Miko's argument is partly flawed in that she's ignoring that the law is full of gradations and extenuating circumstances and deliberations and all sorts of other things which move the reality of it far beyond always being about whether some abstract boundary is or isn't crossed. In many, many things in law we accept some amount of ambiguity and, much more so, complexity.

In general, what I'd like to see is the qualitative notion of "childhood" to disappear in the sense that it's used as the determining factor in all these things. I'm simultaneously uncomfortable with what I think is a lack of recognition of the rights of children and what I think is an underestimation of the potential for adults to be harmed by other people much more powerful than themselves. I'd like to see the notion of the right of self-determination to move downward in age while the right to be free from oppression and harm to move upward in age. And I'd like to see age used less often as a shorthand for determining rights and potential for harm and, instead, the particular context of a given class of situations used more.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you're upset because we're not hypothetically upset enough over a hypothetical situation, when there is a very real situation in which many, many people became very upset?

Ivan's objection here is kind of like if we're talking about thugs robbing people at gunpoint, and Ivan pops in to say "would you be so outraged if these people were just manipulated and cajoled out of their money? I don't think so and I don't understand why not!"
posted by jayder at 5:20 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having raised daughters I know that the gap developmentally is bigger than the calendar years would indicate.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:24 PM on February 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


In general, what I'd like to see is the qualitative notion of "childhood" to disappear in the sense that it's used as the determining factor in all these things.

Why?
posted by marimeko at 5:25 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh and for my son as well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:26 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm simultaneously uncomfortable with what I think is a lack of recognition of the rights of children and what I think is an underestimation of the potential for adults to be harmed by other people much more powerful than themselves.

I honestly cannot understand the point you're trying to make here. Are you saying that you believe there should be zero age limits in a legal sense? And what do you mean, underestimation of the potential for adults to be harmed by people much more powerful than themselves? What legal issue are you talking about there that needs to be fixed? Being less vague would be really great for furthering discussion on your points, if you can manage it.
posted by palomar at 5:35 PM on February 5, 2012


Why should I be specific? That would involve making explicit policy prescriptions for specific cases and I'm pretty sure that none of us here have the expertise at this moment to do this.

I think that all sorts of sexual relationships beyond what we currently recognize are exploitative and harmful and that those being exploited and harmed should be protected by society from this harm. At the same time, I think that children have greater rights for self-determination than we are currently recognizing and that we should correct this.

For example, in the realm where these two things intersect, I think the movement toward defining statutory rape in terms of age difference is a step in the right direction.

Furthermore, I'd also collapse all illegality involving sexual activity into the category of "sexual violence" and have it understood through the lens of harm resulting from an abuse of power in the context of a sexual relationship (or attempt at a sexual relationship).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:53 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


IvanF, I have to agree that there is indeed outrage in other situations - I can think of many AskMes about relationships between people the equivalent of 19 and 50 which get an overabundance of responses essentially saying "it's not illegal, but it's fucked up," along with the inevitable few people who say "I'm doing it" or "I did it, and I'm fine."

In this argument, the effect of your position is about the same as taking the latter stance. In arguing against arbitrary age distinctions you align with generations of statutory rapists who say "She's fifteen going on thirty" or "what difference does a few months make?"

the substance of my comment was that we should be outraged about a whole bunch more things than we are, not just when some arbitrary legal definition is involved.

Depending on who "we," is, then, I think "we" are outraged by abuses of differentials ni power.

There wasn't this kind of moral outrage in those thread (I just read them a couple of months ago), and that's because the whole perspective on the situation was different.

I also really disagree about that. There was urgency, which might have clouded the other elements a bit, but there was indeed moral outrage. I was particularly outraged at the recurring suggestion that we must be misreading the situation because the places involved were 'nice' places.

share the sense that somewhere from 13 to 22 children become adults in some way that makes, in general, a 13 year-old very, very different from a 22 year-old. What I don't understand is how it is that the moral outrage provoked by pedophilia is dependent upon drawing the line between 17 and 18.

Because we do rely on an empirical standard of some kind, and age is an empirical standard. Why do you choose 13 and 22 as your goalposts? Why not eleven, when many girls are already menstruating, and twenty-five? Why not nine and sixteen? Why not, for that matter, twenty and thirty? In each time frame we 'become adults in some way that makes [us] different from" who we were before?

Miko's argument is partly flawed in that she's ignoring that the law is full of gradations and extenuating circumstances and deliberations and all sorts of other things which move the reality of it far beyond always being about whether some abstract boundary is or isn't crossed. In many, many things in law we accept some amount of ambiguity and, much more so, complexity.

I guess I have to ask you for some examples of where you see gradations that might create equivalency with child rape statutes. We just don't generally have many of these. Drivers' licensing might be one; at age sixteen perhaps you can drive with a legal adult in daylight, at sixteen and a half take the written test, at seventeen the road test and then drive legally. But all of these are predicated on the idea that at some point on that continuum, you will have full driving rights equivalent to those of any adult.

So in what way is this equivalent to an age of consent to sexual relationships? At sixteen you can go to second base, sixteen and a half you can date someone more than three years older, at seventeen you can go 'all the way'? Is this in the end any less arbitrary than what we have now?

I'd like to see the notion of the right of self-determination to move downward in age while the right to be free from oppression and harm to move upward in age.

I can't agree that the first would be a good move, and I can't understand how you would reconcile the two in the first place. I think we do have laws that are meant to free us from oppression and harm - non-discrimination laws, rape laws - that are not dependent on age at all. And I'm not sure what kinds of self-determination you see as needing to be promoted under the law.

Your discussion about moral reasoning is nice, but ultimately it's sort of a side quibble. Sure, we should have sophisticated moral reasoning guiding our actions. But we have absolutely no mechanism making that possible for the majority of people. In life, most people are not engaged in anything like what we could call sophisticated moral reasoning. And we differ. The bright lines are lines of widely shared agreement, the outermost limits of what we are willing to defend. They may be legalistic and arbitrary, but anyone who's ever had to let an abuser off on a technicality knows that cuts both ways too.

We can be outraged about transgressions of those lines for the very reason that we were utterly clear about them. We created them exactly so that we do not have to enter into debate about motivation, maturity, emotions and individual morals. We intentionally set aside the quibbling about exactly which neuron must have exactly how many synapses before we can say someone is 'mature.' We invented the standard based on our best knowledge and beliefs collectively, we made it broadly clear this was the deal, and so when we see that people knowingly and willingly have crossed those boundaries we can be very clear that their intent was to disregard efforts to create some safe social order. Because in essence every crime is two crimes: the act itself, and the willingness to engage in the act despite the knowledge (assumed under the law) of its illegality. So we are outraged not alone because the age of the individual was on the wrong side of the line - we are outraged that someone considered the line worthless and meaningless in their own, special, narcissistic situation, and that their contempt for that line threatens every single other person who falls on the wrong side of that line, both personally, and in its normalization of the contempt for every other person that wants to take advantage of every other minor.

I personally would not want to live in a world where my rights and opportunities were dependent solely on the moral reasoning of others who I don't know and have little in common with. The law functions as the shared space within which we enshrine the broadest agreements of our moral reasoning. Barring a sudden lightning-strike of compassionate enlightenment for humanity -- something I'm not holding my breath for -- it's good enough for me.
posted by Miko at 6:09 PM on February 5, 2012 [17 favorites]


, think the movement toward defining statutory rape in terms of age difference is a step in the right direction.

This would not solve your problem. You're arguing on the one hand that all relationships can potentially be harmful and exploitive. And yet you're willing to offer looking at age differential is a solution. In your view, why would that even matter? Who's to say the person who's 35 and with a 20-year-old is having a less exploitive relationship than the person who's 50 with a 16-year-old? How can we be sure it's less exploitive? What other factors must we implicate -- wealth differential? Education differential? IQ differential? Employment differential? Race differential? Differences in personality factors? Communication disorders? How do you measure these factors? It's trivial to show that a relationship between two people close in age can be more exploitive than another relationship between people much farther apart in age if these other differentials exist -- even if they are all legal.

So you are arguing for the law to do something particular that it's not doing now, but you don't want to discuss how your moral reasoning intersects with law. That will become a problem. But here's how it intersects for me: below a bright line, a certain specific set of consequences and conditions kicks in when there's an infraction. Above the bright line, a different specific set of consequences and conditions kicks in, this one based on recognition of the full legal majority and responsibilities of both people, that does not ignore harm done due to power differentials, but also does not get into individual prescriptions of law. It's clear enough.

If your point is "let's not ignore the harm done by other exploitive relationships that don't break this particular set of laws," I think everybody here is pretty much down with that. But I cannot get behind any ideas that argue for a graduated approach to age of sexual consent. That would do nothing over than move the date over which we quibble ("What's the difference between sixteen and sixteen and a half? Fifteen and three-quarters and sixteen? Twelve and thirteen? ") to a new extreme.
posted by Miko at 6:21 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Furthermore, I'd also collapse all illegality involving sexual activity into the category of "sexual violence" and have it understood through the lens of harm resulting from an abuse of power in the context of a sexual relationship (or attempt at a sexual relationship).

I'm squinting at this and I just can't see what you're getting at. Are you suggesting that each act of sexual violence should only be prosecuted and penalized based on some external quantification of the harm that resulted? So that molesting one 12-year-old child (or raping an adult woman, for that matter) is potentially more or less harmful (and therefore more or less of a serious crime) than molesting another 12-year-old child (or raping another adult woman) if there's a different power dynamic at play in the first case vs. the second? What if the first 12-year-old verbally denies being hurt (physically or emotionally) by the molestation? Do we take her (or him) at her word, by assuming that she (or he) should be seen as self-determinant in this regard? And if so, what if two (or ten) years later, the same child becomes suicidal as a result of the molestation? Should the harm be taken seriously then? Or is it too late? And who decides?
posted by scody at 6:24 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why should I be specific?

Because I explicitly said that your argument as presented is incoherent and that clarification is needed to figure out what you're trying to say.

If you're not willing to clarify your points, I'm not sure why any of should be bothered to discuss them with you.
posted by palomar at 6:29 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


"In this argument, the effect of your position is about the same as taking the latter stance. In arguing against arbitrary age distinctions you align with generations of statutory rapists who say 'She's fifteen going on thirty' or 'what difference does a few months make?'"

It is not the same and it does not "align [me] with generations of statutory rapists". For fuck's sake, Miko, it's not like you to make those kinds of equivalencies in service of an argument.

And your counter-argument to what I'm saying amounts to the slippery-slope argument. Or, perhaps, you're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. The move toward age-difference in defining statutory rape does exactly what you say you absolutely cannot get behind: it allows a 17 and 19 year-old to have sex when before it would not. But I'd like the same (hypothetical example law) to illegalize sex between an 18 and 21 year-old, or perhaps not there but between an 18 and 22 year-old.

"Are you suggesting that each act of sexual violence should only be prosecuted and penalized based on some external quantification of the harm that resulted?"

No, I'm not saying that "each" act should be quantified this way. That's impractical. Barring omniscience, we'd have to make generalized assumptions about the power dynamics and the harm of things sorted into categories. That's what we are already doing. I think we should do it to a much greater extent.

Again, look at the evolution of the laws against rape. Their origins were in patriarchal values and notions of harm that had almost nothing to do with the actual harm that comes to a raped woman, nor to reality of the power relationship. Indeed, they often were (and still are) wildly in conflict with those two things, where the harm considered was to husbands and fathers and accused rapists, and the power relationship considered was whether the woman was a temptress. And so a woman couldn't be raped by her husband, a sexually promiscuous woman couldn't be raped by anyone, a boss couldn't rape an employee using nothing more than the threat of loss of employment, a man couldn't be raped by a woman (and still can't, mostly), an inebriated person couldn't be raped by a sober person, and so on. There were simple rules. Was it a man attacking a woman he wasn't married to? Did the woman actively resist? Did the man threaten physical violence? A "no" to any question meant "not rape".

Only when we started to think about a) that a person's bodily integrity has been violated or threatened; and b) they were coerced into this situation did we start rewriting laws against sexual violence in a more rational and just fashion. It has created more ambiguity rather than less and this makes men, the primary rapists, uncomfortable. For damn good reason. They don't get to hide behind arbitrary lines in the sand anymore.

Our notion of childhood obscures more than it illuminates. It makes some distinctions much larger than they really are, and it makes other distinctions much smaller than they really are. If it's true, as has been argued by several people here, that a fifteen year-old is vastly different from an eighteen year-old, and in all cases, then it's necessarily true that there's some large differences between fifteen and sixteen, and sixteen and seventeen, that we're not recognizing when we draw one big universal line between seventeen and eighteen.

The idea that you can't simultaneously recognize someone's right to self-determination and protect them from people more powerful from themselves is just obviously untrue. That's the very foundation of a recognition of individual rights within the context of the rule of law. It's true for everyone, not just (potentially) for children. If we can navigate the difficulties of balancing one against the other with regard to adults, we can do the same with children.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:04 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the U.S., the 15-year-old lacks the legal right to consent, which in itself makes her the underpowered party in this situation, supposing of course that the sexual dimension progresses beyond "webcam sex". This is not the case in Canada.

FWIW: This is not true. The age of consent in Canada is 16 and has been since 2008. Also, the alleged web cam sex likely counts as child porn regardless of what the age of consent is.
posted by asnider at 7:04 PM on February 5, 2012


I have a pretty high opinion of MeFites in general, but some of the comments here are seriously distasteful. You're more interested in making sure members here don't offend each other than calling out the numerous instances, both here and in the actual thread in question, of people variously downplaying the situation, using it as a springboard to debate age of consent laws that make the 'romance scammer' accusation and some of it is actually despicable.

Maybe the girl is 15. Maybe the guy's lying to avoid his friend immediately running to the cops and she's actually 13. Maybe it's a 28 year old girl in LA running an elaborate scam and laughing as she types. But maybe it's best to avoid any assumptions, and remember that a middle-aged person should not be crossing lines with anyone under the age of consent. This thread should be a debate to find the line, roughly speaking, between 'no big deal' and 'drop what you're doing and call the police right now'. Using it as a soapbox to declare that you're 'uncomfortable' with how the age of consent is calibrated? No topic should be verboten, but in this context the focus should be on advising the OP, rather than debating whether the OP's friend's conduct is actually inappropriate or whether he's just being oppressed by society's prevailing social mores (newsflash: it's inappropriate).

Another element to this is something that's vaguely bugged me about Metafilter for quite a while. I love this site and hold both its members and those responsible for its operation in very high esteem, so please believe me when I say this is not a malicious observation, simply an observation:

If you're smart enough to frame your AskMes in a particular way, you can largely engineer responses on your terms. I'm not accusing the OP of doing this, but the reference to the girl being in another country and the focus on the friendship has narrowed the conversation dramatically. The real essence of the question is 'someone I know has had webcam sex with a minor and could potentially go further, what should I do about it?', and if that question had been asked, I seriously doubt so many responses would indulge in victim blaming. Given how many fairly innocuous relationship threads ('my girlfriend doesn't like wearing slippers! are we incompatible?' 'my boyfriend thinks simon and garfunkel are boring! dealbreaker?') get met with at least a few DTMFA-type responses, I'm shocked that something like this is getting treated with such disdain (in a way the hall of fame sexual prostitution thread was most certainly not).

I'm pretty tired (3am my time) so I could be misjudging the gravity of all this. Still, it bugged me enough to ramble for this long, so hopefully there's something of worth in here.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:06 PM on February 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


(God, that opening sounds way too finger pointy. That 'you're' sounds like a mod callout. It's not. It's meant to be an implied 'wood for the trees' sort of thing. Too tired for subtext. Ugh. Bed!)
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:11 PM on February 5, 2012


"Because I explicitly said that your argument as presented is incoherent and that clarification is needed to figure out what you're trying to say. "

No, you said it was vague, which it is, you didn't say it was incoherent, which it very much is not.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:14 PM on February 5, 2012


Would you allow a 15 year old to enlist in the armed forces, buy a pack of cigarettes, and get a lapdance?

I don't know about the USA, but the age of consent here in the UK is 16.

It's not inconceivable that the OP's friend could be deciding to wait a couple of months before any sexual contact takes place. If he were to decide to do that, there wouldn't be a blind thing anyone could do about it.

Even if the child wasn't yet 16, unless she was prepared to make a complaint to the police, the chances that British police would act on it here would be effectively nil. That tends to be how these things play out here -- even if the relationship is reported by the parents of the underage child. Without the collaborative testimony of a victim, conviction won't happen, and so police and the crown prosecutors tend to take the view that there's no point in prosecuting.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:28 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given that other members have picked apart your arguments and found them to be difficult to understand, I think that incoherent is a very fair description of your arguments.
posted by palomar at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


In all honestly, IF, it's really just seeming like you want it to be okay for grown men to fuck teenage girls. You keep coming back to the idea of children having a much stronger right to self-determination than society currently allows, but you're not talking about letting them enlist in the military or sign legal contracts. Nope, it's all bonin', that's all you seem concerned about.
posted by palomar at 7:35 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I feel pretty confused about all of this. I saw a conversation here where a whole bunch of people are like "Jerry Sandusky! Terrible! Everyone who knew anything should have reported!"

And then this response is really confusing to me. I have experienced statutory rape and the pregnancy that resulted from that relationship and everything about it was really really terrible and it involved not consensual experiences and was variously bad in variously bad ways.

I guess now it makes more sense why my parents didn't really even consider reporting it even after they found out it was happening.

Heck I didn't even know about statutory rape laws until I turned 17 and he said, "You're now legal in the state of Texas"

You mean I was illegal? It feels like people see it differently than child abuse because maybe it's just a teen who is having fun, no reason to ruin some adults life over something that seems to be consensual.

You know I know when I was younger and guys would start saying sexual things, I found it scary. I knew I wanted attention from them because I was really isolated and there was no one else and I was so happy someone was talking to me but I would try to redirect the conversation and it would always get steered back to sexual and probing questions and requests and weirdness and adults are much better at doing this--- and if a really young girl has already been with other adult males and is "experienced" that's not really a sign that she's in a great place, it's likely a sign that she is not having very healthy relationships with her peers and just let this kind of thing become sexual because it seemed to make the guys happier.

that is just sad. I don't think a lot of guys understand that it feels really awful to many young girls and they might not have the self awareness to understand what is happening or why it is happening or that they might be much better off without the affection from someone older even if it seems to make some things feel better. It's amazing how bad you can let things go and still find the "good" in a relationship and young people are at a huge disadvantage to understand how all of this works.

I also find myself falling back into the entire ambivalence of knowing whether it's right for someone to be put in jail for a really long time for statutory rape. Everything is too subjective, the punishment is too harsh, maybe it's not really that bad, worse things happen, if there were a one year difference it would be legal plenty of places which means it's not a big deal or at least it wouldn't be a legal issue if the year were off and so how can it be a legal issue now when there can't be that much difference in a year and we don't protect girls a year or a few older so why ruin a guys life over this? it's not MY responsability to report, right? I don't want to ruin someones life.

And then I understand why these things don't get reported.
posted by xarnop at 7:51 PM on February 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


Yeah I don't think that self-determination is so important that it trumps reasonable laws protecting people who are likely to be especially vulnerable. Especially in a case where someone will literally grow out of that categorization (so that no one is permanently prohibited from having relatively free consensual expression) and if the minor is allowed to have sexual expression with others of the same age bracket.

I also don't see what this has to do with unfairly chastising metafilter as a whole for being insufficiently concerned with other power disparities. I have personally participated in discussions here about adult prostitution that touch on interpersonal power differentials and potential for harm. This isn't some sort of unnuanced place where we sit around like sheeple repeating "well, she's 18, so everything is always fine forever!!!"
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:57 PM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I don't know about the USA, but the age of consent here in the UK is 16.

It's not inconceivable that the OP's friend could be deciding to wait a couple of months before any sexual contact takes place. If he were to decide to do that, there wouldn't be a blind thing anyone could do about it."
But...we must have laws and draw the line somewhere so, in the case you just described, I guess it's all good. Everything would work out fine, because this is the best of all possible legal worlds. Apparently.
"Given that other members have picked apart your arguments and found them to be difficult to understand, I think that incoherent is a very fair description of your arguments."
Many people pick apart Hegel's arguments and find them difficult to understand, that doesn't make them incoherent. I'm not Hegel, obviously, but "difficult to understand" is orthogonal to incoherent. Advice: try harder to understand.
"In all honestly, IF, it's really just seeming like you want it to be okay for grown men to fuck teenage girls. You keep coming back to the idea of children having a much stronger right to self-determination than society currently allows, but you're not talking about letting them enlist in the military or sign legal contracts. Nope, it's all bonin', that's all you seem concerned about."
Really, was the part where I advocated illegalizing sex between an 18 and 22 year old an example of this? Or did your laborious reading of my comments cause you to interpret that differently? How about the gazillion times I argued that the focus should be on power imbalance—did that somehow imply to you that I was arguing that there was not a power imbalance between a 15 year-old and a 50 year-old? Really?

Nowhere have I written that I support the legalization of adults having sex with underage teens and, in fact, on several occasions I've explicitly suggested expanding the boundaries of what's illegal.

When I wrote children having a much stronger right to self-determination than society currently allows what I primarily had in mind, as it happens, was voting. That particular issue I've thought a great deal about. All your examples? Well, I'm not sure that I want anyone buying cigarettes or enlisting, so that makes it problematic for me to engage with those examples at the outset. Lap dancing? I don't even know how to engage on that example.

Just the fact that you seem incapable of reading what I've actually written, as opposed to what you've reflexively think I've written—the fact that Miko, of all people, thinks I'm taking the side of statutory rapists—just underscores how reactive and unthinking the response is to this topic.

How I feel and think about this is very close to how I feel and think about stranger rape. Stranger rape is a terrible, horrible thing that should be fought in every way possible. I don't object to people being outraged against stranger rape, because as it happens, I'm also outraged against stranger rape and agree that it deserves outrage.

But what I am very concerned with and object to is that the outrage and concern about stranger rape is disproportionate to the seriousness of all forms of rape and the focus on stranger rape functions as a diversion of the outrage from all other forms of rape. And it's not just that, but also because this dynamic reinforces the vested interests of those who would prefer that we not think about rape culture or the simple truth that almost all rapes are committed by men, and mostly against women, and mostly by men who know those women as friends or coworkers or as a date or a boyfriend or a husband. The rapists prefer that we concentrate on the minority who rape in dark parking lots and ignore the majority who rape in offices and bedrooms.

Similarly, we obsess over stranger pedophiles, men on the internet or at the park. Well, that's a few of them. But most pedophiles are fathers and grandfathers and uncles and brothers and teachers and pastors/priests and caregivers who are known and trusted by the child's family. But it's emotionally safer to get worked up about the possibility of someone in a chat room than it is to confront what it really means that a little girl or boy is far more likely to be raped by their father or stepfather than anyone else.

You know, I was married to someone who, as a child, was raped by her father for years and years. Do not fucking presume to tell me that it's obvious that I'm advocating for old guys having sex with young girls. And I've also worked in rape crisis. I've listened to and learned the many, many stories of victims of sexual violence. And sexual violence occurs by an abuse of power involving sexuality. Period.

I believe that the degree to which invoking pedophilia—and determined by whatever happens to be the age of consent in jurisdiction X—causes the mobs to form and the pitchforks to be brought out has everything to do with all the ways in which we're not protecting everyone else who also should be protected and, additionally, how we're unwilling to recognize other respects in which children have a right to self-determination. We define children arbitrarily, and then paradoxically place them into a unique qualitative category that precludes treating them as human beings like everyone else. They're especially unempowered, yes. They're especially lacking in fully-informed judgement, yes. But then, so are some other classes of people. But, also, children are not entirely unempowered, and they're not entirely uninformed and lacking in judgement.

I think it's absurd to illegalize a sixteen or seventeen year-old having sex with an eighteen year-old. I think it's also absurd that it's legal for an eigteen year-old to have sex with a thirty year-old. I think it's absurd that an employer having sex with an employee is ever legal. I'm not saying that all punishments should be equal and I'm not saying that what's legally allowed should be morally acceptable.

Regardless of whether the outraged comments in that thread or this one (about that thread) are disproportionate to, say, the Russian thread, it seems patently obvious that the particular responses to me, to what I've said, are pretty damn amazing and revealing. I'm being told that I'm defending statutory rapists and advocating pedophilia and that my comments are going to get me "busted". It's pretty clear that something is going on here that vaults this into a realm where the only acceptable response is a particular emotional response and everything else is suspect.

I understand that people have a lot of emotional investment in this. I understand pretty much as well as someone who hasn't personally been a child victim of sexual violence could possibly understand.

Because I, too, have a strong emotional investment in this. I'm trying to understand why what happened to my ex-wife is called "abuse" or "incest" (though I think that incest is a useful term with regard to the unique nature, both with regard to function and harm, of the fact that it's a long-term, trusted relationship from the child's perspective) and not "rape". I'm trying to understand why the rape of a boy by an adult male causes the most extreme outrage; why the rape of a teen girl by an adult male less so; why the rape of a boy by an adult female even less so; and why the rape of a teen boy by an adult female the least. Oh, wait...why the rape of a an adult man by a woman is falsely thought to be literally impossible, not merely causes the least outrage. Why it's only recently that rape is even considered possible within the context of marriage. Why we have a special, minimizing term for acquaintance rape. Why fathers are especially motivated to protect the chastity of their daughters and this is socially acceptable. Why we imagine that children are asexual. Why we assume that it's bad for adolescents to be sexually active.

Our conventions and intuitions about these things are often either irrational or expressions of institutionalized oppression, or both, and we retreat to these conventions and intuitions because it's too much effort, and too scary, to think carefully about these things so that we can have a society that is both more just and more safe. We're both protecting our children too much and not enough, and that's because we're relying upon simple answers based upon convention and intuition that are wrapped up in this notion of childhood as being qualitative and not quantitative.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:58 PM on February 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


In all honestly, IF, it's really just seeming like you want it to be okay for grown men to fuck teenage girls.

This accusation demonstrates an aggressive failure to read.
posted by stebulus at 9:08 PM on February 5, 2012


So your solution to all these sexual wrongnesses is to... do away with the age of consent and give children more autonomy, because you want them to be able to vote.

WTF?! Your arguments are vague, you refuse to clarify when asked nicely, and when told that without clarification, your argument sounds really, REALLY bad, you take me to task and tell me the problem is that I'm not trying hard enough, and the problem with all the other misreadings of your points by other members of this site is their fault entirely, and has nothing at all to do with you being vague and unclear and flat-out REFUSING to clarify when asked?

All due respect, but this is bullshit.
posted by palomar at 9:10 PM on February 5, 2012


As long as you keep putting words in my mouth, you're going to find my arguments bullshit because they're your words. Funny how that works.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think some of the problem here (she said carefully and as gently as she could) is that IvanF is saying that because we treat statutory rape as a clearly delineated matter of calendar age, we fail to acknowledge many of the aspects of power dynamic that make rape and harassment such a huge problem; and others are interpreting that as a call to eliminate that delineation, when it's actually Ivan wants to acknowledge that there is no magic calendar age of true consent, and to posit such an age does a disservice to the very people we aim to protect.

I also think that, in addition to the obvious aspects of triggering and survivorship, one of the reasons that this discussion is inspiring such strong feelings is that there are people who stand to gain by eradicating the age of consent. Predators exist, and some are very powerful people. This is a good-faith discussion, though, and Ivan Fyodorovich has actually been fairly emphatic that he is not calling for eliminating the protections we have in place, but that he wants us all to consider the implications of linking sexual violence to calendar age when the vulnerability to such violence is really dependent on differentials between two people on a variety of power-related continua.
posted by gingerest at 9:30 PM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


It seems gingerest and I are on the same interpretation page at least. Well said, better than I could anyway.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:33 PM on February 5, 2012


For the record, I haven't said that I want to do away with the age of consent. I've said that the focus should be about power imbalance and nowhere did I say that this focus couldn't be expressed via the mechanism of an age of consent.

And, ironically, the one example where I unambiguously was arguing for an abolition of an age of consent was as contrary to what you're inferring as is possible. That is, when I wrote that I don't think that it should be legal for an employer to have sex with an employee, I was de facto arguing for the elimination of an age of consent for an employee, that it's not possible for an employee to give sexual consent to an employer, even were they 47 years-old.

With regard to children and adolescents, I don't have anything specific in mind other than a bracketed range of ages of consent, with a lower limit. That is, the younger a person, the narrower the bracket of the ages of a partner in which consent is possible. Perhaps—and this is just an example, it's not something I'm prepared to defend specifically—a twelve year-old could give consent to another twelve year-old, only. A thirteen year-old, both with other thirteen and fourteen year-olds. And so on. That's just one possible schema; and it's acceptable to me (potentially) only in the context of rationalizing the age distinction on the basis of actual, real-world power imbalances.

On preview:

"...when it's actually Ivan wants to acknowledge that there is no magic calendar age of true consent, and to posit such an age does a disservice to the very people we aim to protect."

I greatly appreciate your attempt to interpret what I'm saying and moderate things, gingerest. And I agree completely with your statement of my point-of-view.

But the bit I quote above is the part that I think is what's bothering people—as you say, I've been interpreted as calling for an elimination of the age-of-consent and this hits peoples' buttons because there are so many people who really just put forth apparently rational arguments as a facade for justifying their own desires and/or actions.

In fact, the quote above accurately describes my point-of-view only if the word "consent" was replaced with the word "maturity". (I suppose that I'm okay with using consent in that sentence if it refers to one single age of sexual consent that applies in all circumstances.)

What I really am trying to express is that with regard to children—not including old people having sex with them—there are other respects in which we're not recognizing their agency and some of those include their sexual agency.

My argument here is part of a much larger context of thinking about childhood and how we, as a society, think about and treat children. The sexual aspect of this is a part of it—and an important part to me because of my sex-positivism—but it's a small part of it and it definitely is not the case that it's been the other way around. That is, it's not the case that I only mentioned the rights of self-determination of children because I was thinking about sex. Palomar and others, mistakenly, interpreted me in that way. And I can understand that, given the context of this thread.

Mentioning this muddied the waters, unintentionally, but I couldn't avoid mentioning it because in the context of my thoughts about childhood and children in general, I'm not going to merely advocate for what amounts to an expansion of limitations on people having sex—some of whom we consider children—without at the same time mentioning that I also want to expand the rights of children in other respects, including sexually. I certainly think, for example, all adolescents should have the right to birth control. But, in all truth, when I wrote what I originally wrote, what I had in mind was voting. Because my thoughts were generally that this qualitative notion of childhood is wrongly used to deny children rights in a blanket fashion. This bothers me a great deal. I think it's wrong.

Right now in the US, for sex and most everything else, we have two magic ages: 18 and 21. The age of consent is lower than 18 in some states, but that's slowly changing and it's converging on 18. That these two ages can be adequate to cover all the developmental distinctions involved in all their numerous applications strikes me as too self-evidently absurd to be taken seriously as rational on its face. It's not exactly that it's strictly irrational—it's custom. It's not about actual developmental distinctions...at least not about them in anything other than the most generalized possible sense. Having sex, signing a contract, drinking alcohol, military service, and voting are all such diverse activities with regard to developmental capabilities that it's nutty that we would draw one (or possibly two) lines in the sand and declare the job done and say that this is fair to either of the groups on both sides of the line.

And, again, this very much does involve how outrage is or isn't provoked because it's simply untrue to claim that people's moral judgments are not strongly influenced by the letter of the law. As is often mentioned, an 18 year-old who has sex with a 17 year-old in a jurisdiction where that's statutory rape is classified as a sex offender and because of where we unthinkingly and reflexively do and don't place our fears and priorities, that 18 year-old will, in more and more jurisdictions, spend his or her entire life subject to moral condemnation and scrutiny and limited choices about where to live and with whom he or she associates. This is not a rational or just outcome. And, not incidentally, it's not rational or just with regard to that 17 year-old, either.

Yes, we have to draw legal lines. There's no avoiding that. But the question is whether the drawing of those lines and where they're drawn is the result of truly assessing the harm and toward increasing justice, or if they were poorly drawn or drawn where they were drawn for other reasons and then we simply assume harm exists and is actually redressed, and justice is actually served, by virtue of the mere existence and enforcement of those lines.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we tread a tricky and dangerous line with adolescents and adolescence - we want the transition to adulthood (and all of its spheres of responsibility and privilege) to go smoothly and to be consistent throughout all of those spheres within and between individuals, but the evidence suggests people just don't grow that way.

A major marker of emotional maturity in Western culture is assessing physical risk in a fashion consistent with the adult majority. We assume that someone aged 16 (in most US jurisdictions) is capable of accepting the risks of smoking and of beginning to drive a car; at 17 to enlist in the military; at 18 to vote and to enlist without parental consent; we assume that a young person can't handle alcohol until 21, possibly because it impairs capacity to assess other risks.

There is a load of evidence, casual and formal, that these cutoffs are sloppy.

Uh, I'm not sure where to take that thought, except to say that assigning an age of sexual consent is contingent on both the assessment of physical risk and the capacity to refuse someone more powerful (whether that power is physical or social), so it's even trickier than those other functional spheres of maturity.
posted by gingerest at 11:28 PM on February 5, 2012


What I cannot wrap my head around with this discussion is something like the Doug Hutchinson and Courtney Stodden marriage. We jump on predators, well, unless the parents sign a piece of paper giving consent. So, old guy with teenager is okay as long as old guy impresses the parents?

I don't have an answer to this puzzle. I personally wouldn't let my child get married at 16 to a 50 year old but obviously there are parents that would and do. How can we protect one child from a predator if the predator can find another parent to give consent? Or do we take away the predator tag on someone because they ask permission first? Makes my head hurt.
posted by M Edward at 11:42 PM on February 5, 2012


The age of consent is lower than 18 in some states, but that's slowly changing and it's converging on 18.

Thirty states (and D.C.) put the age of consent at 16. Nine put it at 17. Only eleven put it at 18. Many (I can't find an exact number) also include close-in-age exceptions, aka "Romeo and Juliet laws."

As far as I can tell, the major changes in adjusting age-of-consent laws in the U.S. happened around the turn of the 20th century, when ages started being raised to the 16-to-18 bracket, upwards from the 10-13 bracket that was common before (with age of consent being as low as 7 in some states). And while that adjustment certainly coincided with a variety of movements of varying political stripes (e.g., campaigns against prostitution, which had both a progressive/feminist side and a more conservative/moralistic side), I'm not aware of any significant movement currently to raise the age of consent in the age-16 or age-17 states to 18. (This is not discounting, of course, current conservative movements that seek to limit sex and sexuality in general, but rather than I'm not aware that the age of consent is, in fact, "slowly converging on 18" at all, as you say.)
posted by scody at 11:43 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and another point about age of consent laws, and notions of the sexuality of children: I've been working on a research project about Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The age of consent has been 14 in Austria for more than 200 years (with exceptions, abolished only recently, for homosexual encounters). When prostitution first started being regulated in Vienna in 1873, about 6,500 prostitutes registered in the first year, with the majority of them being between the ages of 14 and 18. (By 1913, the number of registered prostitutes had dropped to about 1,800, while the average age had risen into the late teens/20s -- even though the age of consent hadn't changed.) Another 12,000 unregistered prostitutes were estimated to be working at that time; a majority of them were also estimated to be teenagers or even children under 14. Child prostitutes, it likely goes without saying, were overwhelmingly if not exclusively poor and working-class children, who were widely assumed (socially, culturally, even "scientifically") to have a vastly more pronounced sexuality than their middle-class or upper-class counterparts.

This assumption about sexual precocity among the poor was so prevalent (due to the supposedly "natural" immorality of the poor) that one of the most popular erotic books in Austria was the "memoir" of Josephine Mutzenbacher, the supposed "life story of a whore" told by a 12-year-old, who had begun her career by being molested at 5 before graduating to having intercourse with her father at 7. (In reality, it was probably written by Felix Salten, better known as the author of Bambi. Yes, really.) So sexuality and childhood -- at least, sexuality and childhood for some, and not for others -- were both regarded quite differently within the past century.
posted by scody at 12:05 AM on February 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah. I just now read an interesting article, by Professor Kate Sutherland (of Canada's York University's law school), From Jailbird to Jailbait: Age of Consent Law and the Construction of Teenage Sexualities, 9 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 313 (2003).

It's very interesting generally, but specifically in my opinion in this context because it—in my reading, anyway—reinforces my opinion that consent laws do not at all function as principled bright-lines the way that Miko asserts, and (most importantly) primarily function in themselves, and how and where they are and are not enforced, as regulators of teenage sexuality per se. Not primarily as a means of protecting less mature people from sexual predation by those with power to harm them.

And, really, examples like M Edward mentions demonstrate how silly it is to think that these laws primarily protect children from sexual predators when parental permission to marry can sanction what is, nevertheless, sexual predation.

I was wrong about how age of consent laws have changed. I had the impression that they'd been moving upward, but you're right that they haven't. On the other hand, general sentiment has been changing, surely. I'm very skeptical that the post and thread in question would have elicited charges of pedophilia thirty years ago. Someone said in this thread that this wasn't mentioned, but it was, at least twice IIRC correctly, in the AskMe thread. Definitely once. There is, in public opinion, now only a hairsbreadth of difference between statutory rape and pedophilia, and for many people the distinction doesn't exist at all.

Again, I'm not arguing that a 15/50 pairing isn't rightly illegal. Honestly, part of what bothers me is how pedophilia just blows the whole thing right out of the water. And while in one direction I'm not comfortable equating that 15/50 pairing with a 5/50 pairing; in the other direction I'm not comfortable differentiating statutory rape from rape or, for that matter, sexual violence in general from rape. I'm not saying that every possible situation can be seen as being equal. I am saying that all of these things are sexual violence and seeing them and treating them as qualitatively distinct things is hurting more than it's helping.

In all these cases, what is most important is that harm to someone's body, with regard to sexuality, was coercively done, attempted, or threatened, by someone else. The power imbalance can be sufficient such that it by itself implies coercion; and the violence implicit in the coercion can be sufficient (for varying contexts) that it implies harm, even when explicit consent has been given.

The crazy quilt of laws about sexual violence—not just the age of consent laws—collectively do more to present and regulate a culturally conventional notion of acceptable sexual behavior than they do to protect people from actual sexual violence. Indeed, I've seen very little evidence that these laws are ever intended to do anything but present and regulate culturally conventional notions of acceptable sexual behavior. The history of rape laws proves this eloquently and heartrendingly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:02 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


bakerina: "Update from the OP."

Thank you for linking to that comment. I didn't make it all the way through the thread.
posted by zarq at 7:04 AM on February 6, 2012


It is not the same and it does not "align [me] with generations of statutory rapists". For fuck's sake, Miko, it's not like you to make those kinds of equivalencies in service of an argument.

In effect, though not intent, it unfortunately is the same and I'm troubled by your inability to acknowledge that. I'm not trying to score points but to show that this line of reasoning instantly opens the door to other arguments abolishing age as the basis of consent. Its familiarity in my ears is also due to my life as a teenage girl. Please recognize the similarity, because if you go on representing this view you are going to have to have two arguments: why age should not be the basis of consent, and why it should be replaced by your proposed standards. In the first argument you must recognize that you have legions of fellow-travelers who will happily join in that project with you, without following you to the second argument.

The move toward age-difference in defining statutory rape does exactly what you say you absolutely cannot get behind: it allows a 17 and 19 year-old to have sex when before it would not. But I'd like the same (hypothetical example law) to illegalize sex between an 18 and 21 year-old, or perhaps not there but between an 18 and 22 year-old.

As if there are no situations of manipulative sex between 17 and 19-year-olds.

It's just that your solutions are no less arbitrary, and they definitely veer toward the paternalistic. For instance:

I think it's also absurd that it's legal for an eigteen year-old to have sex with a thirty year-old. I think it's absurd that an employer having sex with an employee is ever legal.

Your idea of it always being illegal for an employer to have sex with an employee; no, thank you. That's my decision to make, and if there has been no coercion or deception there has been no crime. It's upon us to create the legal structure that specifies when there's been this coercion or deception, but not upon us to begin regulating the sexual choices of adults. Would you, for instance, regulate people's ability to enter into the BDSM sex scene, because of the potentially unhealthy power dynamics that could create when interacting with certain psychologies?

But what I am very concerned with and object to is that the outrage and concern about stranger rape is disproportionate to the seriousness of all forms of rape and the focus on stranger rape functions as a diversion of the outrage from all other forms of rape.

I think this attitude is something that exists in the broader society, but given the last few years and aquaintance-rape discussions here on MeFi, I would say that lack of outrage is the last of our problems in discussing that particular topic. You're not saying anything that's new here, and I'm personally a little offended that you think people aren't outraged enough. You may be projecting. We have plenty of outrage, and, furthermore, you aren't operating with information about what people do about things outside of MeFi - a few of which I can think of immediately. If you are talking about the general public, fine, but if you are talking about MeFi, I would say that your perception is off.

But it's emotionally safer to get worked up about the possibility of someone in a chat room than it is to confront what it really means that a little girl or boy is far more likely to be raped by their father or stepfather than anyone else.

What about all the people who have spoken up in this thread and others about their own experiences of rape? Are they not outraged enough for you? Is this emotionally safer for them?

I'm trying to understand why what happened to my ex-wife is called "abuse" or "incest" (though I think that incest is a useful term with regard to the unique nature, both with regard to function and harm, of the fact that it's a long-term, trusted relationship from the child's perspective) and not "rape".

I'm not sure who you see identifying this as "not 'rape'." Language-wise, I can understand characterizing that situation as 'abuse,' which connotes a long-term relationship of ongoing abuse which can take many forms, including rape. So it certainly is called rape, would be in court, and it is also incestuous.

I share your political concerns about how we esteem different kinds of rape.

But there are a couple places I will not be able to agree with you. You acknowledge that setting an age standard is arbitrary. An added dimension is that setting an age standard is in itself a cultural act. Part of what that does is to create a construct for predicting, preparing, and acculturating to a legally 'adult' identity. The knowledge that after the age of eighteen, you will reach legal majority and have the freedom and the responsibility of making your own decisions and living with your own consequences under general adult law is something that is a known quantity and for which we should be preparing youth, even better than we currently are. It's not that anyone thinks they will suddenly become mature overnight, but that by knowing the date when that legal majority will be settled on them, we can prepare them for the new personal environment they'll be living in.

Voting is a fairly good example, where we know the date we will become eligible to vote, many of us will have registered in school or while getting a driver's license, many will receive civics education illustrating the workings of the electoral system, and so on. We can place a structure around this process and use the predictable timeline to develop educational approaches, formal and informal, to prepare people for the time when things are going to change: their parents will no longer be obligated to house and feed them, no longer be required to provide a signature which lets them get a tattoo or piercing, their work hours, and ability to use certain equipment and take certain jobs (like stripping or bartending) will open up, they will get access to credit in their own name, and so on and so on.

You may well argue that our present systems of preparing people for the change in condition which comes with age of majority is inadequate. I would agree that for many people it is inadequate, depending much too much on your family being invested in seeing that you understand all this. But I would not agree that the inadequacies are founded on the premise that age standards are misguided. They're founded instead on the failings of society to raise people well.

We are simply not going to be able to create a world in which nothing bad ever happens to people. At best we can create conditions which prepare people for the possibility of negative events, and at the same time create legal procedures which can bring about negative consequences for the perpetrators.

The age standard lets us catch a lot of bad actors for whom the technicality of age is the only reason they can be indicted. Yes, it means that some bad actors may still go free because they prey on vulnerable people who have reached the legal age of majority, but dealing with the adult consequences of your actions is what adults have to do, and no law we make can prevent that from happening. The best we can do is describe the conditions and criteria that need to be in place to show that sex was deceptive or coercive. Manipulation in and of itself, unfortunately, is not against the law, and I wouldn't want to live in a society that tried to prescribe laws based on the psychologies of people with normal intelligence. So in the end, we need to judge by actions and conditions that are empirically demonstrable. Throwing out age standards for legal majority would leave us in the mire.
posted by Miko at 7:08 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


We can safely assume I'm aware of the [patriarchal] history of consent laws, their 'crazy quilt' nature especially in the US where a state line makes a big difference, and how legal arguments about them have changed under second and third wave feminism. I'm not arguing that our law has achieved perfect expression. I'm arguing instead that bright line standards need to be in the law as a basic mechanism by which we ascribe individual's level of responsibility for and about sexual activity without reference to individual characteristics which are not possible to measure in any unbiased manner, and to create a the predictability about which I spoke.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read article you linked, I think ultimately supports my argument for the existence of age standards in law as a mechanism through which to discuss, plan for, and construct sexual maturity:
I am inclined to think that age of consent laws have a place in teenage consciousness. Teenagers are acutely aware of all the ages that mark rites of passage. They keep careful track of the age at which they can obtain drivers' licenses and the age at which they can legally drink alcohol. While the average teenager is unlikely to have a detailed knowledge of the age of consent law in place in his or her state, he or she is quite likely to be aware of the existence of a legal age of consent to sex. My assumption here is bolstered by the assertion of Mike Hardcastle, an Internet teen advice columnist, that 30% of the questions he receives relate to the age of consent for sex.

An additional source of information for teenagers about age of consent laws is the media coverage of high profile cases, some of which I discussed earlier....Such sources may not provide a very accurate picture of how age of consent laws are ordinarily applied; but these media depictions of law provide building blocks for the formation of a teenage legal consciousness.

Through such sources teenagers learn something of the legal framework within which their own sexual activities take place. They get a sense of when state power can be brought to bear to curtail their consensual sexual activities. They also get a sense of when the law is not likely to protect them from non-consensual sexual interactions. For example, teen-orientated TV dramas such as the once popular "Beverly Hills 90210" inevitably devote at least an episode to the issue of date rape. While, once again, such depictions of law are not altogether accurate, messages about who is and is not likely to be judged deserving of legal protection come through loud and clear.

Popular culture mediums such as movies, TV shows, popular music, teen magazines, and websites are more likely sources of familiarity with the criminal law than police officers, lawyers, and judges. When it comes to forms of sexual regulation carried out by parents and school authorities, however, most teenagers experience these very directly in their daily lives. They very quickly learn what the rules are and what the consequences of breaking them are, either through their own run-ins with authority figures or through observing the experiences of their peers. Teenagers evidence awareness of law and of themselves as legal subjects in their interactions with one another and with the aforementioned authority figures. They sometimes invoke law in the service of conformity when attempting to bring their peers into line. At other times they invoke legal rights to protest rules they consider to be unfair...

Teenagers are aware of themselves as targets of regulation, and they are aware of themselves as legal actors whether in conforming or resisting roles. Law operates simultaneously as "an interpretive framework and a set of resources with which and through which the social world.., is constituted." It serves as a source of the sexual morality by which teenagers govern their own sexual behavior and police that of their peers....

In the realm of sexual regulation, teenagers are not simply pawns of the state, schools, or parents. They are players who participate in the contest, sometimes resisting law and sometimes conforming to it, leaving their imprint one way or the other. The complex and contradictory nature of the legal regulation of teenage sex leaves teenagers considerable space within which to maneuver. This space does not offer freedom from regulation, however, so much as freedom to self-regulate. It offers teenagers an...opportunity to engage in the sort of subjectivation described by Foucault in the above quotation, acting upon themselves, monitoring, testing, improving, and transforming themselves.

Teenagers engage in what Foucault calls ethical work: work"that one performs on oneself, not only in order to bring one's conduct into compliance with a given rule, but to attempt to transform oneself into the ethical subject of one's behavior." In sdoing, they take an active role in their own constitution as sexual subjects. Many teenagers, male and female, carefully govern their appearances, their thoughts, their talk, their behavior, and their sexual activities in this way. They do so not simply to avoid falling afoul of the law, though undoubtedly some have this motive. They do so because they have embraced and helped to create the dominant legal/moral code. They work to form themselves into the sort of sexual subjects that do not exceed the boundaries of normal sexuality. But law does not simply operate to repress the pre-existing sexual desires of teenagers thereby bringing them into social conformity. Law plays a role in the bringing into being of those desires and in the constitution of the framework within which teenagers negotiate them.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on February 6, 2012


Reporting suspected abuse is quasi-legal action. Human Services doesn't swoop in with a SWAT team and pluck a child from its home. A report of a conversation on the web may or may net get any attention at all. To follow up, authorities in GA would have to track down Infinity_8. Then they'd have to track down the best friend/potential perp, find out where the 15 y.o. lives, transfer the case to that jurisdiction. If they get results, then they might be able to take action on potential perp.

Most state government agencies are pretty strapped. Many people lack cluefulness about the web. Some bureaucrat might take a look, or dismiss it for lack of detail. And if they take action, they may find that potential perp is, in fact, attracted to children, and is acting on the attraction. The system is working as designed. Or that potential perp is chatting with a 40-something cop, or a 50-something potential perp, or ... It's not a fantastic system, but Human Services tries to assess reports accurately, and tries to protect children from harm. Reporting a concern to them is appropriate.
posted by theora55 at 12:09 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of what I am finding difficult about this, is that this just seems ridiculously hard for the OP - and I am chagrined by all of the people on the thread who know exactly what they'd do, because they know exactly how they feel.

Often that level of clarity only exists because they had personal experience that clarified it for them - the OP obviously hadn't, and is grappling with both what he is hearing and the ramifications. Not the least of which why his best friend told him this. There doesn't seem to be a lot of space for him in the thread for him to do that - to talk it through, to walk it through. By that I mean we really didn't ask him too many questions - which we could have, because he wasn't anon. Like, if he was the only one his friend told. Or why he thinks his friend told him. Or if there were other friends he was thinking of telling. Or what, if anything he knew about the girl and her situation. I mean questions that help him process. In short, it seems like there was less of what I think ask me does beautifully - thoughtful, non-judgy questions that allow option exploration - and a lot more of what it does when we are triggered - premature decision making and demands, by way of threats, shaming, etc.

I realize he may have opened himself up to that, posting his question on a community site, rather than talking to his therapist. And I know this situation is serious, and it is seriously triggering people. But I think we'd all like a little space with critical, non-yelling, non-damning questions, to come to terms with something huge and difficult that we find ourselves in.

But none of us have the power to threaten or shame the OP into doing anything. And we probably wouldn't want to be threatened or shamed into doing anything ourselves, even if it is the 'best' outcome. And it isn't clear that shame/threats were necessary, as he was clearly looking for options. It sounds like he came up with some that worked in his follow up. But force (threatening/shaming), without the actual power to implement is just bluster.

For myself, part of what I am going to remember about this conversation is how common it is to want to use escalatory force to compel others to do what we think is right, and how rarely that works.
posted by anitanita at 12:50 PM on February 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


I agree with Ivan Fyodorovich.

My own arguments were only really intended for a few specific alarmists, so bringing them into a public thread was a mistake, and failing to consider anyone else in the thread was a bigger mistake. I'm sorry.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:26 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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