Age restrictions and the consent of minors

This started as a hijack of the thread “Explain why Polanski deserves forgiveness for being a rapist”. As I mentioned there, however, I don’t think the question of age is relevant to Polanski’s case at all, so here’s a new thread. I’ve reproduced my last post to start off.

How do you figure that?

Rather, some activities are appropriate for some people and others are not. Age is only a surrogate for whichever aspect of those people’s maturity you actually want to measure.

Imagine a carnival ride that’s unsafe for anyone shorter than 50 inches. You can be pretty sure that no 8 year olds will be tall enough to ride, and you can be pretty sure that most 18 year olds will be tall enough to ride. But you’d be a fool to set an age limit on the ride, since you can eliminate false negatives and positives by setting a height limit instead. Any government that respects personal liberties has a responsibility to keep false negatives to a minimum.

If they only know on a vague level, it sounds like their health teacher wasn’t doing his job. It just isn’t that hard to understand that sex can lead to pregnancy and disease. This is the kind of information you can get from a photocopied handout, not something that can only be learned through life experience.

I sure wouldn’t expect those particular girls to understand, since obviously everyone around them has failed to provide even the most basic sex education! But I wouldn’t judge all 13 year olds by their example.

What if a poor adult woman gets pregnant? Who will support the child?

Would it make sense to define having sex with poor people as “sexual molestation” and/or “statutory rape”?

Why would I expect anyone else to do so?

If your point is that it’s a bad choice for young teens to get pregnant, I agree entirely. If you’re saying it’s a bad choice for them to have sex at all because of the risk of pregnancy, that’s certainly a valid opinion too.

But I haven’t said they should be getting pregnant or even having sex. I’m saying that their consent is meaningful and should be respected by the law. They may consent to something that turns out to be a bad choice, but that doesn’t mean their consent is meaningless; if I sign up for a credit card at 30% interest, I’m making a terrible mistake, but no one will claim I didn’t really agree to it!

But you still didn’t answer my question from the other thread. How can an 11 or 12 year old be able to give “informed consent” for something when they are not able (because of their youth) to be fully responsible (financially, as in supporting a child) for their “informed consent”? Because, as I already pointed out, one of the possible consequences to sex is pregnancy, and then a child. A child that needs support.

An adult can be responsible for their offspring. I mean, they may not be, (because of poverty, irresponsiblity, whatever) but they are able to be responsible, legally. An adult can hold down a full time job. A child cannot, at least not under current labor laws.

Many adults support their offspring. But how many 11 or 12 year olds are supporting themselves (let alone their offspring), without any outside help?

yosemitebabe replied while I was starting this thread:

If they can’t support children, they shouldn’t have any. The same goes for adults as well as minors.

Of course they can be responsible for the consequences of their decision, unless you mean “responsible” the way it’s used in pro-life threads (“Abortion is wrong because it’s a way to evade responsibility for your actions!”).

But no, I think “informed consent” simply means they understand the consequences of a decision.

Suppose you buy an expensive car, so expensive that you won’t be able to keep up the payments. Your signature on the forms is still proof of informed consent because you knew what the payments would be, even if you wouldn’t actually be able to afford them. You can’t escape your creditors by claiming you didn’t consent to buy the car, and you can’t put the dealer in jail for selling a car to an unwilling victim.

Are children allowed to testify in court? How does that work?


An ability to handle consequences does not imply nor is it caused from an ability to understand the relevant issues. Why would you think so?

I’m not entirely sure I’m following you, Mr2001.

Are you saying that the consent of a minor should be a mitigating factor? Or that we should abolish the idea of sex with a minor being a crime, or lower the age?

I think we - and I only know what goes on in the USA of - have decided that people are not competent adults until a certain age. This doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Obviously, some 13-year olds have it all together, and some 50-year olds are hopeless, immature messes. Exceptions are made: hardship drivers licenses may be issued to people under 16, adults may be found incompetent and placed in someone’s care.

Curse my slow writing.

yosemitebabe, keep in mind that there are other ways to support a child besides full time employment. The minor may have a large inheritance/trust fund, may have relatives willing to take care of the child, or may be self employed (computer consulting, lawn mowing empire, etc.). Rare examples to be sure, but my point is you can’t assume someone won’t be able to responsibly handle the consequences of sex simply based on her age.

Of course, she may have an abortion or give the child up for adoption instead, avoiding the need for a steady income; if “she” is a “he”, the whole point is moot anyway.

The latter. As I said in the other thread, if I were forced at gunpoint to set an age of consent, I’d set it at 11 or 12 (to be inclusive)… but without a gun in my face, I refuse to set an age limit.

The question “at what age are people ready for sex?” makes as little sense as “at what age are people ready for driving?” We have a test for driving ability, and although we don’t allow people under a certain age to take that test, we easily could.

Age has nothing to do with driving ability. There’s a vague observation that most people under 16 can’t drive, but it’s better to test each individual’s ability than to make blanket assumptions based on age. (“You’re 24? Ok, you can probably drive, here’s a license.”) I believe the same is true of sexual consent, and indeed all other activities that are currently restricted by age.

This is my point. If such exceptions were more common, I wouldn’t have a problem with legal age limits, but they aren’t, so people fall through the cracks on both sides of the limit. You can’t go down to city hall and apply to be exempt from the age of sexual consent, the drinking age, the voting age, etc.

To be honest, I’ve never even heard of a hardship driver’s license. The idea that they exist somewhere gives me a glimmer of hope. :slight_smile:

Mr. 2001, you still haven’t answered my question.

How many 11 or 12 year olds can support a child, on their own? (Or pay for half of the support of a child, assuming that their sexual partner pays for their half of the support.)

I agree, no one should have kids if they can’t afford them. But at least with adults, they are able (technically) to support them. Because they can hold down a full time job. They have had enough years of education (hopefully, maybe) to get a job that pays decent.

How many 11 or 12 year olds can hold down a full time job? And one that pays more than minimum wage?

No, I’m not meaning that at all. I’m saying that once a woman gets pregnant, only she can decide whether or not to keep it, carry it to term, etc. And if an 11 or 12 year old has sex, they may get pregnant. (Or get someone pregnant.) And then they may (if they so decide) choose to keep the child. Because no one can force them to get rid of the child.

So, I just don’t get it—how can an 11 or 12 year old give “informed consent” to something that may result in a pregnancy and then a child? They can’t support a child. They probably can’t support themselves.

Also, in the case of a young man, how can he be responsible for the support of a child that is the result of his “informed consent”? He can’t force the woman he impregnated to abort or give the child up. (I know you think he shouldn’t be responsible at all for the child’s support if he didn’t want it to be born, but that’s been hashed over in multple threads and is a different issue.) So, how would that work? He cannot remove the risk of fatherhood (unless he has sex with someone who is barren). And he cannot, because of his youth, support a child, unless he is already independently wealthy at age 11 or 12. So how can he, under almost all circumstances, be truly responsible for the possible consequences of his “informed consent”?

“Informed consent” means, “I know what I’m doing, I am old enough and I can handle it”. Doesn’t it? Or do you think “informed consent” means, “I can’t handle the consequences by myself, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway because I want to, and let someone else pick up the pieces.”

Some people think they can handle it, but they can’t. And they are flakes. But at least with adults, they can handle it, as in, they are legally allowed to “handle it”. Because they are adults, and are able to hold down a full time job.

An 11 or 12 year old child cannot “handle it”. If they think that they can “handle” raising a child, they are deluded. Unless they are very wealthy and can afford a nanny and health care and all that is required to take care of a kid on their own.

But you said MOST 13 year olds are probably able to give “informed consent”. That’s what you wrote on the other thread. How many 13 year olds are running lawn mowing empires?

And how many 13 year olds know ahead of time that their relatives will, indeed, support their possible offspring? (So their “informed consent” would be, “It’s OK, my parents will support any child I will parent, they already agreed to it.”)

Many parents of teen parents get stuck supporting the child, but I’ll bet if you asked them beforehand if they were totally OK with the idea, 99% of them would say, NO. They would not leave their 13 year old with the impression that getting pregnant (or getting someone else pregnant) is A-OK, because mommy and daddy will foot the bill for their grandkid’s upbringing.

How many? I have no idea.

In states where the age of consent is 15, do you know how many 15 year olds can support a child? Neither do I. But it’s irrelevant to the question of consent.

A disabled, elderly, or uneducated adult might be unable to get a job that pays well enough to support a child, but he can still give informed consent to sex - he just has to be very careful with the contraception. Or would you say he can’t consent, and therefore anyone who has sex with him is guilty of rape?

First off, Mr. 2001, you did say that you thought most 13 year olds (most) could give “informed consent”. Do you still contend that?

15 year olds can hold down jobs. And by age 16 (the age they will be when their offspring is at most 3 months old) they certainly can work. But can an 11 or 12 year old? A 13 year old?

Why? What does “informed” mean? “Informed” of the expectations and consequences of their actions? I should think so.

In most cultures, and in most countries, the parents of a child are expected to support it. Of course this isn’t always the case, but the default assumption is that they will. And in the case of most adults, they can. Because they can hold down a job. But an 11, 12 or 13 year old cannot. Can. Not.

A lot of people may be unable to get a job that pays well enough to support a kid. And they are irresponsible if they go ahead and have a kid anyway. No one is disputing this.

How is the person who has sex with him or her to know that this adult person is unable to support themselves or a child? They are old enough to work full time. They are an adult; they’ve had years to build up resources, education and have other ways to support their possible offspring. But one who sees an 11 or 12 year old will know that this person is too young to legally hold down a full time job, and probably has not had enough time to cultivate an education or resources which will allow them to earn a living.

Yes, and I meant the same thing by “informed consent” in that thread as I do in this one, which apparently isn’t what you mean by it.

(Though to be fair to myself, what I said was that I’d trust every 16 year old I’ve met and most 13 year olds [that I’ve met] to be able to consent to sex. I’ll go ahead and assume that I’ve met a representative sample, so I’d trust most 13 year olds in general.)

Exactly. Not necessarily that they’ll be able to deal with the possible consequences. A 12 year old can give informed consent to sex, just like a poor adult with no chance of getting a better job can give informed consent to sex or to buying an expensive car. It might be an irresponsible choice, but they still consented to it.

There you go, “probably”. You assume that an adult can support a child, and you assume that a minor can’t.

How is the person who has sex with him or her to know that this adult person is unable to support a child? By asking him instead of assuming!

Allow me to repeat the question: Would you say an adult who can’t support a child can’t consent to sex, and therefore anyone who has sex with him (knowing that he can’t support a child) is guilty of rape?

But a poor adult will be expected to live with the consequences of their bad decision. They will have to find a way to pay for the car. They are expected to pay for the car.

And as an adult who is legally allowed to enter into a contract, they will have to abide by the contract, or accept the consequences if they can’t.

But a minor cannot enter into a contract. And they can’t (if they are 11, 12, 13, etc.) even hold down a full time job.

Is it or is it not true that a 11, 12 or 13 year old can hold down a full time job? I assume that most adults can support a child, because they are legally allowed to make a living (hold a full time job), and to support themselves.

Do you really think that most 13 year olds can support their own offspring? The ones you’ve met, anyway?

And once again, how many 11, 12 or 13 year olds are telling their sex partners that yes, in case their is an unexpected pregnancy (that does not result in abortion or adoption) that they can hold down a full time job, or yes, they are independently wealthy, or yes, their parents have already consented to support any unexpected grandchildren? How many?

“Can’t” support a child as in legally unable to do it? An adult CAN support a child. Some may not do it, may not do it well enough, but they legally can, because labor laws allow them to work.

How many 11, 12 or 13 year olds are going to be able to support their own kids, be responsible for their own offspring? Once again, how many? Do you seriously think that “most” of 13 year olds you know can?

And, as a side note, do you think that parents should be responsible for their children until age 18? Should a child be able to enter into a contract? And if they enter into a contract and they can’t handle the consequences, who will bail them out? Surely not the parents!

Hardship license? No dice in anywhere in the DCA. If I pick up your 15 year old for driving (period) in MD, I hope you know where the jail is.

Also, erm, Mr2001, is there a reason in your life you want to know what’s so bad about having sex with a minor, or were you just thinking about it randomly?
11, 12 or 13? Sheesh, I thought the 15 that I was when I lost it was quite a bit young. Guess I am an old fuddy-duddy now.

It’s not the first time he’s discussed this issue. On a recent thread, he initially was trying to suggest that there was a possibility that the kidnapped Mormon girl (Elisabeth Smart) may have given consent to have sex with the 49 year old man who kidnapped her. I give him credit that when more details of the kidnapping came out, he backed off from that suggestion in a hurry. But for a while, he was really questioning the possibility that she consented.

And I’d expect a pregnant 12 year old girl to live with the consequences of her decisions. What else would she do?

There are hundreds of youth-owned businesses listed at sites like YoungBiz, many of which are owned by kids younger than 13. One of my friends from middle school started a successful computer store before the age of 15, where he worked full time.

While I don’t personally know any 13 year olds who are in the financial shape to support a child, I have no reason to believe they don’t exist.

Please, take the time to answer my question. There’s no rush to post, you can take as long as you want.

You agreed above:

“Can support a child” vs. “legally can support a child”? Are we playing semantic games already, only this far down the first page?

I have no idea how many 11-13 year olds would be able to support a child; certainly, none of the ones I know.

Of course, that has no bearing on whether they can consent to sex. If they know what’s involved, what it can lead to, and whether or not they want it, they can consent - that’s what consent is.

I’ll address your side note later.

It’s just one of my pet issues - not just age of consent, but age restrictions and youth rights in general. I remember how angry I was to be on the wrong side of various age restrictions as a kid (not this particular one, though), and I vowed not to forget.

I used to be a fairly active member of ASFAR, which essentially turned into the National Youth Rights Association, and my beliefs have always been close to theirs.

And what do you mean by “live with the consequences of her decisions”? What “consequences” do you anticipate that she’ll have?

And how many 12 year old girls, (or 12 year old boys) can take care of their responsibilites or obligations without relying on their parents or the taxpayers? After all, when an adult helps create a child, they are usually expected to pay child support. You know that the current laws force parents (even unwilling parents) to support their kids. And in the case of a 12 year old boy who gets a girl pregnant—he may have “consented” to sex, but she’s the one decides whether to keep the baby. So as the law stands, he should be responsible for helping support the child he fathered. At age 12. Is this one of the “consequences” you were talking about?

And, after all, a 12 year old is still being supported by their parents. How much responsibility would the parent of a 12 year old have for the 12 year old’s offspring? I don’t get it. They’ll be supporting their 12 year old, but yet the 12 year old will be working to support her (or his) own offspring? How could this work? Do you want to have different standards for 12 year olds and adults when it comes to child support?

Hundreds. OK. Wow. Consider me bowled over by the vast number. Hundreds. And by comparison, how many adults support themselves?

Give me a break.

But you said that you thought most 13 year olds are able to make “informed consent”. “Informed” as to what? “I am informed that I can in no way be financially or personally responsible if a child results from this sex I am about to have, and I guess that means that my parents or the taxpayers will probably have to support it if it’s born.”

Yeah, that sounds like a really mature decision they’re making. (And yes, I am aware that many adults make that same immature decision. But they usually are not being supported by their own parents. They don’t have someone feeding them and supporting them. And they can be forced to pay child support.)

But you’re not answering mine. You seem to think that the choice to have sex is separate from the possible outcomes or consequences, like a child. A child that they may not be able to stop from happening. We know that adults can be forced to pay to support their children, (whether they want them or not) so do you think that children should be forced to pay for their children too? That they should be held to the same standard of responsibility that adults are? Since you agree that they should be “responsible” and all.

You think that a child can make an “informed choice”, but unlike with adults, (who usually end up being responsible for their offspring), the vast majority of the time these 13 year olds’ “informed choice” ends up being their parents’ (or taxpayers’) new financial burden.

But when an adult chooses to have sex, they understand that they can be forced to support a child. That’s part of the consequences for an adult, and they make their “informed choice” with that detail in mind. I know we’ve gone over how “unfair” you think it is for a man to be responsible for his children, so pardon me if I stay away from that this time. But you must agree, the way the law stands now, that is the reality of the situation.

No matter how irresponsible an adult is, they are still expected (by default) to live up to their responsibility, the same way a poor person is expected to pay for an expensive car that they foolishly decided to buy. They made an informed (though stupid) decision. Just because they’re an idiot doesn’t mean the creditors won’t come after them.

But by contrast, a child cannot enter into a contract. They cannot be held to a contract, like an adult can. Do you want the hypothetical 12 year old to be held to the same standards of responsibility as an adult is held? Even though you concede that most 12 year olds cannot support themselves, and have an adult parent responsible for them?

That doesn’t make sense.

Only a second, but Mr2001’s comment " As I said in the other thread, if I were forced at gunpoint to set an age of consent, I’d set it at 11 or 12 (to be inclusive)" scares the living bejesus out of me. He would rather err on the side of a very emotionally, physically, and psychologically developed 12 year old and the pervert she sleeps with than an unconsenting 11 year old who is groomed by a child molester. If this is really your stance, Mr2001, I fear we are so far apart on this issue, debate would be meaningless.

One small point to make. MR2001 said, in his OP - “If they {adolescents} only know {about sex} on a vague level, it sounds like their health teacher wasn’t doing his job.” Have you been following the news lately? Because there’s been a really strong regression to “abstinence only” education lately, so in a few years, if the current administration has its way, if any adolescents understand sex at all, it’ll be through their parents. Now I’m off to find statistics on patterns of sexual maturity among adolescent females.

So then Mr2001,

why not for the sake of consequence give people of all ages the legal status of an adult? As some young people may be able to give “informed consent”, they are also in all other respects more or less mature. Some thirteen year olds may be mature enough to fight in wars, to the extent that any person is mature enough. Indeed many do. Some 12 year olds may be qualified to themselves administrate large sums of money, or manage a company, to supervise employees. Who can prove that no 14 year old could handle the job of commercial airline pilot just as well as some 30 year old is doing right now?

Are you also in favour of changing the law on these areas?

What about emotional development? It’s hardly accurate to say that an individual who’s 11, 12, or 13 is a fully developed adult in the mental sense.

An ability to have sex physically and a desire to do so mentally does not add up to the ability to consent even if they have had sex ed.

It would also take a great deal of responsibility for the parents, who remain responsible for their child to age 16-18(Depending on state). Parental consent is required for virtually everything, and rightly so. If it goes against the wishes of the parents, who are legally responsible for the child, then it follows that it should be illegal for someone to override that.

Allowing 11, 12, and 13 year olds to consent to sex would void a large number of protective laws.