Debate Guide: Problems with the Age of Consent

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When juveniles are deemed criminally responsible, it becomes "reasonable" to punish them for voluntary sex with other minors who are not responsible

Here, you will find a list of basic philosophical and practical problems with the Age of Consent laws (please note, that in our ethos, we state a position that endorses an elective consenting age as low as 12). It:

  1. is arbitrary.
    • In the absence of 'Romeo and Juliet' laws, the age of consent is an 'all or nothing' law, regarding whether a crime has been committed. Although courts do take into account the nature of a relationship, in sentencing, the crazy example of two partners either side of their birthday (also the age of consent) will always haunt such a law. The law is quite unlike most others concerning the ethics of personal conduct in that it draws a line in the sand, and does not garner information from the qualities of what should be very complex for an outsider to fully understand.
    • The AoC is absolutism in practice. The worst cultures and religions have thought in absolutes.
  2. varies across cultures.
    • A quick look through an ages of consent list will show that even the US states are completely disagreed on what is appropriate. The AoC varies so widely across the world (7 - 21), that some of the harm that you predict must be happening legally. Yet do we hear more complaints coming from countries with low AoCs? Are 'ills' such as teenage pregnancy not lower in countries such as the Netherlands (when the AoC was 12)? Have campaigns to increase AoCs, such as in Canada (14 - 16) really been anything but morally reasoned?
  3. is ignored by far too many young people.
    • Although if anything, like psychoactives, its a boundary to be smashed if those who break it actually know what it is! Regarding youth - youth sex, all the AoC does is to persecute something that is standard and almost unstoppable. Among the varied AoCs, the age of consent seems to have little correlation to one's age of first penetrative sex. Compare these figures for the latter age with the age of consent list, and you will find that if anything, the countries at the extreme ends of the age of first sex scale have AoCs which reflect their society's acceptance of young sex. The pattern is varied, though. Refer to Spain at 17.5 (AoC 13) and Italy at 18.1 (AoC 14) and compare to the USA at 16.9, where the AoC is often 18. Many people have non penetrative experiences at much younger ages than the "virginity" loss ages (and the ages of consent), and this brings in a fourth criticism: the law goes against instinct, even reproductive abilities.
  4. is not required as it drives children into the hands of abusers and does not combat rape.
    • Since physical abuse can be a punishable crime regardless of the age of consent, all the absence of such a law can do is give partakers a choice in deciding what equals abuse in the context of their relationship. Harmful abuse (physical coercion and illegitimately obtained consent) continues regardless of how hopelessly high the AoC is, and remains against the law even in the absence of a limit.
    • Without an age of consent, sex taboo, witch hunt and the harsh punishments it supports - less of these relationships would be hidden, meaning that any abuse would be more visible, easier to speak out about and less inductive to blackmail, gagging and at the extreme end, murder by abusers. If law pinpointed exactly what was unacceptable to those involved, instead of performing a simplifying broad sweep, society as a whole could become aware of what constitutes abuse (i.e. coercion / harm, on the complaint of a victim or observer), and the courts could consider what went on by considering a healthy, diverse number of questions rather than the one main 'yes or no'. Finally, minors would be allowed to have relationships with the responsible, law-abiding adults that must turn them down under prohibition. With the laws, they are driven into the hands of careless sexual partners who have no respect for the law.

Excerpt gallery

Various theoretical objections to the broader concept of informed consent as applied to sex.