Debate Guide: Turn of events

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[Like many areas of our guide, this argument is based on testimony from anonymous informants - both offenders and young adults who pursued sexual relationships as minors. It is always better to speak from (some kind of) experience]

It would appear that the process of reporting socially unacceptable sexual activities can lead to sharp reversals in the thinking of participants. Unsurprisingly, it is these cases that we most often hear about! To gain a better understanding of this, we should investigate the possible status of various actors and acts before and after reporting:

Before reporting

But for the rare case of rape, the youngster must have rationalised being with the adult. To him or her, the relationship, be it for friendship, money or both, is a "normal" and acceptable part of their life that does not interfere with or have a bearing on others. There is a degree of socially imposed secrecy, and although in some cases the activities themselves might not be enjoyable for the youth, there is no trauma and no reason to run away or report the adult. During this time, the parents - who do not know about the relationship, and other authority figures are not a threat (with violence, ostracism and possible reporting being risks to the youth). Complicit youngsters are not a threat either, being in a very similar situation to any one of their age peers.

During reporting

The smallest of cues may lead a youth to confess to their parents. Very often, this is something such as being seen at the adult partner's house, or being "grassed up" by a malicious age peer. It is worth noting that various factors may drive the suspicion onwards from that point. Parents may be violent, homophobic or both, for example. The violence or suspicions of just one parent may have a bearing on many other youth who were also alleged to have been involved, thus eliciting a domino effect in the peer group.

After reporting

The status of acts and actors alters for the worse. Disempowered youth are very likely to take the path of least resistance, and this will typically involve cooperating with the authorities and assuming the victim mentality. Now that the relationship is out in the open, the adult partner goes from being an acceptable part of their life to a bogeyman; a perpetrator with whom no one would want to associate. The youth will probably be barred from co-operating with the accused during the month to a year or so of time in between the charge and trial.

In the face of rampant antisexualism, homophobia and victim-labelling, it is unlikely that a youth would defend the adult partner. This would not be socially acceptable, especially with age peers and parents - some of them threatening violence against chosen forms of unconventional sexuality. Youth may even allege rape, lest they be seen as willing participants in condemned sex acts. Sometimes, the younger partner will even attest to illegal sexual relations with little knowledge of the implications of what they are saying, only to go back on these allegations after incriminating the adult and possibly other youth involved.

The process of extracting testimony and assimilating younger partners into the prosecution effort could even be described in terms of predator and prey, with the younger, disempowered party being in the most vulnerable position. In extreme cases, we hear of stories such as police officers threatening to "out" boys as gay or hanging them over the side of a cliff to extract confessions. This somewhat contradicts the "child saver" stereotype.

Long term effects are equally ominous. Not only will the young adult have to come to terms with the "evil and depraved" nature of what they took part in, their unchallengeable status as "victims" or "survivors" and the consequences for others around them. On occasions they will be subjected to the worst iatrogenic stimuli imaginable. A good website for researching this iatrogenesis, including hypnosis, fabrication of charges and blatant cognitive restructuring of "victims" who show no typical symptoms, is the Institute for Psychological Therapies.