Sunday, 29 May 2011

Child Sexuality and the Limits of Consent

I came across this story the other week, and I've been mulling it over since, debating whether to post a link, and if I did, what comment, if any, to add.

The story refers to a case before the Brisbane Supreme Court, in which it was revealed that a 12-year-old boy - posing as an 18-year-old homosexual man - actively pursued and engaged in sexual encounters with a man he met via an Internet dating service. He'd used a 'mainstream' dating service called Oasis Active to set up the site.

The court was told that over the space of three months, the boy would sneak out his family home, in Brisbane's east, late at night and slip down the street to a nearby golf course to meet his online liaison who was at that time a 30-year-old lifesaving fundraiser.

The boy indicated that when he met males online - including Powell who went by the nickname "Johnny" - he would inform them he was 13-years-old, a year older than he actually was.

Recovered Internet chats found on Powell's laptop computer reveal he discussed having a weekend "sleepover" with the boy, a possible "threesome" with "another "guy".

They also included a request from the child that "this time your going to (expletive deleted) me."

During another online chat Powell asked the boy why he was at home on his computer during a school day.

"When the child responded that he was pretending to be sick and was home alone all day, he (Powell) suggested: 'Maybe I should come over'," the schedule says.

"When the child advised that another guy was coming over they discussed a possible threesome."

Read the full story here. I've tried in vane to find other reports or any court transcripts/judgment but if anyone does have such links, please post them as a comment.

So, here's a few thoughts/questions:

  • Would our reaction be the same if rather than being 30, the convicted male had been 18? If so, why?
  • Had the boy not revealed he was 13 subsequently (which was also a lie), and insisted he was 18 all along, would we react the same way?
  • Had the boy posted a picture on his profile in which he appeared older than he was, would we take that into account in reaching a moral (as distinct from legal) view?

The killer question, can a 12 year old consent? Legally, no he can not. We can not make a judgment on these small exerts in a news story, but all the quotes from the child suggest a boy who is sexually aware, knows exactly what he doing, and is so determined to have homosexual sex with a male that he will lie to achieve that goal. In certain circumstances, the law accepts a child can consent. Has this child reached that level of consciousness?

Even if he has reached that level, is that outweighed by the obligation of an adult to refuse that boy's request? Yet, is that refusal based on the assumption of a harm being inflicted upon the boy? Should we simply encourage the boy to find a sexual act with someone nearer his age if sexual experimentation is what he's determined upon? If so, is it the age difference rather than a 12 year old having sex per se that concerns us? Ahh yes, age difference. If it is age difference, then it's not about consent at all, it's about something else. So, what exactly is and should be the guiding influence for law and the state in such cases.

I don't have the answers, just a whole bunch of questions.

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Graeme said...

of course I believe there have been cases where underage boys have been charged with child porn offences for wanking over webcam. The paradox is the same.

Jennie Kermode said...

I would say that I was definitely old enough to understand my own sexual desires at twelve and, indeed, I acted on them (with a friend the same age). This does not mean, however, that I was old enough for a relationship with an adult. The critical thing in that situation is the power imbalance involved. A child is unlikely to have much understanding of an adult's motives (one friend who slept with a thirtyish man when she was thirteen told me she was heartbroken when he became less interested in her as she grew up and she realised she had only been a conquest). Even a relationship which is intended to be purely sexual can have complex emotional consequences. I have most respect for legislature which deal with this through the implementation of a staggered age of consent, which reduces the risk of criminalising children but means that it's less likely vulnerable young people will be involved with individuals significantly older than them.

Anonymous said...

The law has an obligation to be seen to be protecting the young, in particular from predators who want to take advantage of them. There may be some preciousness youngsters, but there can't be many parents who would be happy with their 12-year-old having sex with a 30-year-old.

There is no doubt that most youngsters do not have the emotional maturity to deal with relationships (neither do many 20-year-olds!), but is that something the law has to protect, when the same youngsters is equally traumatised by not being able to buy the latest fashion accessory, or is bullied at school.

As a teenager myself, would I have wanted to have had sex under the age of consent? Without a doubt. Would I have wanted to be "used", or taken advantage of? No way. Could I have understood this dilemma? No problem, but this was never explained to me at the time.

Arguably, having sex later in life traumertised me, as I felt rejected by my peers who seemed to be "luckier". Either way, it is not a clear cut issue, and the law takes a childish approach to trying to solve the issue.

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