Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How do we know when a person in a weaker position can consent to something of their own free will without being manipulated to an unacceptable degree?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) November 30th, 2012

We have ages of consent in the US. It varies by state. There are different ages at which you can agree to marry without your parent’s approval, and different ages below which any sex you have with an older person is statutory rape.

Throughout history, older men have hit on younger women for sex. They might think it is easier because younger women may have less experience and fewer defenses than older women. Many would say such men are preying on the young women.

Of course, sexual abuse is an extreme example of this behavior; an example that is almost universally considered something that no one should do. It should be punished, most agree, although many societies put such laws on the books but never enforce them.

So what qualities does a person need to have to be able to control their own life and consent to decisions like having sex or getting married or even being considered a fully moral agent who can be prosecuted as an adult in court cases? Please bring in examples, as that is easier to understand, but feel free to attempt to make sweeping generalizations, too.

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13 Answers

livelaughlove21's avatar

Great question.

In my state, as with many others, there’s no hard and fast “age of consent” for sex. Criminal Sexual Conduct With a Minor in the first degree includes sexual battery with someone under the age of 11 OR under the age of 16 IF the aggressor is a registered sex offender. CSC with a Minor in the 2nd degree is sexual battery with someone 11–14 years of age or 14–15 years of age IF the aggressor has a position of custodial or familial power over the victim. BUT, if the sex is consensual, the younger partner is at least 14 and the older partner is younger than 19, there is no crime.

I like the last part, because in these cases, statutory rape was a joke. If two young people consent to sex and one happens to be 18 and the other is 15, the older should not be charged with a sex crime, no matter how much the parents of the younger partner would like that.

It’s hard to put one age on this type of thing. I think, at 14 or 15, people are able to give consent without coercion. They shouldn’t be having sex because they don’t understand the ramifications of their actions, but that can also be said for some adults. Here’s where it’s important to separate moral issues from legal issues. Personally, I didn’t have sex until I was 18, but I understand I’m the minority. My sister-in-law is pregnant right now and, at her age, I had barely even kissed a boy yet. But she certainly gave consent, and without a condom at that. Unfortunately, stupidity is not a crime.

As for trying people as adults, intent is all I’d need to prosecute, and that’s required for most crimes anyways. I don’t care if someone is 15 or 30, if they showed intent to commit a crime, and then did, they deserve to be punished like everyone else.

(Of course, instances of mental illness aside here.)

Judi's avatar

I didn’t feel like a victim at 14–15, but in retrospect, those 20–30+ year old men WERE victimizing a vulnerable little girl. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I realized that I was a victim of abuse and not a slutty teenager. By “slutty” I am not making a judgment about people with multiple sex partners I am talking about my personal self image.
They were old enough to know better. I didn’t realize the implications of my choices.

KNOWITALL's avatar

This is a hard one because morality questions, laws and other factors, but back in the day you were an old maid if you were unmarried at age 18. Now most people are waiting until their established and in their 30’s before marrying due to longer lifespans, medicines, etc…

I think I’ll say 16 is a good age when you know right from wrong and have a base of knowledge from school and your friends of repercussions. If you are old enough to drive a thousand pound vehicle and be held responsible, then you can choose whether to use your sexual organs, etc…

wundayatta's avatar

So, if I can tease out criteria here, @KNOWITALL, you are saying consent requires knowing right from wrong (that’s pretty big), being considered responsible enough to handle complicated machinery that could kill others.

@Judi is suggesting you need to realize the implications of your choices. Which is interesting and makes me wonder how many of the implications. Any particular kind of implications?

For @livelaughlove21, intent is important. She also mentions understanding the ramifications of one’s actions.

So that’s interesting. Thanks for your thoughts, so far.

JLeslie's avatar

I think the statutory laws that require a 4 year age difference for the older person to be prosecuted are good.

I think @Judi‘s example of realizing in retrospect those men were either bad, immature, or some other problem, is exactly why we need these laws. It is not so much the younger person needs to be controlled, but the older person does. They need threat of prosecution, because they don’t have the understanding of why it is not ok. I don’t think men always pray on younger woman because they are more easily manipuated, or at least I don’t think men are always consciously aware of why they pursue younger women. It just happens that it is likely they have some real problems, or are very immature themselves, and young women don’t clue into it like older women would, so they wind up paring up with young women. Unless it is trully just straight sex and a total use.

I remember an acquaintance of mine telling me about a friend of hers who was 22, dating a married man, he was 35 with children. He was supposedly going to leave his wife. The woman I knew said the guy was really nice, blah blah. You don’t have to be 15 to not get that those men have a problem. I think a lot of women don’t really get how a lot of men think until our 30’s and 40’s.

Coloma's avatar

Bottom line, weak, mentally and emotionally fragile, whatever…if someone “consents”, regardless, and takes action, they are not victims.
As “they” say, there are no victims, only volunteers.
I know a woman in her 50’s who cried “victim” after a man she dated for 5 years refused to marry her.

He was 100% upfront from the get go that he was not interested in remarrying and she still forged ahead and then went to work on trying to manipulate him into a marriage proposal.
When he finally dumped her she was livid. Amazing!

Shippy's avatar

I don’t think it is all centering around men. Women also hit on younger men, also abuse younger people, both female and male. Plus younger men are hitting on older women in their droves.

I am not sure what you mean by: “many societies put such laws on the books but never enforce them”.

Which society and cases are you referring to?

Ideally the person would have maturity and logical thinking in order to consent. So its, an interesting question, I am not sure at what age people acquire that, if ever.

Coloma's avatar

@Shippy I agree. There are some 18 yr.olds that are more mature than 50 year old people.
Chronological age and emotional maturity are often eons apart for many people.
Their bodies may have arrived at the head of the table but their minds and emotions are still in the playpen.

Shippy's avatar

@Coloma Absolutely

Unbroken's avatar

OK well I have a scenario for you, at work I ran into this one. There was this 22 yr old person with mental handicaps married to military man. She was very curious about sex and didn’t know things about boundaries etc. She was apparently always compliant to her husbands increasing demands. One day she came in saying that her husband had told her she should participate in a threesome and she seemed unsure about and swinging. I never did find out what she did about it. But to me it seemed like a cry for help. I felt bad for not taking her under wing. And I still regret it to this day. This guy was obviously using her. Is that the best she could do? Was she happy with that arrangement?

@KNOWITALL I agree the age of consent as was the expectations were much different historically. But I think the nature of society has evolved in a way that that is not the only condition to take under consideration. I was of the opinion I was a very mature 16 year old and in some ways I was and others I wasn’t. I have also seen people claim to be mature, or some one says that about them, and then they pull some sort of drama that belongs on the Jerry Springer show. Is that still on? Then you have to look at some of the men who get involved in these situations. And they are usually lacking in some regard.

@Coloma I disagree to a certain extent. They are probably not healthy people. Which brings into question why a person should want to be a relationship with them unless it is use to them. But the example you gave does not exactly line up with the kind of scenario I had envisioned.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We don’t. But someone in society does have the power to call those shots and so they place standards that, of course, don’t fit every situation.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t think you can ever be completely sure, no matter the age of the individual. I mean, even an adult who believes s/he is a fully consenting partner may not be able to see that it isn’t necessarily so. Practically no one is immune to manipulation of one kind or another.

But, as I said in the other question, we have to draw the line somewhere. I’m fairly comfortable with teens consorting with teens, and maybe once they are 16 or so, having a 4 year age-difference law up until legal adulthood.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

The generalizations I see is that the thought is a female is weaker or in less favorable position, thus more apt to be manipulated, is when she is younger than 18 years but older than X with an older man; the older the man, the more the manipulation. When it comes to these consent laws, which are aligned more on ideology and not biology, it assumes humans who go off biology somehow offends, or have some mental illness. In a secular sense green lighting one sex act over another is all conjecture; subject to mob rule. Most of the time, at least in the US, the blind leading the blind, is favored over the blind being led by one with experience because we don’t trust the one with the most experience. We further go off the myth that the younger partner can’t possibly make their own mind up, maybe with driving, getting a job, surfing, skydiving, etc, but never sex. If a young girl pursues and older man he had to somehow manipulate her into thinking that, or he chose to ignore her bout of mental illness and instead of walk away engage in conduct they both mutually wanted at the time.

However, weaker on the female’s part, can happen at any age. He might have more money, more political power, more seen as a celebrity. He might be miles smarter than she. So long as she is past the age in which she is believed to be too dumb or too malleable about sex related things, she is basically on her own. The problem is if you are going to have sex and not leave it exclusive in a marriage don’t be hypocritical about it, grow up and own it.

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