Saturday, August 5, 2017

A History of the Age of Consent and its Ramifications





A History of the Age of Consent


I related in The Allure of Nymphets that Mary E. Odem shared in Delinquent Daughters that until 1897 the age of consent in California and in most states was ten. It was twelve in seven states and, even more shocking, it was seven in Delaware. How did the ages get so low? Our early age of consent laws originated over the pond. And how did the age go from ten to seventeen in most states? Feminists are to blame thank.

Odem wrote that after the 19th century, many young women started working outside of the home and consequently became more promiscuous. Feminists blamed the raunchy behavior on "dirty old men" who paid for the services of nymphet prostitutes and successfully lobbied to have the age of consent raised. However, it backfired, because a number of young women became even more licentious.

To give an example of how raunchy things got, Odem related that during World War I, when the problem of female sexual delinquency assumed national proportions with the spread of prostitution and consequently venereal diseases among soldiers, a five-mile radius moral zone was implemented around military training camps. In those moral zones, alcohol and prostitution were prohibited. Surprisingly, the military discovered that it was not professional prostitutes who were loitering around military bases - it was thousands of teen prostitutes.

Consequently, feminists realized that issues like abuse, education, and poverty had more to do with the nymphet's erratic behavior than "dirty old men", but it was too late. The damage had already been done. The age of consent laws had been changed. However, there were two unsuccessful attempts to lower the age of consent.  In 1889,
there was an effort in Kansas to lower the age to twelve, and in 1890, there was an attempt in New York to lower the age fourteen.





"Childhood" in New York
New York magazine had a April 8, 2013 cover story on "Childhood in New York" and printed Jennifer Senior's article "Little Grown-ups and Their Progeny". Senior's report was consistent with the research that I related in The Allure of Nymphets about childhood being a relatively recent invention.
 

Senior related that up until the end of the WWII, children were expected to contribute to the family financially. Particular to New York City, newsboys were rampant, but delivering newspapers wasn’t their only source of income. They "blacked boots, scavenged for junk, and shuttled messages and goods.” But “child poverty, child abuse, and exploitative labor practices” lead to an effort by reformers and the government (e.g. Children’s Bureau) to protect children.

However, Steven Mintz, the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of Childhood in America, said, “They [reformers and the government] viewed kids smoking at 10 and 12 and having independent money and walking into bars as the worst thing in the world. It reminds you that "child" is a label, not a reality.

Clearly, prior to the end the WWII and before the American economy prospered, young people (i.e., children) were expected to behave as adults in terms of earning a living wage. And their adult behavior, in terms of vices, was condoned. It was even common to see ten-year-old prostitutes in New York City.

 

Just like Neil Postman related in The Disappearance of Childhood, things have gone (almost) full circle. Today, children\teens behave like adults. For example, they drink, smoke, take drugs, have sex, and are (virtual) teen strippers. The Internet has broken the barrier that the invention of the printing press once erected after The Renaissance. In Porn Before Puberty?, an ABC News feature, Winnifred shared that when she was in eighth grade, "boys mostly, were watching porn during school [...] during independent reading, they would do that." In addition, the feature related that nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and sixteen have viewed pornography on the Internet. However, age of consent laws and high school continue to keep (most) "children" and adults separated. 




"Children" and Adults

"Why You Truly Never Leave High School" was printed in the January 20, 2013 issue of New York magazine. The article is about how high school is a sadistic institution and how new research suggests that high school may be worst possible place for a vulnerable sixteen-year-old mind. Here's an excerpt:

Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured. Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.

Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society, and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.”




Anne Rice's sixteen-year-old Belinda had an affair with forty-four-year-old  author and artist Jeremy Walker after she had a fling with her step-father. Belinda exemplifies that a consequence of "children" being separated from adults is that when they do get together it's often done illegally due to age-of-consent laws - whether it's consequential, like in the case of Belinda, or non-consequential like in the case of incest. Belinda expressed her frustrations with being considered a child:

"Look, I had my first period at nine. I was wearing a C-cut bra by the time I was thirteen. The first boy I ever slept with was shaving every day at fifteen, we could have made babies together. And I found out the kids here are just as developed. I wasn't any freak, you know? But what is a kid here? What can you do? Even if you're going to school, even if you're a goody-two-shoes who hits the books every night, what about the rest of your life?"

"You can't legally smoke, drink, start a career, get married. You can't even legally drive a car till you're sixteen, and all this for years and years after you're a physical adult. All you can do is play till you're twenty-one, if you want to know. That's what life is to kids here - it's play. Play at love, play at sex, play at everything. And play at breaking the law every time you touch a cigarette or drink or somebody three or four years older than you."


Interestingly, the age of consent is still low in most of countries across the pond. For example, in Germany it's fourteen, in France it's fifteen, and in Spain it's a whopping thirteen. However, this shows that lowering the age-of-consent is not enough to remove the barrier between "children" and adults. The author's of Escaping the Endless Adolescence and The Adolescent Society may have surmised correctly that an additional culprit is the invention of high school.

BBC's Copper: Teen Prostitutes in New York City