I have been engaged in a discussion regarding James Hooker, the 41 year old teacher who left his wife and children for his former student, age 18. Is it just a coincidence the “couple” came public when she turned 18, the age of consent in California (she has since left him)? I do not think so. It has also been found that Mr. Hooker allegedly had another relationship with a 17 year old years ago. This could change his “status” from offender to predator, if the charges are proven true.
Although the conversation threaded through both the moral and legal issues, I was left wondering why we don’t have a national law in place, a democratic agreement upon what is acceptable and unacceptable, in regard to minors(we don’t even agree on the definition of a minor), in our country. If we hold to the truth that we have values which represent us as a people, why don’t we have a national standard for our children? It is difficult to come to an agreement, due to so many mitigating factors, however, the situation becomes very murky in its present format. Those who know me, know I am a fierce child advocate. Emotions aside, there seems to be a gaping flaw in our laws to protect children, namely the inconsistency of the laws, state-to-state.
We do have a federal law which clearly states the definition of child abuse. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g), as amended by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation”; or
“An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
Article 261 of the Federal Criminal Code (PDF) states that: ”Whoever, without the purpose of reaching copulation, performs a sexual act in a person under 12 or in a person that has no capacity of understanding the meaning of the act or that for any reason cannot resist, or demands that the act is performed, will be punished with a term of 2 to 5 years in prison”. If the offender uses moral or physical violence, an extra half term is added to the initial time.
Yet we don’t have a national definition for “child”. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
Furthermore, there are federal laws to protect children, under 12 and to 12-18, from sexual predators, yet the age of consent varies by jurisdiction, although the most common age is 16. There are also factors such as the age difference between the offender and the victim. In some states “Romeo and Juliet” laws exempt those close in age.
Much is left to interpretation.
So who is a “child”? It is legal for a 16 year old to drive, leave home, drop out of school and have sex, but not to drink or serve in the army? The brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Should a 24 year old be considered a child? Where do we draw the line? 12? 16? 18? 24 1/2?
Leaving each state to decide creates a psychological statement that we, as a people, cannot come to a determination on how to best protect those who we are meant to protect the most – children. I find this unacceptable.
There are groups looking to reform the age of consent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_consent_reform), both nationally and internationally. However, I have not found one group advocating for a national determination for age of consent. It is time we come to a national, state-by-state consensus. Concurrent powers exist because states and federal governments have similar needs. Both typically need to keep people safe, support their economies, and punish wrongdoers. I believe an age-of-consent national law would fit under these “needs”.
Good source: http://nj-fair.com/age-of-consent/the-us-federal-age-of-sexual-consent/