Should criminal penalties be reduced for teens engaging in consensual sexual activities?

That's the question now being raised in states across the country.

According to Pew Charitable Trust's Stateline:

... the Montana Legislature passed [a bill] last month that would reduce the penalties for teens caught engaging in consensual sexual activity. The measure also would expand the age range covered by the state’s existing Romeo and Juliet law. Named for Shakespeare’s young lovers, the laws vary from state to state but typically provide legal protections or reduced penalties for teens close in age who engage in sexual activity.

Other states are too:

teenLast year, Kansas enacted a law that gives prosecutors the option of charging minors with a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, for exchanging lewd photos in text messages. Connecticut is considering a similar bill this year, and the New York Legislature is considering a bill that would give teens a pass for consensual sexting. And Nevada is considering a bill that would give judges discretion over whether children convicted of sex crimes need to register as a sex offender

It's an unsurprising development in the face of increasing teen sexual activity. The thinking is that a 19-year-old sexting or having consensual sex with a 16-year-old should not ruin an young person's life with a years-long prison sentence and a life-time label as a sex offender.

Still, it's a somewhat disappointing move toward normalizing behavior that can be destructive. As Brenda Erdelyi, president of the Montana Sex Offender Treatment Association, said in the article,

...being attracted to a 14- or 15-year-old who has already gone through puberty doesn’t make young adults deviant. But brain development continues into the mid-twenties, and without fully developed prefrontal cortexes, young adults struggle more with problem-solving and impulse control. She suggested expanding the bill to cover 13- to 21-year-olds, as long as the activity is between people who are no more than five or six years apart.

But some legislators worried that expanding the age range would allow young adults to take advantage of children. “When you get to age 13, you’re bumping up on that boundary of being a real, actual child instead of an adolescent,” said Montana state Sen. Chas Vincent, a Republican.

The article provides balanced coverage of the debate.

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  • This is about as relevant as the debate there was over whether Illinois should repeal the part of the Model Penal Code on adultery--nobody is prosecuting it. Only difference is that under Lawrence v. Texas, teens are not consenting "adults."

    The "one party is older than the other" is also not a novel issue, as most laws make that distinction, such as whether one who commits statutory rape on a person under 12 years of age is over or under 18 years. Certainly the case in Florida.

    And I'm sure that in Chicago, the police are more concerned with some 15 year old shooting up a bus or park than having consensual sex with a 14 year old.

  • Dennis, I notice you removed my posting. Is there a reason?

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I didn't. I've looked in the "comments" section of the dashboard and it doesn't look like I received it. Try sending it again.

  • For purposes of context, I said that the Illinois law makes these Romeo and Juliet situations a misdemeanor in most cases where the victim is "at least 13 years of age but under 17 years of age and the person is less than 5 years older than the victim."
    But, the must still register as a sex offender.

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