A few weeks ago, California state legislature passed the legislation SB-145, which immediately caused furore across the United States.
The legislation provides judges with discretionary flexibility in punishing individuals who have “consensual” anal or oral sex with a minor. The bill states that the judge can have discretion to reduce the penalties on the crime if the minor engaged in the sex act with is at least 14, and the adult’s involved is less than 10 years older than the minor. This flexibility in sentencing includes such options as to not deem the crime a felony or not requiring that the adult register as a sex offender.
Supporters of the law highlight that this bill is based on creating parity for the LGBTQ community as a similar exception already exists for vaginal intercourse between minors over the age of 14 and adults within 10 years of their age. I think it is fair to say that most rational individuals will agree that any changes to reduce structural inequity is good. My questions however is why has policy making in this country become a race to the bottom? Public policy should elevate society and raise the bar of acceptable behavior, not create parity at the cost of the greater good. In other words, why does California need a 10 year range for these laws relating to any kind of sexual activity with a minor?
That means a 24 year old adult can have “consensual sex” with a 14 year old. In what context is that ok? In what society is it ok for a 27 year old to “date” a 17 year old?
Further common sense would dictate that in order to create more structural transparency and equality in the legal system, policy makers should create more clear and uniform punishments. By giving authority to judges to augment punishments at their discretion aren’t you creating a system that can be abused? Who is going to audit decisions to ensure judges are enforcing these regulations in an unbiased manner? How much morello the state’s resources will this take?
California is home to Hollywood and other entertainment industries that attract doe eyed minors from all over the world. Is it really a good idea to increase leniency for child sex offenders in that, of all states?
If the goal is to create a legislation that decriminalizes relationships between a high school junior who is 16 and their 19 year old college going boyfriend, surely a Romeo and Juliet exception for consenting young adults within 2-3 years of each other makes more sense. Many states in the US already have such laws none of which exceed a 5 year age range. (Most states are between 2-4 years, and Maine is the only state with a 5 year age exception)
Lets agree on the basics:
- These laws are created to protect minors from becoming prey of adults irrespective of sexual orientation.
- There is a very small and specific overlap where consenting relationships between minors can cross into violating these rules. E.G the high school senior and the freshman, again irrespective of sexual orientation.
SB-145 doesn’t serve to enhance either of these two basic principals.
In fact, by increasing the amount of acts that qualify for exception all this law serves to do is put more children at risk. It is ill conceived at best and diabolical at worst.
Either way, Governor Newsom would be well served to push the bill back to the state legislature in the hopes of creating proper structural reform. Parity is not a partisan issue. Neither is protecting children.