Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Easing the Youth's Burden of Proof

I'm going to start including a "trigger" warning for stories that I feel will really hit an uncomfortable or contentious note for people, since there are some topics that can really inflame people (sexual assault, sad stories involving kids, graphic murders, etc.) and it's worse when you aren't expecting it. Needless to say, this is one.
The leading line in the Canadian Press for a story you can read here about the age-of-consent laws runs thus:
"An increase in Canada's age of consent law from 14 to 16 was supposed to protect teens from sexual exploitation, but a new study suggests the legislation may not be helping kids who are most at risk."

To which the majority of sane Canadians reply: "No? Really?!" The last thing kids are thinking about when they're having sex is laws. Pounding hormones are a far cry from the heavy beating of judge's gavel. Of course, that's not really the cases they're talking about. They are talking about cases where children 13 years old and younger (brace yourself) are having sex  with adults twenty years old and more, which apparently happens more frequently than kids 14 to 15 years old. The statement that infuriates me the most in the article is that the law was designed to protect younger kids from making poor decisions regarding their sexual activities. As if these children are making the choice- intelligently, healthily- to become involved with someone that much older.

There is something desperately wrong with our society when kids cannot have a relationship without sex in it, worse when they think they can have a relationship with someone that much older while they are still that young, evolving and growing. I am sure many young people would insist that they are mature enough at that age to form intelligent decisions and choose their own partners, but it leaves the question that if they are that "right" together, why are they not "right" when they've had time to grow and solidify their personality without someone warping it? The likelihood that someone that much older is doing it because they feel genuine love and concern for the child, is almost non-existent. The majority of times it is about sexual exploitation.

Apparently most sexual education classes don't cover the issue of sexual exploitation, according to the article, which should be a crime. Especially when we consider the accessibility of the Internet and the increasing sexualization of younger and younger kids (Is Beiber seriously 15? Miley Cyrus 16? Taylor Lautner is 17? Take these babies off the catwalk and put them back into their homes.) we need to be realistic and stop hiding our faces when it comes to sexual predators. Even the recent acceptance of "Twi-moms" screaming for Taylor Lautner, who is underage, reflects a double standard that I think may come to have grave consequences in later years. Some people underestimate how much young boys need to be protected but in this increasingly equalized world, we need to make adjustments now. Failing to teach our children how to recognize a predator and how to deal with them is like not teaching people self-defense because we don't want them to be attacked. If they don't have to use it (Thank God) then they are in a position to offer assistance to any friends that might be unfortunate enough to fall into a bad situation, or at the very least recognize when a young kid thinks they are "in love" with someone identifiable as a predator.
The point I'm not really getting to is about a case recently posted in the news about a confirmed sexual predator who was charged not guilty with the sexual assault of an eleven year old girl. True, he says she was in his home for no reason and he was convicted of sexually assaulting another girl around the same time, but he didn't touch her, he insists. The case was dismissed because there were "inconsistencies" in the story told by the eleven year old. The eleven year old that had allegedly gone through a traumatic experience over two years ago. Funny that she didn't remember everything perfectly.  Needless to say, this issue is disgusting. I don't even believe children under the age of 15 should be allowed to give testimony in court cases, let alone as the pivotal witness in their own sexual assault case, but that's a result of my psychology background and is neither here nor there. The change I am proposing is that we should change sexual assault cases involving minors to reflect a more civil infraction guideline. You see, in Canada's criminal court, one must be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt. But in a civil case, you must only prove that it is more likely the case than not the case. I feel that if we changed assault cases involving minors to reflect this sort of dynamic, we would see less cases after a period of adjustment.

It would require a lot of changes, I'm not even sure we could adapt to make the changes, but it would require some things that I largely consider common-sense and some people who have had unfortunate experiences with untrustworthy people have already adapted. Don't put yourself in a compromising position. For example, don't have an eleven year old over at your house, unsupervised, when you are assaulting other young girls in your spare time! That wasn't so hard, really. In the case of babysitters, I feel they should have to go through the same screening that child care workers do; a minimal police background check. This is going to clog up the pipes for a while and make babysitters an even more scarce resource but perhaps after you trust the person, you can give them a pass of your own.

This issue is reflected most clearly in a case occurring in my own town of Morinville that almost ruined a young teacher's career, not to mention his life. A student claimed he had touched her inappropriately but the judge ruled that her story was so confused as to be untrustworthy, and she is widely considered to have lied. This increased emphasis on believing the alleged victim  is ripe for exploitation by malicious youths with an axe to grind but I have already made the claim that people who falsely claim assault (and it can be proven they did so with malice aforethought) should be given the sentence that would have been given their victim had they succeeded.

All this really requires is that people take more care, and evaluate the positions they put themselves in so when criminal investigations arise, there are less ambiguities. It is sad that this won't eliminate the most common form of child sexual assault (that is, by a family member), but one step at a time.

No comments: