During a conference, Harvard educated Dr. David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, indicated that adults engaged in sexual crimes with minors should not be held fully accountable as children often “initiate” the activity.
Finkelhor made the remarks during a March 23 Haruv USA presentation titled “Sex Crimes Against Juveniles Involving Elements of Voluntary Participation” about sexual activity involving adults and children.
Dr. Finkelhor, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, was one of several who shared in the presentation. He reasoned that before adults are sentenced for a sex crime, prosecutors and judges should consider how minors often initiate the activity:
If young people are initiating sexual activities with adults, or enthusiastically involved, we can’t be effective in working with them if we assume that all such relationships start with a predatory or criminally inclined adult. As we’ve seen in the discussion, young people bridle at being forced into this box of being seen as being the victim of a predator.
During the presentation, Finkelhof implied that laws should be changed as currently, “even the most voluntary of these relationships are considered sex crimes.”
The Haruv speaking circuit said that Dr. Finkelhof was asked to share his perspective “because of his research into identifying, preventing, and treating the problems of child sexual abuse, victimization, maltreatment, and family violence.”
For some, Finkelhor unnecessarily clouds what seems to be a clear issue. Speaking of how laws should be changed to allow for more latitude or acceptance of adult sexual activity with a minor, Finkelhor said:
In some states, in some jurisdictions, there are restrictions for 16 and 17-year-olds, so their prohibitions are that it’s illegal for a 16 or 17-year-old to have a relationship, say with an adult who is more than five years older than they are. And one of the problems in this area is nobody knows exactly where the law should create these distinctions.
According to the Post Millennial, Finkelhor concluded that there should be “elements of voluntary participation in statutory sex crimes, wherein juveniles engage in sex with adults who are at least five years older than they are.”
Finkelhor did, however, differentiate between statutory sex crimes, which can be assessed simply by the ages of those involved, and statutory rape, where coercion is involved:
If I were going to describe a statutory victim, I would say that it was a relationship between a juvenile and adult, it was illegal under the age of consent statutes. And that does not involve the degree of coercion or manipulation sufficient to qualify it under criminal statutes as a forcible crime.
So it would be something that is classified as a statutory sex crime, but that also does not have the elements that would allow it to be prosecuted as a more forcible kind of sexual crime. Now, one of the big problems in this area is that I don’t think people have talked enough and thought through why it is that we have these laws and these restrictions.
Libs of Tik Tok tweeted a recap of the event:
Finkelhor argues that laws need to be updated and made more explicit so “both minors and adults can know exactly why they are in place, and must be obeyed.”
Though some of Finkelhor’s views are not clear, he states his goal is to “steer both children and adults away from engaging in these kinds of relationships.”
Finkelhor elaborated on his views:
For young people, it seems to me, they need to have more of a perspective on what the problems are with relationships with older partners, why they don’t work out, why we’re not just saying, you know, “you’re too young to do this, you can’t think responsibly about these kinds of relationships if we’re taking it out of your hand.”
“I think they need to understand from their point of view, why these relationships don’t work out, why the age difference turns out to be a problem, why they need to have somebody … going through the experiences of life that they’re going through.”
He continued to expand on this idea:
They also may need to know, not that they’re being restricted from having a relationship that they want to have, but also that there are dangers that they are creating for this person who they say that they want to have as a lover or friend. How would you feel if this person went to jail as a result of the relationship that you’re carrying on with this person?
And in some sense that keeps from infantilizing them and treats them as though they’re the responsible person. You have power in this situation, in fact, potentially very damaging dangerous power. So you need to be careful with it.
They also need information about how to decide on who’s an appropriate romantic partner that there are people who may be very nice to them very considerate of them, but who really are primarily interested in having sex with them and don’t really have a long term commitment to them.
What are the signs of a healthy relationship? Someone you can you actually can trust? Is this really something that is a healthy relationship? And what are some signals that you’re being exploited, if somebody is asking you to do things that you’re a little bit uncomfortable with, or rushing things, or asking you to hide what you’re doing, these are signals that you are being exploited.
They also need to have specific skills, and how to extricate themselves. Because sometimes, young people get involved in these relationships, and don’t know how to break them off. Especially when the older partner is doing a lot of things to ingratiate themselves and make them feel indebted. And so they need to really think through how they could say ‘no,’ how they could break it off, what the strategies might be, that would be effective in this.
We also need to educate the friend group, and the rest of the bystander environment. Because frequently, young people talk about these relationships with their friends, and the friends don’t feel authorized or empowered enough, or there’ll be a violation of their friendship, to make judgments about what their friend is doing.
And to give them some reasons why they might want to discourage their friend from engaging in this kind of activity and really being a bit tough on their friends.
In addition to updating laws, Finkelhor believes that creating much more “comprehensive sex education” for school children is the answer.
“I think a big problem is that we do it trying to do a lot of prevention without actually doing it as part of comprehensive sex education, which is what we need,” Finkelhor said.
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