How Old is Your Daughter? How Old Does Society Treat Her?
By: Angie Woodward
To say that society has a complicated way of treating young girls would be a massive understatement. Try telling that to the 16 year old girl who recently committed suicide, probably in large part due to the fact that she was raped by a teacher when she was 14 years old. It is a sad story, made worse by the fact that this kind of conduct between teacher and student is disturbingly common. What makes this story extraordinary is that the judge presiding over the rape case reduced the sentence of the rapist from 15 years to 30 days, proclaiming that the girl was ‘older than her chronological age.’
The sentence is a matter of huge public debate, with activists trying to see the judge disbarred.
There are legal considerations both horrific and practical, but for now, the judge’s language is what we’re most concerned about.
‘Older than her chronological age.’ What does it mean?
On one hand, we know what he meant. It appears the sex was at least nominally consensual. But is a 14 year old girl emotionally equipped to make a decision about whether to have sex with a teacher? Perhaps it seems complicated to you. If it is some random girl you’ve never met before, maybe it is difficult. But what if it was your daughter? Then how difficult is it? That’s probably a lot less complicated, right?
So how did we arrive at a place where a judge, an interpreter of the law, should be able to pronounce whether someone is ‘older’ than their chronological age? That seems to be a very philosophical distinction. And it gets to the heart of how our society treats young women.
Young women are expected to be girly, cute, innocent, sexy, savvy, wise, mature, virginal, practical and many more traits, depending upon who you ask, and often all at the same time?
The examples that young women have of themselves in the media are a moving target. One minute Miley Cyrus is Hanna Montana, the next she’s a low rent Atlantic City street corner Madonna knockoff. Many young starlets are pressured into sexualizing their image as they get older if they want to maintain their profile. That’s because the only use that the media can often find for girls and women is either sexual or maternal.
Our impression of a young girl’s age is basically an amalgam of a girl’s chronological age, our perceptions of her behavior and the media-informed impressions we have of what her age “means”.
A 14 year old girl who is flirtatious with her teacher is something that is enormously common in classrooms across the world. Our culture is commoditizing sex and selling it back to young girls, reinforcing their feeling that in order to be validated/accepted/appreciated/desirable they must behave in a ‘sexy’ way. Suddenly flirtatious, innocent interactions from a girl, as innocent as basically practicing at flirting, can now be interpreted as a come on.
My take is that if that girl was fully cognizant of the fact that her behavior might lead to a sexual situation with her teacher, the onus is still on the adult in the situation to say ‘this is inappropriate’ and put a stop to the situation. No reasonable, grown man has sex with a 14 year old and doesn’t think immediately before it happens, while it is happening, and after it has happened, ‘oh no, I have made a terrible mistake.’
Not All Definitions Are Flexible
What is the point of an age of consent law if we arbitrarily decide that consent can be granted at a younger age?
It happens because we have lost sight of what chronological age means. Chronological age is never a 100% accurate indicator of a person’s maturity, but it is a close approximation meant to preserve the safety of young people from predators and to help them avoid outcomes that they are likely unfit to weigh the consequences of.
Say a girl is 14. Depending upon who you ask, she looks anywhere from 16 to 20 years old. When she is with one group of friends, she acts just like she did when she was 12 years old. When she is with adults, she tries to act like one of them, but her real age shines through. But when she is around seniors in high school, or even college kids, she can fit in reasonably well if she stays quiet. Now, imagine she dresses like Miley Cyrus, or Selena Gomez or a ‘sexy’ young girl like that.
What is her age? What age would society give her? What age would the judge at the beginning of this article say she was?
It’s not a trick question. She’s a 14-year-old girl.
A Young Girl Most Likely Needs Protecting and Adults Should Know Better
Almost every problem she encounters, she is encountering for the very first time. Whenever an adult takes advantage of that fact, that person is a predator.
We have to help young girls find healthy role models. We have to guide them to make good decisions. When they need our help, we have to offer it to them.
If you know a young girl who is being treated in a predatory way by the people she knows, and you think that young girl might need help, Trinity Teen Solutions may be able to provide help. Call 307-202-8400 to learn more.