Statutory Rape – Everyone Loses

Statutory rape laws are supposed to protect underage girls from predatory men. Ironically, statutory rape puts all the focus on the men. If society punishes men for engaging in sex with minors, then there won’t be underage pregnancies. From the state’s point of view, it makes complete sense. If only it were that simple.

statutory rapeStatistics appear to bolster the idea that statutory rape discourages adolescent pregnancy. In 2012, the teen birth rate in the United States was 29% of all births in the country. This is a drop from the 1990s, when the teen birth rate was 60% of all births. But what about the 29% of single mothers—girls under the age of 18—who do get pregnant? Abortion is permitted in some states, but abortion is controversial at best.

If a teenage girl does give birth, society wants to punish the father. But here’s the catch 22. If we send the father to jail for statutory rape, then he won’t be able to make money to pay for child support. While trying to protect teenage girls in general, statutory rape laws harm young mothers and their infants.

It is really difficult for a man to make money for his child if he is in jail for creating that child. Even when the father gets out of jail, he might be considered a sex offender. Registered sex offenders aren’t popular with employers, landlords, or the public in general.

This means that the adolescent mother is stuck raising her son or daughter on her own. In the modern United States, a single income household can’t support a child—especially if the single income had to drop out of high school to have the child. Chances are the child will grow up to be part of the same cycle that their parents found themselves in.

Is There An Alternative?

First, statutory rape laws aren’t going anywhere. Statistics support the idea that they keep teenage pregnancy down. Even without statistical support, too many voters would be worried about child molesters for statutory rape laws to be abandoned.

The question is whether men convicted of statutory rape should be able to share custody of their children. The way I phrased that question probably lends itself to a certain answer (“Yes they should!”). However, the truth of the matter is that this type of case is best handled on a case by case basis. Obviously, child molesters who are willing to lure young girls to bed might do the same to their daughters. On the other hand, if the father is a twenty-something year old who is just in over his head, society might want to set aside its own judgments for the best interests of the child.

Statutory rape often looks like it’s designed to make society feel better about the sexual nature of adolescence, even though that comfort comes at the expense of infants who need a mother and a father. The father might be naive, but a naïve father is better than no father.

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