Culture Wars/Current Controversies

YOU CAN TOUCH, BUT YOU CAN’T LOOK: EXAMINING THE INCONSISTENCIES IN OUR AGE OF CONSENT AND CHILD PORNOGRAPHY LAWS

This is an interesting article about a contemporary moral panic. Underage sex is one of America’s latest hysterias. Nowadays, we’ve got not only the Pizzagate/QAnon “pedophile under every bed” hysteria, but there is increasingly an effort to equate sexual relations between adults and postpubescent minors with pedophilia. An example is the hysterical reaction to teacher/student relations you find in the US media nowadays. Then there is the sex trafficking hysteria which is becoming the new “war on drugs” or “satanic panic.” What I find interesting is that the folks who buy into this stuff are not only traditional “moral conservative types” but also a lot of people who ought to know better like those with progressive, left-wing, and even libertarian inclinations.

Americans just seem to have an innate psychological need to have moral panics over something. I think that stems from America’s parallel heritage of being both a society founded in part by religious utopians and having been a predominantly middle-class society by historical standards. Moral panics tend to originate primarily from the middle-class (e.g. our “Covid Karens”). And it’s not just “sex phobia” that fuels American moral panics. Americans can have moral panics over miscegenation or obscene rap lyrics, and then a generation later, have a moral panic over systemic racism. They can have moral panics over homosexuality and then turn around with a generation’s lifetime and have moral panics over homophobia. Worst of all, America’s international power and cultural imperialism allow Americans to export their moral panics to other parts of the world. A lot of that has to do with how the modern “war on drugs” developed as David Musto documented years ago. American decline is not to be lamented.

University of Southern California Law Review

Thirtytwoyearold Eric Rinehart was a former police officer and member of the Indiana National Guard. He was going through his second divorce, he had custody of his sevenyearold son, and he had no criminal record. During this time, perhaps against his better judgment, he began two sexual relationships with young women, aged sixteen and seventeen. Although the young women were much younger in age, both of Rinehart’s sexual relationships were consensual and entirely legal. Under Indiana state
law, the legal age of consent for sexual intercourse is sixteen. During the course of his relationship with one of the young women, Rinehart lent her his digital camera after she suggested, based on her past experiences with other partners, that she use it to take provocative photographs of herself. When she returned the camera, Rinehart found
pictures of the young woman engaged in “sexually explicit conduct.” Following this event, Rinehart photographed the same young woman engaged in similar sexual activities. In addition, Rinehart created short videos of himself and [the second young woman] engaged in sexual intercourse. All the photos and videos were taken with the knowledge
and consent of his sexual partners. All of the images were uploaded onto Rinehart’s home computer, but none were distributed to a third party, nor was there evidence that Rinehart intended to do so.

After a grand jury hearing, Rinehart was charged with two counts of producing child pornography . . . and one count of possessing child pornography, to which he pled guilty. With the agreement of the prosecution and the defense, Rinehart was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison. In a written sentencing explanation, Judge David F.
Hamilton of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana explicitly expressed his discomfort with the harsh sentence he was
forced to impose and his hope that it would be overturned through an exercise of presidential executive clemency. Short of such an act, Rinehart’s projected release date is February 25, 2020. The circumstances surrounding Rinehart’s case are not unique to the legal system; similar scenarios have made their way into both state and
federal courtrooms across the country throughout the past decade. Further, similar inconsistencies in laws governing teenagers and their sexuality are not uncommon in our legal system. Adolescents have long been governed by statutes that dictate when, with whom, and under which rigid circumstances they are allowed to explore their own sexuality.

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