Decriminalise consensual teen sex…..

I was listening to a discussion on Cape Talk last week by John Maytham and there was a discussion about the decriminalisation of consensual teen sex.

In short (and I am cutting and pasting from the Cape Talk site here) Laws that make consensual sex between teenagers a crime are unconstitutional, the Teddy Bear Clinic, and Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan) said earlier this week, when they launched a court application to challenge sections of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act.

The case follows the highly publicised Jules High School case, where two boys, aged 16 and 14, had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

The 16-year-old was charged with statutory rape and the others with “consensual sexual penetration” under the act.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to prosecute the teenagers, including the girl, provoked criticism. The charges have since been dropped.  Guest: Samantha Waterhouse – Organisation: Community Law Centre, UWC – Position: Parliamentary Programme Co-ordinator

I must confess that when I first heard about the decriminalization of this law, I got my panties in a bit of a knot.

The do-gooder in me jumped up, found a soap box, put on a shirt that buttons up to my neck and has sleeves that go all the way down to my wrist.

Once on said soap box I started to make speeches about how if society decriminalizes sex between consenting under 16 year olds.  The world will just be rampant with sex, and people will go around having sex younger and younger and blah-blah-blah.

There will be total anarchy and people might start listening to Jason Donovan again.  Basically all hell would break loose.

I did have this discussion in my head, as well as putting on the long sleeve shirt.

But then I was driving and listening to a portion of the show – between fetching kids, getting milk and all the stuff that is fun in the school run.

I did miss parts of the show, but caught the gist of it between traffic, and kids screaming at each other and me saying “shut up, let me listen to this damn show” in my best motherly voice.

I must confess that there were some points that made me stop and go “hmmm you could be right” and it sort of challenged my point of view.

One of them was:  if kids are going to have consensual sex and they are under 16, it should not be a legal issue, it should be a parental issue (Ah-hah moment for me there).

Another was (according to the guest Samantha Waterhouse) that kids who decide not to have sex, other than for the fact that they are under 16, has got nothing to do with the fact that there is a law telling them not to.

But all to do with influences that come from others i.e. often good influences that explain that sex has it’s place, and is part of a relationship, and that the burdens of sex are often better to deal with when you are older and can handle all the ramifications that come with it.

A caller/sms commented that retail stores should be prohibited from selling “not age appropriate clothing” (translated as dress my 12 year old like a hooker, and not a well paid hooker, more of a lady of the night who might only get one paying customer on Somerset Road) clothes to an under 16 year old.

Obviously as this came in as an sms made me realize that the parent in question had to actually have sufficient brain cells to either fill in a cell phone contract or have the sense to go to a retail store and purchase air time.

She had the sense to make that retail decision, but somehow lost her sense when she gave her daughter R250.00 and let her go out to a mall-near-you and purchase a slutty outfit or two.

But because she (the parent) was unable to control/set rules/have any parameters regarding what is appropriate dress for your child she (the parent) feels that retail stores need to put the rules in place.

That did make me wonder: “What the hell is going on here?”

When exactly did we decide to hand over the charge of our children to Pick n Pay/Woolworths/Naartjie and allow them to give, or take permission away from what our children regarding what they wear.

I was pretty sure that responsibility should lie with the parent.

Later in conversation Samantha (who was being interviewed by John Maytham) said – and I am totally paraphrasing here – that the law should be changed, because for a child/person who is under 16 to consent to sex, is not a legal issue.

It is a parental or a societal issue, and should be dealt with as such.

I did not have sex when I was 16, or under 16.

I must also confess that I did not realize there was a law governing such issues. I am not sure that would have acted as a deterrent, or a motivator – I think it would have been a non-issue.

At the time, I was dealing with too many other social issues to even consider that sex was a great idea.

I also had a huge fear that I would repeat the mistakes of “past generations” and girls around me, and be pregnant at 16 or 17 and find myself married to someone who I did not love, who could not support me, and face living in some seedy suburb with a child on each breast and another on it’s way.  All while my (imaginary) husband drank beer out of a can, and wore one of those not-quite-white vests around the house.

But the issue I am trying to raise, is though I totally disagreed with the amending/scrapping of the law, once I had heard the opinion of loosely sane people, I realized that a part of me agreed with the law.

Maybe not totally (as the idea of my children ever having sex, freaks me O U T!).

I personally would prefer kids not to be sexually active while in school – and this is assuming they remain in school.

I  feel a person under 18, with so many other social/peer pressures is just not ready for sex and the emotional consequences.

I think without a doubt their bodies are ready for sex, but emotionally and mentally, not so much.

However if my son (for instance) had sex with his girlfriend (imaginary girl friend as he assures me almost daily that he will never have a girlfriend), who let’s say was 15, 10 months, and he was 15 and 11 months – and it was consensual for both of them, I really would not like to be standing at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court having a discussion about this with an attorney and a judge as to why my child was having sex.

Sure I might handle it by drinking copious amounts of wine and puking into the toilet bowl as I screamed at Kennith that “It is all your fault!”

If that should occur – the sex and under 16 kids,  not the wine and puking, which sounds like a normal Saturday night out – then I would like to use that as a “wake up sign” to reflect on how I was raising my son, and how this situation became “alright, for him to make this decision.”

I am also not naive and think that at 16 we can control what our kids do and watch them every second of the day.

We can try to ensure that they know what they should or should not do, and then ensure that there are rules that are followed i.e. no girls sleeping over in your room for instance, and then sort of hope from there on in, that kids “do the right thing” – what ever each family’s interpretation of that is.

I am not even going to use the example of my daughter being 15, 10 months, and her boyfriend being 15 and 11 months – as Kennith would go and shoot him (literally, not figuratively) and then we would be having an entirely different conversation at Wynberg Magistrate’s Court.

Parenting needs to be a hands-on affair, we need to be aware what our kids watch, who they speak to, how they speak, and constantly keep dialogue channels open so they (hopefully) they feel they can talk to you about the little stuff and the big stuff.

My kids are small and this a rather premature thing to be worried about (in my world) – but I speak to the kids about sex so that it sounds about as thrilling as a cheese and paprika sandwich, and becomes such a ho-hum subject that it is the equivalent to “pass the margarine” in their world.

I want it to be something they know about.

Something they do not feel embarrassed about, and more importantly when Rugby Captain Brad wants to show Georgia what sex is in the backseat of the car, she can answer matter of factly that she is all up to scratch on that subject – and mom said never to have sex in the back seat of a car, any car!!

Towards the end of the conversation on Cape Talk I decided to have a pop quiz and asked if Connor knew what sex was – he said yes without even flinching.

I asked Georgia and she also said yes.

I was suspicious that she was just mimicking Connor so I asked her how babies were made, she answered (without skipping a beat) that “babies are made out of bones with skin on them” – which is true.

Based on what clearly was the rather hazy picture Georgia had formed, I asked Connor if he could tell me what sex was.

So he said: “When a girl lies on top of a boy, and the boy puts his winkie in the girl’s winkie.”

When all is said and done, that really is what it is.

I would like the government and legal fraternity to make recommendations and set out guidelines, but at the end of it all, I would like us as parents to take responsibility for what our children do.