Child A is 13. Child B is 12. They engage in some sort of consensual sexual contact. Putting aside any discussion on the appropriateness, in a moral sense, of that behavior (because holy crap, they are both so young! I was truly terrified of penises @ that age and NEVER wanted to see one, ever), should one or both of them be considered sexual offenders? Victims of sexual abuse? Neither, since they are both around the same age and it was consensual? What if they were both exactly the same age?
Defendants who have a criminal sexual conduct charge who undergo what's called a psychosexual evaluation, meant to determine their risk to re-offend. In these evaluations, they discuss prior sexual events in the person's life, whether consensual or not. I have seen and heard of evaluations which state that the defendant has previous "victims," and the prior "offense" has been when the defendant was young (12-14) and the "victim" is right around the same age. The sexual contact was consensual, yet, the evaluator determines that the defendant sexually abused the other party involved. I'm not sure that I agree with that assessment.
I am obviously not a licensed doctor or therapist who does those type of evals for a living, so my opinion probably doesn't amount to a hill of beans. But, I recall that, several years ago, it wasn't an uncommon situation for parents to find young kids "playing doctor," which inevitably involved taking off clothes and comparing body parts. It wasn't considered a sexual offense; it wasn't appropriate but it wasn't a criminal action. It was curiosity.
And many teenagers are sexually active, generally with each other. The discussion about the morality or appropriateness of teenagers having sex is for a different time. Assuming that they are having sex, with each other, and it is consensual, should we characterize that as criminal conduct and/or sexual abuse? If they are the same age, how do we determine who the perpetrator is and who the victim is? Does it depend on whether one of them later goes on to be convicted of a sex offense? Does that conviction years later transform otherwise non-criminal conduct into criminal conduct? What if they both are convicted of a sex offense in the future?
I find it unsettling to label prior consensual sexual contact between two kids around the same age as criminal behavior or to name one of the two as a victim and the other as an offender. This is routinely done in these evals, without any real research into the facts of the prior event. It's based on the defendant reporting the age @ which the previous sexual event occurred, the other person's age, what contact occurred, and what led up to the contact. If the defendant describes it as consensual, or says that the other person initiated it, the evaluator commonly describes the defendant as "minimizing his/her role" or as "blaming the victim." But, isn't it entirely possible that two 13 year old kids may both be interested in being sexually intimate with each other? Isn't that the common knowledge among adults? Teenagers are walking hormones, who suddenly realize they want to touch other teenagers and have other teenagers touch them. That's why parents are not generally going to let their teenager go stay in a hotel room with their boyfriend/girlfriend. So, why is it so unbelievable that the defendant could have had a consensual sexual encounter as a teenager with another teenager? Why is it so unlikely that the other teenager may have wanted to be sexually active with the defendant or that the other teenager may have initiated the encounter?
Keep in mind, we are not dealing with an 18 year old and a 13 year old, where there is clearly a vast difference in maturity. We are dealing with a 12 or 13 year old and another 12 or 13 year old (or other ages where the two kids are no more than 1 year apart). Why is this considered sexually deviant conduct on the part of the defendant? Is it really that deviant as compared to other teenagers?
It seems that in these evaluations, if a defendant is convicted of any sexual offense, then any past or future sexual experience is automatically considered deviant and criminal, even if it wouldn't otherwise be for anyone else. Masturbate while viewing heterosexual, run-of-the-mill pornography? Totally normal if you aren't a defendant. If you are a defendant, deviant behavior that compounds your sexual predator behavior. Engage in consensual sexual conduct with another teenager the same age as you? Not criminal or deviant so long as you aren't a defendant. If you are, that prior sexual experience shows you have a "history" of sexually abusing others and since you said it was consensual, you are blaming the victim and aren't taking responsibility. If you commit one sexual offense, no matter how serious, suddenly you are considered incapable of having normal sexual experiences and/or desires, whether in the past or in the future.
I realize that sex offenders aren't a popular group. But, are these evaluations really helping identify truly predatory behavior if everything is considered predatory just because the person has been convicted of a sex crime? Even behavior that is normal/non-predatory for others? How do we determine which one of those consenting 12 year olds is the victim or the perpetrator? Is it fair to characterize this as a "history of sexual offenses," if it would not be a history for people who aren't defendants?
It's definitely an interesting question and an interesting can of worms.