Government has duty to protect the vulnerable

In 2008, Parliament passed legislation to increase Canada's age of consent law (the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity) from 14 years old to 16. The move was based on a felt need to protect younger teens (14 and 15-year-olds) from sexual exploitation and prevent them from making poor sexual decisions.

Predictably, the legislation generated much debate between those who believe that young teens should not be “judged" when they make sexual choices and others who believe teens are both vulnerable and ill-equipped to make choices about having sex.

The issue of teen sex is a vexing one. As a parent, it's hard to distance myself from what is an emotional issue. Educators and medical professionals have a very tough job in helping teens (and their parents) negotiate the topsy-turvy world of teen sexuality. Police officers are understandably concerned about the predators lurking out there in the cyber world, ready to prey on vulnerable young people.

Whether or not the age of consent law keeps teens from having sex is debateable. But the legal barrier is an obvious tool for society to use when going after those adults who prey on vulnerable young people for their own sexual gratification.

What we don't need is this debate is academic elites pushing agendas and muddying the water when it comes to protecting young people from sexual predators.

Case in point is a study by Elizabeth Saewyc, professor of nursing and adolescent medicine at the University of British Columbia, which got a lot of media attention recently because it concluded that raising the age of consent isn't really helping adolescents younger than 13 years old. Saewyc's study (based on data collected from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey) found that only three per cent of 14 and 15-year-olds have sex with adults in contrast to 30 per cent of children who first had sex at age 12 or younger with someone who was 20 years old or older. In her mind, “The change in law isn't going to change anything for them."

The good professor may be right as far as statistics is concerned, but she is dead wrong when it comes to what society should accept when it comes to adults having sex with teens. The implication in the B.C. study is that we should not be worried about 14 and 15-year-olds having sex with adults, but concentrating on keeping perverts away from our 12-year-olds. To that, I say “poppycock."

The change in the law of consent wasn't a blatant attempt to insert “morality" in regulating the sexual activity of 14 and 15-year-olds. It was about saying that sexual predators who like children should be hunted down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And anyone who thinks a 14 or 15-year-old is “all grown up" and should be allowed to have sex with a 20-year-old boy/girlfriend is suffering from a mental delusion.

Fundamentally, Saewyc and her fellow academic travellers would have us believe that a young teen should be encouraged to practice “safe sex" with whomever they choose. I say a 14-year-old is so confused about who and what they are and what they believe they can't make appropriate choices. And the purpose of the age of consent is to express the societal view about sex between adults and children.
So, the question is not whether the current age of consent “changes" anything for 12-year-olds, but whether we are going to accept that 14 and 15-year-olds are being empowered to have sex with anyone they choose, including only-too-willing adults.

Those who opposed the change to the age of consent aren't evil people who want to encourage sexual activity for young teens. Many of the medical, educational, and social workers who opposed the law change did so because they believe that we should accept that young people will have sex, we should educate them about “safe" sex, and provide them with protection. Fair enough.

Maybe governments shouldn't interfere in the nation's bedrooms. But surely governments have a duty to protect the vulnerable in society–the elderly, the sick, the poor and the young. As much as Saewyc and her cohorts want us to believe that a young teen can make wise choices and protect themselves from the predators lurking out there, anyone who has had to live through teen adolescence knows full well that young teens are as vulnerable as they come–especially in a world where free and easy sex with no consequences is the ideal of Hollywood and classroom alike.

Rather than throw our hands up and say, “kids will be kids," we'd do better by teens to help them work through their emotional rollercoaster years, make good choices that won't ruin their futures and treat adult predators like the monsters they are.

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