Statutory Rape Laws Must Be Enforced

By Beichman, Arnold | Insight on the News, May 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

Statutory Rape Laws Must Be Enforced


Beichman, Arnold, Insight on the News


One of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' wisest maxims is that it's sometimes more important to emphasize the obvious than to elucidate the obscure.

The obvious is the fact that men who have sexual relations with girls below the legal age of consent are committing the crime of statutory rape, a crime for which they can go to jail. Rarely is there such a prosecution. Perhaps it is regarded as politically incorrect to try the male responsible for adolescent pregnancy for what is defined as a crime in state penal codes.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson of California has undertaken to emphasize the obvious. Last year he proposed a teenage pregnancy-prevention program with a $12 million price tag. This year he has proposed to increase the 1996-1997 cost to $16 million. What is unusual about the program is that it is going to deal with a legal violation long ignored by state and local governments.

One-fifth of the governor's 1995-1996 $12 million appropriation -- $2.4 million -- was budgeted for the prosecution of men who engage in sex with girls under 18, the California age of consent. For the coming fiscal year, Wilson has increased the prosecution fund by $6 million for a total of $8.4 million. The objective is to strengthen enforcement of statutory-rape laws throughout the state. Every state has a statutory-rape law that prohibits adult males from having sexual intercourse with girls under the age of consent. States have different age limits ranging from 16 to 18.

The Wilson policy represents a major change in the approach to teenage pregnancy. Instead of pressuring teenage mothers with threats of welfare-benefit cutbacks or distributing condoms in the classroom or telling pubescent and adolescent girls to "just say no," the governor proposes to go after the adult fathers--with the threat of prosecution and jail sentences for statutory rape. The assumption here is that a 13- or 14-year-old girl no more can give meaningful consent to sexual activity than she could consent to work nights as a stripper.

California is facing a dramatic statewide increase in out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Whereas in the sixties in California 10 percent of births were to unmarried women, today births to unmarried women of all ages account for more than 30 percent of all live births. In 1994, nearly one-fourth of all births to unmarried women in California were to teens.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the majority of births nationally to adolescent women (70 percent in 1992) occur out of wedlock. …

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