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The Number 18

Posted by A birch tree on April 11, 2008

In a recent discussion on the dubious merits of legalizing prostitution in America, the same old canard kept coming up, that being the idea that legalization will somehow magically ensure that all the victims participants are willing, of age, well compensated, well treated, sexually empowered and if not deliriously happy, at least no more exploited than a librarian or janitor. The hyptohesis (oft debunked) is that all or most of the abuses and horrors are a direct result of the profession’s underground status imparting an attitude of “this is already illegal, so I may as well go ahead and rape her, punch her in the face, and make her have sex with a donkey, too”, rather than to the fact that the entire career field is based on women (humans, for anyone who might have been confused about their status) becoming market products, and therefore objects to buy and sell, that make money for men.

Even if I give creedence to that load of codswallop, I can’t get over the fact that the argument only ever seems to apply to prostitution. Obviously, ending Prohibition did not end alcoholism, DUI, domestic violence, date rape, or any of the other downsides to allowing a predatory overclass to imbibe inhibition-lowering chemicals to their black little hearts’ content. It doesn’t appear that legalizing pornography has removed the dark side of coercion, rape, violence, and human commodification. Legalizing speeding in Montana didn’t eliminate deaths from reckless driving. Legalizing sexually oriented businesses in South Australia didn’t reduce sexually oriented crimes:

“For example, in two Australian states between 1964 and 1977, when South Australia liberalized its laws on pornography and Queensland maintained its conservative policy . . . over the 13-year period, the number of rapes in Queensland remained at the same low level while South Australia’s showed a six-fold increase.” – Court, John. Criminal Neglect: Why Sex Offenders Go Free. Toronto: Doubleday, p.141

In fact, lots of things that are now illegal were at one time legal and had to be outlawed precisely because of the abuses inherent in them! Nobody in their right mind suggests that legalizing the hunting of elephants for ivory will help ensure the survival of elephants by reducing poaching, and nobody suggests that making it legal (again) to beat your wife will help curb the nation’s domestic violence problem and eliminate marital rape. Did making child labor illegal in the USA create a black market of dangerous pre-pubescent employment scams in back alleys? No, that was happening when it was legal! Hell, nobody sane even claims that legalizing drugs will drop addiction rates or addiction-based crimes!

Trying to apply this pornsick brand of illogic to any other crime or illegal practice would be patently absurd. Make it legal for big industries to dump pollutants into the waterways, because by keeping it illegal we’re simply encouraging the practice to go on unchecked in an underground, unregulated fashion! Legalize dumping to protect the environment! Legalize cockfighting to protect roosters! Legalize and regulate theft to protect property! Legalize child porn to protect children! Because right now, we’ve just pushed these practices underground and we get the worst of the worst, because we can’t regulate or monitor them! If we made them legal and brought them out into the light of day, all of the downsides to these activities would vanish in a puff of magical pink smoke!

Child porn is a great example, by the way. The idea that prostitutes are only abused because prostitution is already illegal should theoretically apply in exactly the same way to child porn; we’re talking the same kinds of abuses in the same industry, but apparently the reasons kids get raped and abused must be entirely different from the reasons adult women get raped and abused, because somehow, the same logic never seems to apply. Keeping child porn illegal does not, in fact, create the abuses in child porn; abuse is inherent in child porn. But for some strange reason, what is abuse of a minor at 2359 becomes empowerment of an adult at 0000 on theit 18th birthday.

PPFs, at this point, always fall back on “Well, kids are kids and can’t consent, so it’s bad.” This can only mean one of two things:

  • The issue is legal consent, and whatever is legal is moral and safe. Therefore, countries in which it is legal for 15 year olds to be prostitutes cannot be condemned, because the girls are considered consenting adults and the legalization of their status ensures they will not be abused, just like it would for 18 year old girls in America. Everything between consenting adults is ok, because they are legally considered to be consenting adults.
  • There is something amazingly spiritually magical about the number 18, such that all a woman’s mental and emotional faculties are delivered to her via some form of maturational Fed Ex Overnight, and from that moment foward is a fully capabale adult. Any country with an age of legal consent below 18 is abusive, and any country with an age of legal consent above 18 is prudish. The number must be 18, because that’s America’s number.

Nobody tries to take this tack with smoking; we know it’s just as likely to fuck up your lungs at 22 as it was at 15. Nobody says that legalized smoking is safe for 18 year olds but dangerous, abusive, and harmful for 17 year olds. That’d just be stupid. It’s dangerous no matter how old you are. We just pulled an arbitrary number our of our asses and said “Fine, when you hit that number, go fuck yourself up, because you’re not our responsibility anymore.”

But the pro-prostitution advocates aren’t saying that. They aren’t saying “Fine, kid, when you hit 18, go get yourself fucked up by entering a dangerous and exploitative profession, because you’re not our responsibility anymore.” They’re actually saying the sex industry becomes magically safe once a woman celebrates her 18th birthday.

At no point does anyone stop to think “Hey… if this is harmful and inherently abusive to minors to the point that we won’t even allow them to see it, maybe it’s just as harmful and inherently abusive to legal adults, too? Especially when an abused minor and consenting adult can be separated by a completely insignificant amount of time?”

No, of course not. Instead, we pulled an arbitrary number out of our asses, and set it on a pedestal as the age at which all decisions are now considered moral, well-thought-out, and proper. The idea that an act or profession is exploitative and abusive to a 17 year old but the same acts are perfectly safe for an 18 year old is never closely examined, and is not allevated by simply changing where the line is. If it’s abusive and exploitative for a 16 year old, can the exact same scenario be empowering for a 17 year old? How about between 15 and 16? 14 and 15? The incremntal change in emotional maturity is so gradual that trying to draw such a line (abusive on one side, safe on the other) is always going to be an arbitary process best left to apologists for an industry that is inherently abusive and inherently exploitative by its very nature regardless of the age of the participants.

The intellectual dishonesty of the “consenting adults” version of special pleading that goes into this argument is made abundantly clear by the complete lack of any attempt to bring the age of consent in line with the developmental phase scientists have repeatedly shown as the age range at which the brain reaches
full maturity in its decision-making and cognitive processes in the prefrontal cortex: 25-30.

Making the age of consent 25 to 30 would just be… be… PRUDISH! Because then men couldn’t go around ogling SexxxyHott Teens anymore, and that’s just wrong. Who gives a shit if their brains aren’t fully developed yet, and they’d be making much different decisions at 25 than at 18?

But no, that’s not exploitative at all. Just because they aren’t capable enough decision makers to even rent a car doesn’t mean they’re not ready to rent out their bodies to scuzzy dudes, right? No resemblance whatsoever to taking advantage of an already oppressed population’s age-related biological impairment to sexually titillate males and put money in pimps’ pockets. Because the sex industry becomes safe when a girl turns 18, especially if we make it completely legal.

Point is, you can see just how specious the pro-prostitution camp’s arguments are when you put them in the context of any other crime, but especially when you put it in the context of child pornography and age of consent. By saying an age of consent is necessary, and legalizing chid porn wil not make it safe for chidren, they are implicitly admitting that there’s something there that people need to be protected from until they can make their own legal choice to fuck themselves up by getting involved with it, after which point they’re fair game for whatever exploitation scam some dude wants to pull. They are also admitting that the abuses in the sex industry are not caused by any kind of “underground” status, but as an essential part of its nature. None of them will say that lowering the age of consent to 15 would make it safe for 15 year olds to be prostitutes and eliminate the abuses in the illegal child sex industry, because that’s stupid; none of them believe that, and I imagine very few could even keep a straight face while making such a statement. So why does it apply at 18? The brain is only incrementally more developed, and won’t fully mature for at least another 7 years, so where’s the major difference other than in the squick factor?

Hint: there is no difference. It’s just a hollow, empty, pre-rehearsed set of statements that speak volumes about the mindsets of the people using them to defend their favorite form of institutionalized misogyny and human commodification. But to our soundbite culture, it sure does sound sparkly, and that’s pretty much all that counts: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

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