Thursday, July 17, 2008

International Law, the Age of Consent, and Sexual Orientation

There's a lot going on in this story, which you should read even if you don't read the rest of this post. International intrigue, sex with teens, videotape, and even an Ivy League connection to make it extra shocking (to anyone who's never read IvyGate, that is). But I'd like to focus on this statement by the prosecutor:
"Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil have the same inherent value as children in the United States."
I don't dispute the validity of that statement. But coming as it does from a prosecutor, it suggests a larger prosecutorial interest in the welfare of minors in other countries. I don't think he meant to suggest that, but who knows? While I think it's fine for our political leaders or celebrities to draw attention to other countries' mistreatment of women and girls, I don't think our prosecutors ought to be making such statements.

On a very different note, KJ (aka The Hungry Photographer) posed to me the following question earlier today (paraphrased):
I think if he had been having sex with 14-17 year old boys that there would be no question of having a psychiatrist examine him; he'd already be in jail.
In thinking about KJ's question, I remembered this website with a list of ages of consent for countries around the world. It's interesting to have so much data in front of you, reminding you how differently gay sex is legislated around the world. Note also the number of U.S. states with "Law invalidated" in the columns showing ages of consent for gay and lesbian sex - laws making gay sex illegal here were struck down a few years ago by Lawrence v. Texas.

Anyway, that chart tells us that Brazil has the same ages of consent for all kinds of sex, so that doesn't really help answer KJ's question. Information on the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, is unknown - except for man-man sex, which is illegal. So on a very basic level, had the Foreign Service officer been doing this with 14- to 17-year-old boys and been caught by authorities in the Congo, yes, he would be in jail. But keeping everything the same except the gender of the children involved, would the carriage of justice - in the U.S. on child porn charges - have been the different? Does our history of legislating gay sex differently from straight sex have lingering effects when it comes to the application of justice? It's hard to know for sure, but I suspect KJ is right when she says yes to these questions.


Digger said...

Actually, had he been caught by the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he would still be subject to the laws of the U.S. because as a diplomat, he had immunity in that country. Diplomatic immunity doesn't mean he would get off scott free, obviously, but that the U.S. would either have to choose to waive his immunity and let the host country government prosecute him (unlikely) or choose to prosecute or not in this country.

jawnny said...

Thanks, digger! I guess the question then becomes, would the U.S. prosecutor have tried to pursue statutory rape charges if the children involved had been boys instead of girls?