Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why the feeding frenzy?

T.J. Solomon was 15 years old. He was charged with 21 counts of aggravated assault, weapons possession, etc. He was tried as an adult in Georgia.

In North Carolina 12 year old Christopher Pittman was “tried as an adult on murder charges”

David Harris was 14 years old in Ohio. He killed two men and state law allows teens as young as 14 to be tried as adults. He was.

Just twelve days after turning 14 years old James Ortega got in a fight with other teens. He had a gun and he shot. Both the other teens died and California prosecutors tried Ortega as an adult.

In Virginia a 14-year-old boy took a car for a joy ride and accidentally killed a woman. He was tried as adult.

In Michigan Nathaniel Abraham was just 11 years old when the state decided to put him on trial as an adult for murder.

Kenny Bartley, Jr. looks like he’s 13 years old. He was actually 15 years old when the state of Tennessee tried has as an adult for murder.

In Florida, in 2000, there were 466 teens under the age of 18 who were tried as as adults and sentenced to the state prison with seasoned, adult criminals. They were not sent to a juvenile facility.

One statistic I looked at said that almost 17,000 juveniles under 18 years of age were tried as adults in the United States in 1995. That would be about 46 teens per day being put on trial as adults. Or about another one every half hour, every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year. A Washington Post article notes that in recent years “legislatures in 49 states and the District of Columbia enacted laws that made juvenile justice systems more punitive and smoothed the way for juvenile offenders to be moved into the adult criminal justice system” So only one state in the entire US didn’t try to make it easier to try juveniles as adults.

Not only can teens under 18 years of age be put on trial as adults but they can be sentenced as adults. And when they turn 18 they can be executed like adults for crimes committed when below 18. Eight states have done just that with Texas, again, holding the dubious honour of having executed 13 individuals for crimes they committed while under age of 18. The only jurisdiction that has come close to Texas in it’s zeal of executing people for crimes they committed when juveniles is Iran but Texas still holds the lead.

Under US law there is no hard and fast rule of what makes one a “minor” or an adult. In some states you are legally an adult when it comes to driving when you are 15. So the status of minor depends on the activity. You have to be 18 to vote but in most states you can consent to sex at 16. You can decide to leave school before 18 but the age varies from state to state again.

And we can’t ignore the fact that every day in America a few dozen teenagers, under 18, go on trial as adults every day of the year. In the eyes of the law they were competent to know what they were doing and be held accountable for it.

Now keeping that in mind what exactly is going on with the Mark Foley case? Remember he sent erotic messages to a teenage who was just turning 17 years old. The teen sent similar messages in reply. And the age of consent in Washington, DC, where they both worked in Congress, is 16 years of age. Legally the page in question was an adult when it came to sexual matters.

Now people could argue that ought not be the case. But “oughts” are not the issue here. We can only deal with the concrete facts and they say the teenager, rightly or wrongly, was deemed competent to consent to actual sex, had they chosen to do so, in Washington, DC.

But I am reading story after story which refers to this teenage as a “child” or a “minor”. There is no objective definition of minor available. It is entirely subjective and determined by the law. It is a legal status not an objective one. For some things one can be deemed a minor and for other things an adult.

People have become used to thinking the term refers to anyone under 18 years old. And that “underage” means anyone under 18 as well. But both are wrong. A 16 years old in most states is not “underage” when it comes to consenting sex. A 16 year old in every state is underage when it comes to voting. Context must always be kept in mind when this term is used.

And in the context of the Foley scandal the context was that the Congressman exchanged erotic e-mails with an individual just before and after his 17th birthday, an individual who, in the District, was legally capable of consenting to actual sex. But no actual sex took place. What took place was talk about sex and nothing more. And so far no evidence has suggested anything else.

The media and others have thrown around the term pedophile to attack Foley. Pedophile, some people think, means any sex with anyone under the age of consent. Now the teen in this case was not underage.

Pedophile is a clinical term not a legal one. And it refers to something quite specific. The American Psychiatric Association defines a pedophile in it’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It involves “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).” They refine the definition slightly by saying the “suspect” must be over 16 years of age or at least five years older than the child and must act on the urges or desires. But the prime defining characteristic is a sexual interest in a prepubescent child.

By all definitions the teen with whom Foley exchanged e-mails was sexually and physically a mature adult. There were no children involved in the Foley case and there were no pedophiles involved either.

I can see the logic in having different ages of consent for different activities. That makes sense in that the maturity needed to make one kind of decision is not the same for all kinds of decisions. But the law in DC and most states says quite clearly that this teen, and any of the pages in Congress who are all above 16 years of age, is capable of legally consenting to an adult relationship provided the partner is also at least 16 years old.

Foley has certainly paid a price, including losing his job, for what he did. He may still end up in jail due to a law he helped pass which criminalised erotic messages to anyone under 18 years of age even if they are legally an adult in regards to sex in the states where they live. Technically speaking a 19 year old can marry a 16 year old. They can go on their honeymoon and have rampant, endless sex and it is all legal. But if the older one sends the younger one an instant message discussing what they did it is a federal crime. It is also absurd.

Because the Internet has this mystique with Republicans they passed a law criminalising the discussion of a legal activity, between two individuals both legally capable of consenting to that activity, if it takes place over the internet. The only thing necessary for that to happen is that one of them must be under 18 years old.

As slimy as Foley comes across he seems to have stayed well within the law. He could have actually have bedded the boy in DC legally had he wanted to do so. But by talking about sexual matters he could be held accountable and go to jail.

I can understand people being very unhappy with Foley. But this has taken on the aura of a witch hunt. It has dragged on and on with newspapers and politicians and pundits of all stripes simply distorting the facts. People seem to think there was sex -- there wasn’t. They seem to think the teen was underage. He wasn’t. They seem to think Foley is a pedophile --- he isn’t. What he did could be slimy, it could be appalling, it could be disgusting, it could be a lot of things but there was no underaged child, no pedophilia. There are very precise definitions in regards to those things and Foley is in the clear like it or not.

What smacks of the witch hunt is how everything about Foley is now being interpreted and twisted to fit the image which the media has created for him. Two major articles went out to hundreds of newspapers each. The headlines warned of the “dark side” of Foley and said that pages were warned about him. You then read the articles the pages said several things. One is that Congressmen in general treat pages like crap. Foley was nice to them. They said they were warned he was “too friendly”. I presume in a world where all the others treat you like crap it doesn’t take too much to be deemed too friendly. And every single one of them said he never once made a pass at them.

The “dark side” they warned about was being friendly in a workplace filled with jerks.

Take a vile column written by Robert Kuttner as an example. This low life mentions that Foley was on chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children. They he viciously and dishonestly says: “This was a party that literally put a pedophile in charge of pedophilia.” Do we know how to spell asshole? K.U.T.T.N.E.R. Talking about sex, no matter how graphically with a sexually mature teen, above the age of consent is not pedophilia. Now either Kuttner is uninformed and doesn’t actually know the definition of the words he is using, in which case he ought not write editorials for newspapers, or he knows what the word means and uses it dishonestly, in which case he ought not write editorial for newspapers.

On the political Left Kuttner is using the false accusation of pedophilia to score points for his agenda. And he knows that because Foley is a gay man that one can smear homosexuals with this label and lots of bigots will applaud you. Kuttner is engaging in verbal gay bashing by associating the consenting conversation of two people above the age of consent with pedophilia. So where is the gay community?

Cringing in fear that’s where. They know that sort of association is going to be commonplace for the next few weeks. Politically the main gay lobby groups are allied with the Democrats and even gays who aren’t have lots of reasons to want the Republicans to lose. So they will not protest these kinds of smears. Long term the smears are harmful. Short time they hope they hurt the Republican more than hurt the cause of gay equality. So instead of pointing out the facts that the teen was above the age of consent they will join in. If they denounce the “crimes” of Foley loud enough they hope to mitigate the negative consequences for gay people. But these people are notorious short term in their outlook and strategy.

Just go back to 1983 and remember what happened in Congress. Conservative Republican Dan Crane had a sexual relationship with a female page who was only a few months older than the teen in the Foley case. Congressman Gerry Studds had a relationship with a male page who was only only a few months older than the teen the Foley case. This was ot merely conversation as in the Foley casey. They had sex. They admitted it and the House Ethics Committee reprimanded them. The page in the Studds case defended the Congressman saying it was his private business and he consented to it. There were no criminal charges.

Why the difference between 1983 and today. The big difference is that 1983 is not an election year. Foley’s misfortune was to do far, far less than the other two but to do it during an election year. There was no massive media campaign regarding Crane and Studds because there was no political hay to be made. And since the scandal of 1983 was bipartisan neither party could fake moral outrage as they are doing today.

So they condemned the questionable ethics involved, recognised that the pages were above the age of consent as all pages are, and left the matter to the voters. Crane was defeated in the next election and Studds remained in office for several more years.

At the time gay groups defended Studds even though the age difference between the page in that case and the one in the Foley case is a matter of months. But Studds was a Democrat and there was no media feeding frenzy taking place. How different the response is today for something which never went beyond the level of conversation.

If Foley had been exposed at the same time as a Democrat the matter would have ended with his resignation. But the Democrats want to drag it out intentionally in order to increase their chances in the election. Now anyone who reads this blog knows I’m no friend of the Republicans. But let’s be honest. Foley is enduring such heavy and constant attacks more because he is a Republican than anything else. His actions were reprehensible but the page was old enough to consent and it never went beyond conversation.

Now I have no doubts that if a Democrat had been caught doing the same thing that the Republicans would make as much out of it as they could as well. Neither side is above using such disgusting tactics for political advantage. No one has to look how Foley acted but when we start to add up the facts do they warrant this frenzy of activity?

Shouldn't there be some proportion to all this? Kids as young as 11 years old are being tried as adults but we have Foley being strung up for having a raunchy conversation via email with someone who was almost 17 and was above the age of consent at all times. So an 11 year old is as adult and can possibly be given the death penalty for what he did but a 17 year old, above the age of consent, is a victim of a predator for holding a conversation with him.