Men and girls: a time for anger.
Why do we continue to blame a lack of teenage morals for rising rates of teen pregnancy, even though most of the teens who get pregnant are the victims of something we used to call statutory rape?
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 66.3% of babies born to teenage girls in 1994 were fathered by men age 20 or older.
The Washington Alliance Concerned With School Age Parents conducted a survey in Seattle of mothers ages 12 to 17 in 1995 and found the average age of the fathers was 24.
An article in the American Journal of Public Health this spring cited statistics for California's teen mothers. In 1993, wrote authors Mike Males and Kenneth S.Y. Chew, two-thirds of school-age teen mothers had a post-school-age partner.
A 15-year-old girl does not have the experience or emotional sophistication to match wits with a 20-year-old man. She might be conned into having sex, but she is incapable of giving consent.
Society used to understand that. Laws against having sex with underage girls were enforced. Men understood that these children were off limits. Communities did not wink as 25-year-old men escorted 17-year-old girls to the prom.
These days laws against statutory rape - now known by the euphemism "sexual conduct with a minor" - are not enforced.
Prosecution is difficult and the girls are reluctant to testify. These days men are not afraid of the consequences of going after young girls. These days communities do wink when girls show up with men at the prom.
The reasons girls go with older men are complex and relatively unexplored.
According to Males and Chew: "The [age] gap is especially significant because teenage mothers with much-older partners are disproportionately the childhood victims of sexual assault by adult men. The possibility that much early childbearing represents an extension of rape or sexual abuse by male perpetrators averaging one to two decades older remains a serious question."
According to the U.S. Justice Department, females under 18 are the victims of half the rapes committed in this country each year.
Even if they are not being physically intimidated, young girls are easy prey to emotional appeals from older men. Divorce and single parenthood has left many girls hungry for a strong male model.
"You can only speculate what this is replacing," says Billie Enz, Arizona State professor and expert on teen pregnancy. "They're looking for a father image that they can fall in love with. You have to wonder about the man that would take advantage of that situation."
And you have to wonder about people - from parents to legislators to teachers - who would look the other way while those men hunt their prey unencumbered by social condemnation and the serious threat of jail time.
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|Title Annotation:||News Councils: Watching the Watchdogs; outstanding editorial sample from the Arizona Republic|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1997|
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