May 05, 2007

Should We Raise the Age of Consent for Naked Pictures to 21?

Garance Franke-Ruta advocates that pictures of bare-breasted 20-year-old women be considered child pornography by the law.

To be fair, that is not what she says she wants. But it is the consequence of what she does advocate. (And I mean here the real immediate consequence, not some hypothetical taken to its "logical extreme.")

We let women sign up to join the Army and be killed in Iraq when they are 18 the ultimate exploitation of their bodies. Why, then, should we stop them from accepting pay for displaying naked pictures at that age?

I have gendered my question, because the context is gendered: Garance Franke-Ruta thinks Girls Gone Wild is icky, and her remedy is to raise the age of consent for commercial erotic performance from 18 to 21.

I think Girls Gone Wild is icky, too, but the remedy is much simpler: Prosecute sleazeball Joe Francis for his failure to comply with 18 USC 2257. Francis is already breaking the law, he is being prosecuted for breaking the law, and he is very likely to spend time in jail as a result. The law as it stands appears to be working here. Why change it?[1]

18-year-olds can sign obtain credit cards, mobile phones, and student loans under terms which, if they aren't extremely careful, can trap them in what amounts to indentured servitude. (If you are concerned about the sexual exploitation of women, keep in mind how often credit card debt is used to trap women into sexual slavery.)

In the face of the lawfully sanctioned occasion for youthful bad judgment on this scale, bartering an on-camera flash of tit for a baseball cap pales in comparison. And yet, it is the age of consent to flash the tit that Garance-Ruta wishes to raise, not the age of consent to burden oneself with crippling debt.

There's the other side of the transaction to worry about. Franke-Ruta, in her empty-headed ignorance of the consequences of what she proposes, is advocating that pictures of naked twenty-year-olds be deemed child pornography in the eyes of the law. Her ingenuous denial that personal photos would not be affected don't hold water. Child pornography laws do not distinguish between commercial and non-commercial use.

The penalties for breaking child pornography laws are draconian. To be convicted of possession of underaged nude images on one's hard drive is to be branded as a sex offender. The immediate prison sentences are severe, and, unlike lesser offenses such as murder or armed robbery, after a sex offender has served their prison time, they are required for the rest of their life to register with the local police, their names and addresses are published in Megan's Law databases, they get harassing anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night from their neighbors, and so on.

Garance Franke-Ruta's proposal would create with a stroke of a pen a whole new class of targets for the kiddie-porn witch-hunters: anyone possessing a nude picture of someone who is or merely looks under 21.

[1] To be fair, I believe 18 USC 2257 and its implementation are badly broken and are in desperate need of fixing. Judging from her position on age of consent issues, though, I suspect that Franke-Ruta's notions of the fixes needed and mine are not the least bit consistent.

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at May 5, 2007 03:43 PM

I think it displays a sense of skewed priorities... after all, it's legal to have sex at 18. (Not to mention getting married.) Surely that is of more weight than having nude pictures taken.

Bringing up alcohol as an example (nearly the only example) of things that our society prevents 18-year-olds from doing places Franke-Ruta squarely in the camp of those who seek to infantilize young adults rather than integrate them into society. Many countries manage to allow drinking at much younger ages without significant ill effects (and arguably some good ones.) If 18-year-olds are making bad decisions, three years will not magically cause them to make good ones.

Nor do I buy the argument that YouTube et al have changed things--- yes, your youthful indiscretion may be stored forver. But it may instead be buried under an avalanche of other people's youthful indiscretions...

(I'm reminded of a Futurama episode in which Professor Farnsworth, affected by anti-aging tar, bemoans his inability to rent ultra-porn...)

Posted by: Mark Gritter at May 5, 2007 07:16 PM

Do we really have enough people branded as sex offenders in this country? My proposal would create more:

Posted by: Jon Swift at May 6, 2007 02:37 PM

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