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Do Young Adolescents Need the Protection of Age-of-Consent Laws?
Age-of-consent laws presume that adolescents lack the maturity to make healthy decisions when it comes to sex.
I had lunch yesterday with an economist friend of mine who was lamenting the fact that when a market fails to operate efficiently we sometimes advocate for policy intervention without stopping to see if that policy actually improves the outcome. He was talking about his own work that looks at the adult outcomes of boys who spend time during their teen years in foster care, which is itself an extremely interesting topic. I thought we would look at a different topic for which a similar argument could be made: laws that limit the age at which an individual can consent to having sex, and the protection they provide.
Age-of-consent laws presume that adolescents lack the maturity to make healthy decisions when it comes to sex. Most countries have age-of-consent laws, but the age at which an individual can consent to sex varies from age nine in some countries all the way to age 20 in others. For a long time (in fact, for over 100 years) my country, Canada, had an age of consent of 14. Two years ago, the laws were changed under the assumption that younger adolescents (14-15) were less capable of making healthy choices about sexuality than older adolescents (16-17). Policies like these are costly—and not just in terms of enforcement. They also create hardship for those caught up in that enforcement. So there must be pretty good evidence that the benefits outweigh those costs, right?
Well, there is some mixed evidence that individuals who make an early "debut" into the world of sex have poorer educational outcomes later on, but the problem is that it is difficult to determine cause and effect—are those who have sex early more likely to under-achieve or are under-achievers more likely to have sex early?
There is new research on this topic, just released last week and using data from over 26,000 adolescents surveyed in high schools in British Columbia, which suggests that when it comes to making choices about sexuality the decisions of 14- and 15-year-olds seem no worse than that of 16- and 17-year-olds. The evidence also suggests that the children who are most exposed to risk are actually much younger than 14, in fact they more likely to be less than 12. The new laws, with an age of consent of 16, don’t protect these kids any better than the old laws with an age of consent of 14. So the new laws provide protection to adolescents who don’t need and leave the more vulnerable children equally unprotected.
Three percent of students in the study who had sexual intercourse had that experience the first time before the age of 12. Of those having sex at that early age, 40% report that first experience was with an adult over the age of 20. Compare this to students who had their first sexual experience at the age of 14, of those students only 1.3% report that their sexual partner was over the age of 20. In fact, only just over 3% report having had a partner over the age of 18. If we look at those who had their first sexual experience at age 15, this number increases to fewer than 6%.
The age group that lost their ability to consent to sex under the new laws are overwhelmingly have sex with people who are within their own age group; less than 2% of boys and 3-5% of girls had their first sexual experience with an adult who was more than 5 years older than themselves. They were equally likely as the older (16-17) group to have sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol (which one quarter of them did with their most recent sexual experience). Males in the younger group were significantly more likely to report having used a condom in their last intercourse (83% compared to 74%) and younger females who were using a hormone contraceptive method were significantly more likely than the older group to use a condom as well. About 5% of both groups were involved in a pregnancy with no statistically significant difference between the age groups. There is likewise no statistically difference in the reporting of STIs.
The argument behind that law is that participating in sexual behavior has some potentially very serious adult consequences. It is tempting to argue that younger adolescents are less capable in assessing the risks take when they have sex. But, this evidence, at least, does not support this idea. There is some evidence that the 14-15 group experiences more forced sex, but this law is about consent and rape is a different issue. When it comes to consensual sex, the younger youth appear to make equally healthy decisions as older adolescents.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.
A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.
The unmatched biologist-reporter Tomasz Sitarz interviews his fungal namesake, maślak sitarz – known in English as the Jersey cow mushroom.