The controversy over all this is rounded up by Instapundit, with a link to Robert Franklin discussing a Texas case in which a 26-year-old woman gets a mere 90 days in jail for having sex with her 13-year-old foster son.
Wait a minute -- Texas? Did you say Texas? Remember that Texas child-welfare officials instigated a SWAT raid at the El Dorado FLDS cult compound and seized 436 children because of the suspicion that underage girls were being sexually exploited. This week, Texas released a report finding that just 12 girls at the compound has been "spiritually married" before age 16:
Two girls were 12 when married; three were 13; two were 14; and five girls were 15 when married. Seven of these girls have had one or more children after marriage.As I have repeatedly said, if Texas is going to launch a paramilitary raid every time a teenager has sex or gets pregnant, they'll need to hire a lot more SWAT officers, because Texas leads the nation in teen pregnancy. This is not to minimize or excuse the bizarre polygamous practices of the FLDS cult, but rather to put into perspective the overkill instincts of child-welfare officials in the El Dorado case -- and also to point out how cultural forces shape popular perception about sexual deviance.
In the immediate aftermath of the El Dorado raid, lurid headlines about the "underage sex cult" fed the atmosphere of moral panic reminiscent of the notorious McMartin preschool case. Why? According to the Guttmacher Institute, there were 1,750 pregnancies among girls under age 15 in Texas in 2000 (and another 28,000 pregnancies for girls 15-17). Yet we hear nothing about prosecution of those men who routinely impregnate Texas teens, while the existence of a dozen underage brides within this renegade cult creates a worldwide firestorm of publicity.
Which brings us back around to Kate Winslett and her defense of the cinematic depiction of a 30-something woman's affair with a 15-year-old boy:
That boy knows exactly what he's doing. For a start, Hanna Schmitz [Winslett's character in the movie] thinks that he's seventeen, not fifteen, you know? She's not doing anything wrong. . . . They enter that relationship on absolutely equal footing. Statutory rape -- really please, don't use that phrase. I do genuinely find it offensive actually. This is a beautiful and very genuine love story and that is always how I saw it. . . . She wasn't cruel to him. She didn't force him into anything at all.Althouse replies:
Don't all statutory rapists say this sort of thing? . . . Do you think 36-year-old women should be free to seduce 15-year-old boys?This is really the issue. Either the act is a crime or it is not, and the law can't excuse crime because the criminal considers it "a beautiful and very genuine love story." Such acts are either legal or they are not. You cannot on the one hand excuse the Hanna Schmitzes (or Mary Kay Letourneaus) of the world and then, on the other hand, send SWAT teams to round up every child at the El Dorado compound.
To such an extent as The Reader glamourizes and justifies the actions of Hanna Schmitz, it undermines the law by establishing in the mind of the audience the self-exculpatory perspective of the criminal. Perhaps you'll understand the allegory when I spoil The Reader by telling you that Hanna Schmitz was a Nazi concentration camp guard whom her erstwhile boyfriend must eventually prosecute for war crimes.