I think a good analogy as to how I feel about outrages of the morality (not the legality) of consensual sex and rape would like a person who is outraged that he failed his exams because the friend from whom he copied his answers got it wrong. I would be like, dude, what are you doing cheating in an examination in the first place?
Let me be clear, there are certainly clear cases of rape and sexual assault with clearly definable victims. Like, when someone points a gun at your head and strips you. Or someone ties you up and rapes you. Or someone punches you black and blue and rapes you, that sort of thing. There are also rape and sexual assault in corporate environments where your job and economic livelihood is being threatened if you do not sleep with your boss. In short, in these cases there are intelligible empirical interpretations to the “assault” in “sexual assault”, empirical consequences which can be publicly and objectively determined, like a bleeding face, poverty and financial destitution.
While I accept the legality of the concept of “statutory rape”, that is, rape with a minor regardless of consent, but I simply cannot muster any moral outrage over violating some arbitrary legal number pulled out of a hat. The issue which I am concerned with, but which I have yet to see any substantive discussion which doesn’t involve any waffling or hand waving vagaries, is what exactly are the grounds for moral outrage behind “statutory rape”?
The arguments here then are very weird and curious. Unlike Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (detestable book by the way, but worth reading for the sake of Shamela ), I have yet to see a contemporary victim of statutory rape lament the deprivation of their virginity, the violation of their chastity, to being a forced participant of fornication. The complaint and lament in virtually every single case is that they did not consent to it. Remember, we are trying to find the moral grounds for this outrage, and the argument is that we should be morally outraged that a woman did not have the chance to fornicate consensually.
Consent may be a necessary legal concept (although I doubt it, but that’s another discussion), but it is an unintelligible concept in the moral arena. There is only consent to marriage, and that’s all. There is no moral value to consensual fornication. I am perfectly happy to criminalise adultery since consent is tied only to marriage and all adultery and fornication will be by definition “non-consensual” and therefore morally reprehensible sex. Thus, we can be morally outraged over the forcible loss of a girl’s chastity and virginity in statutory rape, but the concept of “consent” has no moral currency in such discussions.
The argument then invoked is that the girl didn’t know what it “really” means to consent and it is this ignorance which makes it pitiable, etc, etc. I think that girls should be taught to safeguard their chastity and flee from every instance which would compromise its integrity. But suppose we go along with this argument that there is something morally outrageous about girls having sex without possessing a precise technical and robust concept of consent.
How many people in our country or in Western nations who have copulated have such a mastery of the concept of consent? Our prisons would be rather full if we are going to determine the legitimacy of every consent based upon the ability of every copulating woman involved to master the concept of consent and many a guys will have “rape” and “sexual assault” on their conscience… besides fornication that is.
Maybe as an alternative solution to age of consent, we should issue copulating licences instead after they have taken both written and practical exams to master the concept of “consent” in all its technical and legal glory, along with all those subtle and complex relationship dynamics, then we’ll really be capable of “true” consent and everyone can have a spree of guilt free fornication.
P.S.: As a good test case for anyone trying to articulate the moral intuition over consent, I would like to draw one’s attention to this case of a twelve year old girl and a thirteen year old boy in Britain deciding to keep a baby they had together and why isn’t anyone charging this teenager with statutory rape or why no one is morally outraged that this girl, who is barely above twelve, and therefore couldn’t possibly know what it means to “consent”, clearly had “non-consensual sex”?