One of my basic principles of being an Honorable Skeptic is what I call the malleability of my opinions, as expressed this way:
Because I am honorable, I sometimes willingly concede points made by my opponents in debates with them. This should never be seen as a sign of weakness. When I know I am right about something, I will fight to the bitter end to support my case and discredit my opponent because in some cases I do see my battles as a struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, or ignorance and knowledge. But I am also willing at times to listen to my opponent and consider his point of view, especially if that person is known by me to be honorable. If we do not listen to others, how can we ever grow in knowledge?
In the past, I opposed the legal concept of statutory rape, thinking it an outdated and irrational one, much like laws in the past banning homosexual relations or interracial unions. But recent events have made me reconsider my position and try to understand why otherwise enlightened people would be so insistent that teens should never be allowed to have romantic and sexual relations with older partners, even of their own choosing.
So I will present parts of a conversation I had with someone I will designate simply as Moderator.
I first noticed something was wrong in reddit when I got this message:
You have been permanently banned from participating in [subreddit]. You can still view and subscribe to [subreddit], but you won’t be able to post or comment.
If you have a question regarding your ban, you can contact the moderator team for [subreddit] by replying to this message.
Reminder from the Reddit staff: If you use another account to circumvent this subreddit ban, that will be considered a violation of the Content Policy and can result in your account being suspended from the site as a whole.
Can you explain the reason for this ban? As far as I am aware, I have not engaged in any disruptive behavior there
I wasn’t aware of violating any rules. So what happened?
The following day, Moderator responded:
Thank you for reaching out regarding your ban.
This decision was based on content that is easily found on your personal blog that we found to be very concerning. You have posted links to your blog in the past and though they did not link directly to the content in question, it is easily found once clicking through. We take very seriously the protection of underage persons, who are vulnerable and do not have the ability to ever be on equal footing with an adult in making a choice to engage in sexual acts or to be involved in a romantic relationship. For clarification purposes, examples of the blog posts in question are remaining excerpts from a post entitled, “Why I am far better than Roy Moore,” in which attraction to an 11 year old girl is professed and described as “strong romantic feelings.” We are aware that this post has since been removed and only parts of it remain quoted in other posts, however we have seen screenshots and read the post in its entirety. We do not believe there is any necessary context missing. There are also several posts in defense of sexual predators, minimizing the damage that they’ve done and arguing that their actions may be immoral, but should not be criminal and that their young victims should be punished or held accountable in some way, the same as the adult victimizer. It is also stated outright in at least one post that minors are intentionally being victimized for financial compensation down the road.
This was a decision made out of an abundance of caution. It is not a decision we took lightly and we reached it as a team after much discussion. We don’t wish you any harm and we did not choose to ban you out of malice. We do not find these views to be in line with the 7 Principles. Certainly, we do not see justice or compassion in blaming underage victims for the crimes perpetrated against them. We felt it necessary to first protect the vulnerable and that was the main motivation for this decision.
We wish you peace and good health during this time of crisis for us all.
This answer both shocked and angered me, because she seemed to be using the sort of loaded, dogmatic and prejudicial language that liberal minded people shouldn’t use to describe real people in real relationships. But I kept things diplomatic.
Thank you for your response. You are, of course, entitled to your opinions. Everything I wrote over the years was based on my own interpretation of consistent ethical matters. I consider children who have not reached puberty to be forever off limits to sexual behavior, but once they have reached puberty they should be treated like adults, unless they are mentally deficient. But even so, I know better than to break the law as it stands by committing or encouraging sexual behavior between any adults and minors as long as it is illegal. I also think that sexual relations between teachers of any age and students of any age (even in college) to be grounds for firing the teacher. But the law must apply equally to all parties and be based on clear empirical data to be just, not on dogma, religious or otherwise. My blog gave documentation of why I hold my views, and I think everything should be judged on a case-by-case basis, not based on some arbitrary standard chosen by the state for its own convenience. Having said all that, I am open to being proven wrong. Actual evidence is the only way to change my opinion about anything.
And I absolutely meant that last sentence! You cannot change my mind through threats, insults, appeals to my ego, offerings of money, or lies (and all logical fallacies are lies, of course). The only ways to change my opinions are through presenting logical arguments or empirical data or documentation that debunks what I earlier believed.
The next evening in another social media outlet:
I am really sorry about what happened in the [subreddit].
I read your response to me in reddit. I get it. Perhaps my positions are wrong, but I didn’t think so when I wrote them. But I always assumed that the only reason to kick someone out of any forum was because of disruptive behavior in it. Not because of opinions expressed elsewhere!
I understand why you would feel that way in regards to how bans work, but it’s not generally how those decisions are made. We’ve banned people for avowed racist views expressed elsewhere, even if their posts on our sub were more borderline than actually rule breaking. It’s up to our discretion and we make the best decisions we can for the health and safety of our community. I do understand that in your case personally, you do not see the harm in the views you have expressed. From our point of view, there was a safety concern, as was expressed in the response I sent you on Reddit, and our duty in a situation like that is to first and foremost protect the vulnerable. In some situations, impact matters more than intent and the potential harm had to be weighed.
And so the debate began in earnest.
My concern with regards to people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations is personal autonomy. To me statutory rape laws implied that parents owned their children like they were nothing more than property to be sold. In ancient times, it was common for children to be forced into marriage by their fathers and therefore an underaged person choosing their own partner without their father’s permission became “damaged goods”.
Statutory rape laws are not in place to keep children from being able to choose their own partners. I do have issues with the abuse of these laws as they are currently written in situations like parents using them to punish their child’s significant other who is still within a similar developmental stage, but just over the cutoff by technicality. A minor and a middle aged adult is not the same situation and is more in line with what the law is actually intended for. Teenagers do not process information the same way adults do. Their brains have not fully developed the ability to reason and understand consequences of their actions. They act on almost pure emotion. They process information using the amygdala and adults use the pre-frontal cortex. Children and teenagers do not have the ability to reason the way an adult does, which is why they are notoriously impulsive and they are easily influenced. Adults have the ability and responsibility to protect young people and, even if put in a position where a minor comes on to them, it is their responsibility to handle that situation appropriately and not use that as an opportunity to prey on that vulnerability. Further, if onset of puberty was what brings about ability to consent, it’s being argued that children as young as 9 are capable of making these decisions. Average age of onset of puberty is 9 – 13 in girls and 12 – 16 in boys.
By admitting that the laws against statutory rape laws were not perfect, she conceded a point to me. But she also gave EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE for her case that I simply didn’t know about before!
Children before puberty have NO sex drive and therefore an adult getting them into sex IS rape, without question. A person once came into my blog to argue otherwise and I banned him for doing so.
You can find that confrontation in the comments section of:
To be frank, I don’t have any desire for a pedantic discussion regarding the DSM definition of pedophilia. I understand you disagree. This is a field I am very knowledgeable about and work in. I did not at any point call you a pedophile, and it’s inconsequential whether you are or aren’t. That decision was not made because we believed you to be a pedophile. Pedophiles are not the only people who can prey on vulnerable young people sexually. It’s also not about whether you acted on anything or not, you came to the defense of those who did.
Safety is our number one priority and that is what guided that decision.
The following evening:
I would like to add one more thing. I would like to invite you to reconsider how you view force. From how I interpret your writings, it appears that to you ‘force’ means holding down physically or directly threatening some sort of physical harm. Coercion is a form of force. This is true regardless of age and the law of the land does not really matter, because this is a question of what is ethical and moral and in line with the Principles we are bound by in covenant. I’m not saying this to in some way comment on your ban, I’m saying this person to person because I truly believe you do not have malicious intent and you don’t understand the potential harm in what you are saying. Children and adolescents are very easily coerced. Even if it’s never explicitly said and young people are asked directly if they want to do something, they will be more likely to want to find acceptance and to please the person in authority over them and agree. There’s also a possibility that they really do have a crush on an adult, and still, they are not in a position to ever be on equal footing as far as power is concerned. The only way, regardless of age or anything else, for a sex act or relationship to be ethical is for both parties (or as many as are involved) to be on equal footing. I think you do understand that, since you mention how unethical it is for teachers to date students. However, this can also apply in situations like abusive marriages where finances are leveraged against the party wanting to leave. Similarly, children and adolescents have no ability to be on equal footing with a grown adult and adults have leverage over them, even if implicitly. Consent cannot be given verbally. It’s not the same as saying children are property to say that they do not always understand what is best for them. The differences in brain development at that age cap their ability to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions or to allow them to fully understand sex and relationships
By that argument, she actually exposed a logical flaw in my position. I failed to consider that ALL adults can serve as teachers to ALL minors, as reflected in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Once THAT point became clear to me, I realized I had messed up! A fourteen year old minor who has never held a job or driven a car certainly cannot be equal to a thirty year old love partner who is employed full time and owns their own automobile.
So brain development matters. I DID mention mental deficiency as an issue in reddit, in the sense that an adult would be completely unable to function normally due to brain damage or defect. It never occured to me that a normal minor’s brain would also be impaired, because when I was a teen, I thought I was already capable of thinking and feeling like an adult.
That bias within myself could have been a form of the Dunning–Kruger effect, of course.
And thus my willingness to defend my earlier views was BROKEN!
Exactly. I’m glad you’re receptive to hearing that. Most, if not all, teens feel the same way. Science does not back that up, though. Pretty extensive studies have been done on this and the arbitrary cut off point of 18 is actually a bit low for this sort of thing, but the law doesn’t really function in such a way as to allow case by case basis for everything, even if that would be ideal. There does ultimately have to be a general rule to follow as far as when people are considered “of age.” Personally, I still feel it’s unethical for a middle-aged person, for example, to pursue a teenager, even if they’re technically of age. However, that’s obviously not illegal if they’re in the age of majority for their location. Like I said, it all comes down to being on equal footing and there are a lot of ways that can not be the case, even ways that aren’t immediately obvious between two adults. Mental capacity isn’t even the only one.
My willingness to reconsider my views is what makes me, a genuine skeptic, better than a denialist, who is motivated by dogma, not truth.
OK, now you have convinced me. I seem to have both misjudged a lot of people just as I myself was misjudged earlier. Perhaps I should remove most of the blog entries about sex between minors and adults and say nothing more on my blog about that matter. Seriously, I thought my position rejecting statutory rape as an issue was a rejection of age discrimination. But you made an arguement I cannot ignore.
I think 18 was made the definition of a legal adult so young men could be sent as soldiers to war as soon as they were out of high school, BTW.
What do you think I should do?
For the record, I was “convinced” in the sense that I could see how reasonable her position really was, not that I shared it yet; I still had some questions and doubts.
For clarification as far as 18 being low, the brain isn’t fully developed until age 25 and the last thing to fully develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that moderates social behavior and helps in decision making and reasoning.
I am very happy to hear you say that. When we’re wrong about something, it’s hard to admit it and all we can do is just that and seek to make it right. Everyone can be misinformed and I think the thing that really shows a person’s character is how they react when confronted with mistakes they’ve made. Seeking to understand and adjust your view with new information is awesome.
I think removing those posts is a great idea.
I think, since there is evidence out there, I would write an apology post or update post or something.
So removing them without updating won’t be enough, I mean.
And yes, that is why 18 is the legal age.
Science has very rarely had anything to do with that sort of decision.
I have not made up my mind yet, but I will keep thinking about the matter. Can you give me a week to figure things out?
Societally, the worst thing someone can be accused of is pedophilia. So, I do agree with you that obviously you do not fit the criteria for pedophilia.
Yes, I’m not actually asking or telling to do anything. I just felt like you were sincere in your desire to understand where I was coming from, so I felt the need to add more to what I was saying.
I understand what you’re saying, and really what I meant by what I just said is to consider optics.
How it’s perceived by others.
Is there anything else I should know or consider?
If there is at all a concern over whether someone is a danger to children, generally the accepted right course of action is to be overly cautious rather than to be sorry that you weren’t if something goes wrong. Hypothetically, if that’s something that is at all a concern and I hypothetically know about that because [someone] contacted me and I read that blog post and I didn’t act on it and a child got hurt because I allowed you to be around children, that abuse is on my head because I did not act on that information. So, that’s how people will think about it. I say all this to put in perspective how other people will likely react to this information.
When dealing with things that serious and that delicate, people tend to act out of an abundance of caution rather than to be sorry they didn’t.
I am not saying that I think you are a danger to children
By this point, I decided I had indeed been completely wrong about the issue of romance and sex between minors and adults. And I had to admit it!
I am not. But I was mistaken, assuming I understood more than I did. I apologize.
I understand, and it’s okay. I accept your apology.
I’m saying this because I really don’t think you’re bad or a danger or anything. Having this stuff out there is not really safe for you.
Gee, even my statements about religion would get me in hot water in some places.
I’m used to being vilified……just not by people I considered friends!
Yeah, I understand
It was never our intention to make you feel that way
There are a lot of people who are social workers, including myself, and all social workers are mandatory reporters. That’s part of why the reaction is so strong, also.
Just for some insight.
And so tonight, I REMOVED ALL the blog entries I made in the past that condemned the concept of statutory rape. I still think the term is a bad one (maybe call it a form of adultery instead?) and think the laws need to be modified to allow more freedom of choice, but in the future I will NEVER defend or excuse an middle aged person wanting to make love to a minor! It is simply not justified and never was and only my ignorance made me think differently.
And when you know better, you can do, and WRITE better!