20/20: AGE OF CONSENT
John Stossel Reports on Sex Offender Registries, Sexual Consent of Minors, And on Boys, Girls and Sex in America, Friday, March on ABC
Who can argue against Megan's Law, which requires each state to notify citizens when dangerous sexual predators move in next door? Anyone in any neighborhood can search and find the name, face and address of released sex offenders. Politicians and parents thought this would be a great tool. But as John Stossel reports, as so often happens with many laws, there are unintended consequences. What if two kids agree to fool around with each other? What if a minor has consensual sex with someone four years older? The registry now includes kids as young as 10 to 14 years old. They will forever be known as sex offenders. Do they belong on the list among serial rapists and others who are truly threats to others? Presumably not, but once the wheels of justice are set into motion, it can be impossible to stop them. Stossel's report, "20/20: Age of Consent," airs FRIDAY, MARCH 14 from 10:00-11:00 p.m., ET on the ABC Television Network.
Kids, parents and the law. When 14-year-old Brenda had consensual sex with 18-year-old Jon, Brenda's father went to the police and Jon was jailed for almost a year. Today Brenda and her father have second thoughts about wielding the force of law, and even went to court to get Jon off the Florida sex offender registry. But the law is the law and Jon is branded a sex offender for life. Are kids clueless about the legal consequences of teenage sex? "We tell them you could get pregnant, you could get a disease. But we don't tell them they could be locked up for the rest of their life," says Chris Phillis, Maricopa County juvenile public defender.
Tough laws in Arizona. Some states like Arizona are especially proud of the tough laws they have passed to punish sex offenders. Keimond Brown and his fianc�e, Ebony, have lived together for eight years. Yet this loving father has to be chaperoned to be with his two daughters because, years before, when he was 15, he had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Another is on the registry because, when he was 13 years old, his 9-year-old sister accused him of touching her, even though now she says she was lying. Stossel confronts Arizona Speaker of the House Jim Weiers about whether or not the Arizona laws over-reach. "If you're not over-reaching, you're going to be accused of under-reaching. Maybe it's not fair. But then again, you cannot legislate per incident... And there's not a piece of legislation that I've seen that is going to be perfect, period."
Attitudes about boys and girls. Is there a double standard between boys and girls? Are older females less likely to be punished for having sex with younger boys? Parents often follow a double standard-being very protective of their daughters while allowing sons more freedom. "20/20" follows a San Diego family that gives their son much more freedom than their daughter-even though she's two years older than him. "Unfortunately girls are more vulnerable," says Bob, the father. Child psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky says, "Parents tend to see their girls as fragile, vulnerable, more in need of protection. When it comes to their boys... they basically tell them to be safe and don't get anybody pregnant." Stossel points out that some teenage boys' affairs with older women are glorified on TV. On "Desperate Housewives," when Eva Longoria's character sleeps with a high school student, the student is portrayed as a lucky guy, not as someone being exploited. However the courts tend to treat older women, like the teachers Mary Kay Le Tourneau, Sandra Beth Geisel, Pamela Rogers and Debra LaFave, just as severely as older men. Stossel interviews psychoanalyst Richard Gartner, who says young boys are just as injured by such affairs -- they just are too macho to talk about it.
Stossel asks: What is the proper age of consent? One expert says that teenage sex is hard to prevent at a time when young people are maturing earlier and getting married later. In many places around the world, including most of Europe, China and Japan, the age is 14 or 15. "We let 16 and 17-year-olds drive cars... the idea that somebody who's behind the wheel of a car can't make good sexual decisions, I think, is more about our anxiety about sex than it is about any clear thinking about 17-year-olds," says Dr. Klein. Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council retorts, "Young people today need more time before marriage, but they don't need sex before marriage. We believe that the focus should be on telling teens that sex should be saved for marriage... the benefits of waiting are enormous."
"20/20" is anchored by Elizabeth Vargas and John Stossel. David Sloan is executive producer.