Let me pose a hypothetical question to you, my valued readers. What is a pedophile? According to the dictionary definition, a pedophile is:
noun – psychiatry
An adult who is sexually attracted to children.
Fine, I think we can agree on that definition. But here’s the kicker: what constitutes a child?
We live in a culture where childhood and adulthood is separated not by a thick black line, but by a muddy gray DMZ of psychology-technobabble and bent social mores. In Canada, the “age of majority” is eighteen – that means you have to be eighteen to vote, to be drafted into the military and to be tried in court as an adult. But the drinking age is nineteen; so is the legal age to buy cigarettes. And the age of consent for sexual interaction is sixteen with several quid-pro-quos that allow children as young as 14 to consent to sex acts, as long as the other party is within five years of their age.
Seems a little arbitrary, doesn’t it? You have to be eighteen to die for your country and decide who runs it, but you have to be nineteen to buy a beer or a pack of smokes, and you can be as young as fourteen to get tacit permission from the government to expose yourself to pregnancy and STDs.
In the United States the age of sexual consent is a more complicated issue because it varies from state to state. In California, for example, the age of consent is eighteen – in 34 other states, it drops to sixteen. Of course, that statistic didn’t do much for the case of Hope Jacoby, a 24 year old personal trainer at Tustin High School in Orange County, who was convicted today of four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and an additional three counts of “oral copulation” (gotta love those euphemisms) with a minor.
Seems Ms. Jacoby had a bit of a taste for younger men, and her workplace functioned as a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet. Apparently she admitted to doing the nasty on several occasions with a sixteen year-old student both at her home and – get this – in the back of her car. She got found out when pictures of her were discovered on said student’s phone (one can assume the photos were of the compromising sort). O.C. Judge Gregory Jones sentenced her to three years of informal probation (whatever that means) and 240 hours of community service (likely not at the local YMCA).
Now, this is the part where we get to be all controversial – and here at State of Affairs, there are few things we like more than being controversial.
A lot has been made of pedophilia and sex crimes against children – and rightly so. I’m a very liberal guy, and therefore my opinion on almost all sexual orientations and tastes is pretty static – as long as it takes place between consenting adults and everybody goes home happy, I don’t care if you’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or anything in between. Pedophilia falls into a different category for me. In my estimation, pedophilia isn’t about sex – it’s not an “orientation” in the way we normally think about it precisely because it doesn’t occur between consenting adults. As I said before, what constitutes an adult is a bit fuzzy, but I think we can all agree that buggering an eight year-old is a pretty clear-cut case of “not an adult”. Pedophilia isn’t about love or sex – it’s about power and control, and I’m going to go on record condemning the practice because in my opinion it’s a mental illness whose practices cause harm to children, and that’s just not cool.
But is Hope Jacoby a pedophile? That’s a tough one to answer. Like I said, the line between “adult” and “child” becomes more and more blurred once you’re talking about people in their mid-teens. Realistically the age difference between Ms. Jacoby and her students isn’t all that huge – eight years – and there are plenty of people in relationships with age gaps far greater than that. Of course there’s a difference between the couple who age 30 and 38, and the couple who are 16 and 24, respectively – in one case they’re both grownups; in the other, it can be argued, one party is still a child. I’m not sure how to broach this one, because having been a 16 year-old male once upon a time, I find it hard to believe that I would have been opposed to fooling about with an attractive 24 year-old personal trainer. Apparently the same can be said of the victim in this case, who was said to have been an “enthusiastic participant” in the crime, who “engaged in deception” to keep the relationship a secret – presumably to wring as much nookie as he possibly could out of the situation. As my friend D (of Freak Turbulence) rightly pointed out, the kid in question probably couldn’t believe his good fortune being the target of this “victimization”. Or, if you prefer, in Jim’s opinion,
“What a douchebag. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and he could have been tapping that shit his entire high school career. Fucking moron.”
Thanks for proving the feminists right, Jim.
Anyway, none of this makes it right, but it does bring up an interesting facet of this argument. Let’s leave aside the pedophile issue for a minute and look at this from a gender perspective. If the roles were reversed – if we were talking about a 24 year-old male authority figure and a bunch of 16 year-old girls – I think the general consensus and the legal ramifications would be markedly different. I’m willing to bet that, in that situation, the man in question would far more likely be branded a predator, and the girls victims, than what’s being proposed in the Jacoby case. Old stereotypes die hard – on some level men are often still considered more aggressive and dominant than women, so it would be pretty easy to paint the hypothetical Mister Jacoby as a slimy child molester. In that case, it can be argued, I think it’s safe to say we would have seen a markedly different sentence levied against the defendant.
If you take a look at the comment section on the linked article, there’s a lot of discussion about the “double-standard” of this case – the idea that a male defendant would likely have been more harshly punished. The debate is pretty heated; one user lauds the judge’s decision, citing the fact that the kid was more likely to be bragging about his conquest to his friends as opposed to being “emotionally scarred” by the incident. Another user suggests the judge should be thrown out “on his a$$” (you’re allowed to curse on the internet, by the way; you don’t need to censor with symbols) because:
“[A]ny male in a similar situation would not only be prosecuted and given the maximum punishment, but would be vilified for the rest of his life and scarred with the sex offender and pedophile tags.”
Clearly there’s some serious conflict of opinion going on here, and I’m hard-pressed to take a side.
Once again leaving aside the pedophile issue, I don’t know of too many sixteen year-olds who are really, really ready for the responsibility that comes with sex – with any partner, older or not. I’m not an idiot – I know kids screw around at that age and much younger – but I speak from personal experience when I say sixteen is probably too young to grasp the full ramifications of what might happen as a result of getting it on at that age. You’re not ready for a kid at sixteen as far as I’m concerned, for one thing. And getting herpes before you can even vote would suck the big one. At twenty-four, however, you have a much firmer grasp on the whole sex situation, and coercing a sixteen year-old into sex is a pretty low move.
It gets worse when you consider the hierarchical perspective – Ms. Jacoby was in a position of authority over these kids. And this is where I see the double-standard in effect, because that’s the issue in question here, more than anything else. Her actions are undeniably an abuse of authority, because she was employed by the high school as a personal trainer, not as some kind of Mrs. Robinson-esque madam employed to sexually awaken a bunch of pubescent boys. That’s the part that’s strictly inappropriate. From that standpoint, she should be fired and punished for her actions no different than a man in the same situation.
I tread carefully on the gender-equality thing, because leaving aside legal rhetoric the gender issue makes it a different scenario. Bottom line: according to the court the victim in question was clearly “consenting” to the sex acts, so regardless of the age of consent, the motivation was there. We aren’t talking about rape – we’re talking about sex between two people whose age groups make the act socially unacceptable. Looking at it from that perspective, and considering the act was older-woman-to-young-man, the letter of the law needs to deal with it as statutory rape, not pedophilia. For better or worse, the line would be more blurred if it was older-man-to-younger-woman, because the same social mores that influence our age-of-consent laws influence our vision of gender. Older man seducing younger woman = creepy. Older woman seducing younger man = Penthouse Forum. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying that’s the way we think.
So what’s my final word? Ms. Jacoby broke a law. She needs to be punished in accordance with that law, outside prevalent social opinion. And if you must add social opinion, remember there’s a really good chance Ms. Jacoby’s actions probably inflicted less emotional scarring on her “victim” – if we’re all going to be honest, her biggest contribution to his sexual awakening was more likely a solid decade of spank-bank material. Consider that before you start lighting torches and breaking out the pitchforks.