The Absurd Consequences of Statutory Rape Law

By Michele Goodwin

Across the country, children under the age of fourteen are being convicted of rape for engaging in consensual sex with children of similar age.  In Utah, a child who commits “more than five ‘separate acts’ of sexual touching,” can be prosecuted for “aggravated sexual abuse of a child.” In South Dakota, a minor can be adjudicated a delinquent and guilty of first degree rape for one act of sexual penetration, regardless of consent.  Wisconsin’s law reads similarly.  To be clear, I am not referring to the Romeo and Juliet cases (the male is 18 and the girl is 16).  No, I’m speaking of children as young as eleven.  These adolescent violators now end up on sex offender registries—some for life.  In some states, including Utah, adolescent fondling is considered sexual abuse of a child as are: attempts to touch the buttocks, breasts, or “intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire…”  Even consenting children will always be deemed “victims” in states that take this approach.

In 2011, J.L. was adjudicated a delinquent, charged with first-degree rape, and convicted under the South Dakota statutory rape statute.  J.L. had no prior convictions, nor other violations of the law that might suggest a propensity for crime, violence, or danger to the community.  Indeed, the first degree rape conviction did not stem from a violent, coercive sexual encounter with an adolescent, rape of an adult woman, or from forced sex with a child or infant.  Rather, according to the South Dakota Supreme Court, J.L., who was fourteen, “engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with his girlfriend [], who was twelve,” and only fifteen months his junior.  Ironically, in the state of South Dakota, J.L.’s conviction will result in legal and extra-legal penalties far more severe than that of an adult rapist who commits a sexually violent act against a college peer, a random woman, or during the commission of another crime.

For all the recent controversy about rape, its legal and political definitions, politicians have ignored the uneven, punitive punishments resulting from statutory rape laws’ harsh application against minors who fornicate with minors.  Indeed, no coherent framework has been offered by politicians that respond pragmatically to the empirical realities of adolescent sexuality.  Neither federal nor state legislatures offer a coherent, well articulated approach to militate against the harshest criminal punishments demanded by statutory rape provisions and sex offender registries.

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Reproductive Politics

By Michele Goodwin

In recent months, women’s reproduction has been in the spotlight.  A few weeks ago, the Republican Party adopted an anti-abortion platform calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion and making no exception for victims in cases of incest, rape, or to save the woman’s life.  Ironically, some of the very same party leaders responsible for drafting the amendment issued demands for the Missouri Congressman, Todd Akin, to resign or step aside in a hotly contested Senate race after he made controversial claims that “legitimate” rapes rarely result in pregnancies.

As the gender war plays out in high profile ways, we should be aware that abortion politics is not the only area in which women’s reproductive rights are closely scrutinized and under threat of political attack.  Relatively little attention has focused on the pernicious on-the-ground forms of criminal policing targeted at pregnant women across America.

Since the late 1980s, state legislatures have enacted criminal feticide laws that now ensnare women for a broad range of activities, including falling down steps, suffering drug addiction, refusing cesarean sections, or attempting suicide. For example, in 2010 Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law the “Criminal Homicide and Abortion Revisions Act,” which specifically applies to miscarriages and other fetal harms that result from “knowing acts” committed by women.  A prior version of the bill drafted by state legislator Carl Wimmer authorized life imprisonment for pregnant women who engage in reckless behavior during pregnancy that could result in miscarriage and stillbirth.  Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, and some other states define child abuse as intentional or neglectful harm to the fetus.

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The Body Snatchers: Human Recycling in The Global Age

By Michele Goodwin

For all the attention by legal scholars, doctors, and politicians to the global organ shortage—and particularly the crisis in the United States, relatively little is said about tissue demand and that supply industry.  Well known are the horrific stories involving black markets specializing in organs like kidneys and livers.  The troubling stories of Indian women, Pakistani men, and Brazilian boys pillaged for parts and left suffering with grotesque scars, owing debts, and in medical need are chronicled by a growing chorus of scholars (see here, here, and here).  Even those of us who support incentives to encourage organ donation strongly oppose human rights abuses paraded as free markets.  What scholars continually overlook, however, are the surreptitious, global tissue trades that effect more people and have the potential to cause greater harm, such as diseased tissues, bones, and other body parts entering the stream of US commerce and transplantation.

Several years ago, I presaged some of these problems and wrote about these issues; one of the articles can be found here.  More recently, an international consortium of journalist have come on board with an eye-opening special report, revealing black markets in Europe for human tissues and bones.  Their story begins in the Ukraine, where earlier this year security guards discovered body parts and skin stuffed into coolers, and envelopes filled with cash–transported on a “grimy white minibus.”  Authorities stumbled onto this body part heist thinking that a mass-murder had been uncovered. To their surprise, the bus and its contents were headed off to Germany before shipment of the parcels to Korea, the US and other countries.

On its own, tissue transplantation makes as much sense as organ transplantation, because they help to improve patients’ quality of life and in some instances may be vital to saving lives, such as heart valve transplants.  The problem is that the dark-side of this industry operates nefariously.  Sometimes this includes pillaging parts from cadavers dead from communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis or acquiring tissues through illegal means, or mislabeling parts—claiming that body parts are from Germany, when in fact they are from developing countries.  Often companies that trade on stock exchanges are linked to the darker side.  For example, investigators discovered that a US business, RTI, located in Florida is linked to the Ukraine discovery.  As Dr. Martin Zizi remarked to reporters, “once a [body part] is in the European Union, it can be shipped to the U.S. with few questions asked…They assume you’ve done the quality check, [but] we are more careful with fruit and vegetables than with body parts.”

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