WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

The Many Harms of State Bills Blocking Youth Access to Gender-Affirming Care

By Chloe Reichel

State legislation blocking trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care puts kids at risk, thwarts physician autonomy, and potentially violates a number of federal laws, write Jack L. Turban, Katherine L. Kraschel, and I. Glenn Cohen in a viewpoint published today in JAMA.

So far this year, 15 states have proposed bills that would limit access to gender-affirming care. One of these bills, Arkansas’ HB1570/SB347, already has become law.

This legislative trend should be troubling to all, explained Cohen, Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. In an email interview, he highlighted “how exceptionally restrictive these proposed laws are,” adding that they are “out of step with usual medical, ethical, and legal rules regarding discretion of the medical profession and space for parental decision-making.”

Turban, child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine also offered further insight as to the medical and legal concerns these bills raise over email.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

Now Is the Time for a Sex-Based Civil Rights Movement in Health Care

By Valarie K. Blake

The Biden administration and all three branches of government are poised to finally deliver a sex-based civil rights movement in health care that generations have waited for.

Sex discrimination is prevalent in health care, but especially so for LGBTQ people. Combine this with other forms of discrimination that LGBTQ people experience, and the result is a population that suffers from serious health disparities, including heightened risks of mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and suicide.

A much needed ban on sex discrimination in health care finally passed in 2010, as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits health care entities that receive federal money from discriminating on the basis of sex, along with race, age, and disability. Specifically, Section 1557 bans sex discrimination in health care by way of extending Title IX, which previously applied to educational entities only. Section 1557 reaches most hospitals, providers, and insurers. Sex equality in health was a long time coming. Similar bans on discrimination by recipients of federal money had passed decades earlier: race discrimination in 1964, disability discrimination in 1973, and age discrimination in 1975.

Despite its historic nature, Section 1557 has yet to deliver on its promise, owing to delays and volatility in rulemaking and near-constant litigation. The statute was barebones, requiring interpretation, but the Obama administration only promulgated a rule and began full enforcement six years after the passage of the ACA. The Obama rule broadly banned gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, but the part of the rule banning gender identity discrimination was judicially stayed only months later in Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell.

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Too Young For Sex, But Old Enough For The Sex Offender Registry, Part III

By Michele Goodwin

I conclude Part III in this series from Uganda—a nation recovering from what one doctor describes as a “genocide” from HIV and AIDS. Parts I and II can be found here and here.

As a society, do we really care that teens and preteens have sex? On the one hand we care too much—so much so that the criminal law is the central form of regulating teen sex. This form of regulation is derived from statutes that treat all sexual behavior alike, even though consent and context may drastically vary.  In Law’s Limits: Regulating Statutory Rape Law, found here, I articulate why the criminal law approach, filtered through the judiciary, leads to absurd results. These absurd results include the extralegal punishments inflicted on youth who are punished for participating in consensual sexual activity, such as lifelong registration as a sex offender. These types of consequences and outcomes are problematic because they are morally wrong and foster significant harms across a series of areas, including creating social status harms, by reifying racial and homosexual stereotypes. The criminal law approach also leads to cruel and unusual punishments in an era where sex offender registries are increasingly the norm and a condition of release from prison.  On inspection, such punishments are disproportionate and unjustified.

On the other hand, maybe we care too little about teen sexuality. The notorious Steubenville, Ohio rape case bears this out (where the rape victim suffered backlash and threats), as do the high rates of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and syphilis infections among teens, and teens’ relatively high use of alcohol and drugs prior to sex. Parents fail to talk to their children about sexuality when children most need to understand it: prior to commencing sexual experimentation. Empirical data shows that fathers barely speak to their daughters about sex and these omissions may impact their daughters’ sexual attitudes and behaviors. Governors and prosecutors sometimes demonstrate selective interest in teen sexuality—when it involves specific ethnic populations or the poor. This failure to care enough is manifested in the criminal law approach to shaping teen sex norms, rather than the public health where it is most justified.

So, how might we move forward? Read More

Too Young for Sex, But Old Enough for the Sex Offender Registry, Part II

By Michele Goodwin

This post is the second in a three part series on the use of criminal law to police teen sex.  The first part can be viewed here.

In recent years, thousands of judicial proceedings against children result in teens as young as thirteen being adjudicated as sexual predators and placed on sex offender registries.  The problem in the United States is that statutory rape laws create per se rule violations with respect to all sexual intercourse involving children.  My research reveals that children as young as 11 have been prosecuted as both the victim and sex offender.  In some states, even sexual touching involving consenting minors breaks the law. In other words, sex with a person under the age of majority or age of consent (depending on the specific state legislation) is always crime.  In a recently published Wisconsin Law Review article found here, I argue that such prosecutions can and often do lead to absurd results.

In Utah, which serves as a relative example, a child who commits “more than five ‘separate acts’ of sexual touching,” even without sexual penetration, could be convicted 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 if the consenting party is under thirteen.. Wisconsin’s statutory rape law reads similarly. These matters are particularly thorny in their application against children because legally a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse. In some states, including Utah, adolescent fondling constitutes sexual abuse of a child just as 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.

According to the CDC, nearly 50% of high school teenagers have had sexual intercourse.  In fact, by the 9th grade over 30% of girls and nearly 40% of boys have had sex.  In conservative states like Mississippi and South Carolina, pre-teen boys report the highest rates of pre-teen sex (19.1% and 17.1%, respectively).   Along with reporting sexual activity, white teens report the highest rates of combining sex with alcohol.

CDC studies expose the gaps in how parents view and understand youth sexuality. An American Broadcasting Company (ABC) News survey investigating parental and teens attitudes on sex places has some startling findings.  Consider this: while nearly ninety percent of parents surveyed confirmed that they spoke with their teens about sex, only forty nine percent of teens believed such conversations took place.

However, adolescent sexual activity raises questions for the law.  Should teens be prosecuted for committing the crime of rape if they engage in consensual sexual intercourse with children of their own or near age?  Is it ethical to prosecute children similarly to adults for having sex with other children?  More to come in Part III.

 

 

Too Young for Sex, But Old Enough for the Sex Offender Registry, Part I

By Michele Goodwin

This post is the first in a three part series on the use of criminal law to police teen sex.

A recent study by Human Rights Watch suggests that statutory rape law is a poor tool for reducing teen sexuality.  Their study and my forthcoming article, Law’s Limits: Regulating Statutory Rape Law, published by the Wisconsin Law Review concur on this point.  Consider an unfortunate case that underscores the importance of revisiting statutory rape law prosecutions in the United States.  In 2011, J.L. was adjudicated a delinquent, charged with first‑degree rape, and convicted under the South Dakota statutory rape statute. According to the South Dakota Supreme Court, J.L., a fourteen-year-old, “engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with his girlfriend, who was twelve” and only fifteen months his junior.  Despite both adolescents consenting to sex in this case, in the state of South Dakota, J.L.’s conviction will result in legal and extralegal 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.  This is because J.L.’s “victim” was under the age of thirteen.

In a provocative commentary, buried in a footnote, the South Dakota Supreme Court references the harsh penalties J.L. and other minors who engage in consensual sex with minors will encounter. The court explains, “[i]t appears that J.L. will be required to register as a sex offender for life.” In other words, J.L.’s “mark” as a sexual predator burdens him with the same potent and socially stigmatic punishment as that of a convicted, middle-aged pedophile who rapes a minor.  This prosecution and others similar point to the absurd results in many statutory rape cases involving teens who have consensual sex with teens.

As I note in the forthcoming article, had J.L.’s girlfriend been an adult and a nonconsensual sexual act occurred, he could qualify for release from the sex offender registry list after only ten years, rather than the life-term that now serves as his punishment.  In South Dakota, consensual sex between minors may result in a more severe punishment than nonconsensual sexual encounters either between adults or between a teenage male and an adult woman.   But, are such outcomes just?  Do they reflect broad social consensus?  Or do such prosecutions lead to absurd, untenable results?

In the coming week, my blog posts will address these and other relevant questions.