[Editor’s Note: Maggie McNeill will be joining the Libertarian Institute for an event Friday, June 23, 2017, in Chicago alongside the Libertarian Party and Sex Workers Outreach Project – Chicago, among others, while on her book tour in the area June 21 – 24. More details on the event soon!]
Three years ago I wrote “Passive Voice“, an indictment of those who use that sentence form to shift blame from the actual culprit to some amorphous & anonymous scapegoat, or even to the victim. Cops who murder people, for example, always shift blame from themselves with constructions like “shots were fired” and “he was struck by bullets”; it’s a bit harder when the assault the cop commits is a sexual one, but they still manage a subtle version even when they aren’t claiming it was “consensual” (because obviously women are all running around hankering to spread our legs for whatever random cop pulls us over on the highway). This is done by a manipulation of the idea of consent; most people understand that consent obtained under certain circumstances is invalid, so it’s easy to choose words that imply invalid consent is a characteristic of the victim of a sexual assault rather than of her assailant. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I saw a comment about this story containing the phrase, “a prisoner is unable to consent to sex”; though I understand what the commenter meant, I still refuse to phrase that in the way “authorities” prefer: “She is unable to consent”, as though SHE was defective. The problem isn’t that prisoners lack something (ability to consent), but that anyone in power in such a situation MUST be presumed to be using it coercively. The “authorities” don’t want to phrase it as a problem with state actors (“People in power must be assumed to be coercive”), so they phrase it as a deficiency in prisoners (“People in jail cannot give consent”) instead.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but it isn’t by a long shot; years of speaking about legal minors as though they were small children who are literally unable to understand the ramifications of sex and therefore cannot be treated as fully-informed agents, has led to the idea that this is indeed the case. The notion that a person 17-years-and-assorted-months old is literally a child, actually unable to give sexual consent, while the same person on her 18th birthday is fully adult & sexually competent even if she’s a sheltered virgin, is so ludicrous it tests the bounds of credulity, and yet people run around acting as though this were actually, factually true.
Teens having sex with one another, or even just flirting by sending partially-nude selfies, are labeled “victims” of “child rape”, regardless of how willing they were; whichever partner is older, or sometimes whichever is male, is on the other hand held to be a “sex criminal” or a “predator” because everybody knows that only predatory perverts are interested in sex with anyone below magic 18. That’s right, there’s a detector in the brain that magically knows the actual, legal age of anyone the eyes gaze upon, and in healthy people of any age it totally shuts down sexual response if the person is even one second below the sacred Age of Shazam.
That such an absurd idea is so common is why I’m so suspicious of stories like this: “Based on observations or tips, school staff now quietly keep an eye on kids they worry are sexually aggressive…the school intervenes if behavior threatens to escalate, whether the student is a kindergartener or about to graduate…” The story goes on to use words like “attacks” and “sexual assaults”, but in truth the majority of sexual contact between peers or near-peers is consensual; the only “aggressor” is the one teachers or administrators label as such, usually on the basis of age and/or sex. The phrase “overly sexualized behavior”, which also appears therein, is very telling; it’s US bureaucratese for either “sexual behavior” or “behavior with sexual undertones”.
The reason for the passive construction is the aforementioned official US dogma that nobody under 18 has natural sexual impulses at all, so if anyone below that age demonstrates any sexuality at all, they must have been “sexualized” by someone or something. Since any sexuality in any person below 18 is held to be “unnatural”, any external sexual behavior at all is “overly sexualized” and the young person displaying it is a “predator” because his peers are all below Magic 18. Yet cops who commit willful murder, torture or rape are excused by the same linguistic sleight-of-hand; once we accept that responsibility can be shifted by words, we shouldn’t be surprised when the State uses that power to shift responsibility from its own actors, steal the agency of those it wishes to control, and assign blame to those it wishes to crush.
Republished with the author’s permission from her blog, The Honest Courtesan.
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