Dershowitz on the Statutory Rape Law

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The May 7 commentary by Alan Dershowitz (“Statutory Rape Is an Outdated Concept”) pointed out an important gap in the enforcement of statutory rape laws. However, it failed to demonstrate the most important aspect of the subject.

Adolescents, even well up to the age of 18 and beyond, are in the most intense phase of their psychosexual development, and therefore often cannot make mature consensual decisions about sexual intercourse. This is even more true if an adult partner is involved. Dershowitz does not address the issue of sexual identity, which is in formation during these years and cannot be maturely expressed until it is formed. Indeed the “mature 16-year-old” referred to may be mature in many ways, but not even have established a sexual preference.

We have many good laws meant to protect our citizens that are unfortunately poorly enforced. The lack of adequate enforcement is not a sufficient reason to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”




Dershowitz’ analysis of the unworkability of statutory rape laws was a clear-minded approach to what will obviously be an ongoing situation. Anyone who has studied the history of these laws will realize they were enacted for religious reasons and political expediency, not for how they would help or harm the various individuals who are involved.

These laws were put into effect more than 100 years ago, but our current crop of politicians as well as those in the federal government haven’t brought any greater clarity to the issue.

So as things now stand, a person must be 21 to drink alcohol, yet can be as young as 18 to be sent in armed conflict; the law denies them the right of a sexual partner until they become 18, yet it licenses them to operate a potential death-dealing vehicle two years before that age.



Sexual intercourse between persons, of any age, who are not married to each other is always a dangerous activity. Religious and moral questions aside, extramarital sex exposes the participants to a number of perils, from diseases to the likelihood of pregnancy.

The birth of a child to an unmarried teenage girl brings often catastrophic results to the mother, the child, the father and to society. When an adult male seduces a female who is not mature enough to bear the full responsibilities of parenthood, you can be sure that a crime is in the making.

We view adults as having an obligation to protect our children from harm and to provide an environment in which they can bloom into maturity. Dershowitz is ignoring this obligation when he suggests that the age of consent should be as low as 14 or 15.