Sex, lies, and penal codes

So a drift back from passivity might begin with something like this: “Have you heard of the next thing in child abuse, this AB 832?” Sleepily, I reply, “No, is that a Melendez bill?”

“Nah–someone name Garcia.”

I shrug. “What of it. What’s it about?”

“Child abuse”

“Yeah, got that. Can you be more specific?”

“I thought you might know about it, since you’ve been caught up with that other law, AB1775”

“So you don’t really know anything about AB 832?”

“No,” my colleague replies forlornly. There is a pause between us, an awkward waiting. “I think this discussion’s hit a wall, don’t you think?” I remark playfully. Not that it wouldn’t hit a wall anyway. Such are the somnolent beginnings of dissent in the public sphere, across coffee tables and in between cubicles; in between sessions. Elsewhere, I picture a quiet, pine-enveloped room, filled with the soft buzz of ‘live’ microphones, with radio voices speaking collegially, passing laws that make perfect sense when spoken about in this way. This is the legislative realm. The subtext of AB 832, a bill that removes mandated reporting requirements for consensual sexual behavior between minors, is two-fold: first, it more or less acknowledges the normalcy of teens having sex; secondly, it tempers language that has long implied a homophobic edge to the existing Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), which casts acts such as oral copulation and sodomy as tantamount to sexual assault. Assembly women Garcia and Eggman (the authors–both Democrats) want minors of similar age (teens, I assume), gay or straight, left alone to pursue voluntary sexual behavior; to maybe talk about sex with teachers and counselors; to not be bullied, and most specifically, to not be reported to authorities when they are having sex voluntarily, unless one party is over the age of 21 and the other is under 16.

Well, clearly they haven’t reached across the aisle and coordinated their efforts with the AB1775 supporters. Don’t they realize that talking to police can be as therapeutic as talking to any counselor or social worker? As Garcia and Eggman peruse their worthy new text of California penal code 11165.1, subdivision (a), what might they make of subdivision (3), I wonder, which is situated just twenty lines south of their progressively amended words?

In it lies the controversial language of bill AB1775, authored (in legislative terms, that means written by someone else while a politician’s name is attached) by Republican Melissa Melendez last year, which added to penal code 11165.1 the infamous words “downloads, streams, accesses, through any electronic or digital media, or exchanges (other mediums indicated) in which a child is engaged in obscene sexual conduct” (which is defined in several other penal codes beginning with the numbers 311). This is the language that now defines sexual exploitation, which, like sexual assault, is a subset of sexual abuse, which is subject to mandated reporting by those who are guilty of a misdemeanor if they don’t report such behavior. BTW: in those other penal code sections, it’s clear that a child (alternately termed a ‘minor’) is anyone under the age of 18, and that obscene sexual conduct includes the aforementioned ‘voluntary’ behaviors. No where is it stipulated that behaviors must be coerced in order to constitute obscene sexual conduct.

So…wait. If I understand this right, we are now proposing that it’s okay for kids to have sex with each other (all of the major sex acts I’m aware of fall under the definition of ‘obscene sexual conduct’) unless one of them is over 21 and the other is less than 16. Meaning, as therapists we wouldn’t have to report this to the police if AB 832 went into effect. That’s nice. Seriously, it would be good if we didn’t have to narc on kids getting it on, or out gay or straight teens that engage in oral copulation or sodomy. However, if upon having sex or behaving sexually in any way, one such kid takes a picture of the act and later “sends’ or ‘accesses’ said picture, we would then require the ‘discretion’ of police, to whom we must report that latter behavior, to address said child’s sexual behavior and ensure that abuse has not occurred.

Seriously? Who is observing this absurdity, taking note as the zeitgeist of one social cause passes another moving in the other direction. Where is the corpus callosum of our society, assuring that our right and left brains communicate versus split, as manifest by our detached political mirrors. What am I saying? you ask. Here it is: as the cultural right keeps fighting for teenage abstinence, or to extinguish gay sexuality, it ups its game with respect to sexual exploitation, looking to widen the scope of persecution because it needs new scapegoats, the less fashionably sympathetic (I mean heterosexual males, of course). In doing so it squeezes the law into an illogical corner–caught somewhere in between the ‘free love’ left and the ‘protect children’ right .

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