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Essay: The 'Blurred Lines' of Statutory Rape

Kylie Jenner and recording artist Tyga arrive bearing gifts at the LA Gear Presents Teen Impact Holiday Party Hosted By Tyga At Childrens Hospital LA on December 15, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Lilly Lawrence / WireImage

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If you Google the term “age of consent,” the age in which a person is considered legally competent to engage in sexual activity, you receive over 200 million results.

If you examine statutory rape and pedophilia claims in Hollywood, there are countless. And a closer look shows that alleged perpetrators who have notable Hollywood names like filmmakers Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are still celebrated instead of used as cautionary tales for predatory behavior.

The map of the United States around sexual consent looks more like the United States of Confusion than anything else.

While many, including myself are outraged by the relationship between 17-year-old mini Kardashian Kylie Jenner and 25-year-old rapper Tyga, is it actually illegal or just frowned upon?

As early as the 16th Century it was entirely normal for girls as young as 10 years old to be married. Just think, at this point, most girls at this age haven’t even started their menstrual cycle.

The laws began to change in the 19th and 20th Century when feminists of the Social Purity movement like Josephine Butler, who championed the causes of poor women and prostitutes, began to set their sights on a growing problem, child prostitution.

The tipping point came in 1885, when editor William Thomas Stead wrote an expose entitled “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”. In his 4-part article he described the extensive underground sex trafficking business in England, where the kidnapping and selling of young girls to older men was prevalent. Does this sound familiar? Once the articles were published the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16-years-old.

While our laws of sexual consent in the US range from 16-18-years-old, in Hollywood it seems all bets are off. Kylie and Tyga are just the latest in what is an unsettling trend of old men dating teenage girls.

In 1968 28-year-old singer Sonny Bono met and married 16-year-old Cherilyn La Pierre, later known as Cher. What’s funny is that they were one of the most celebrated Hollywood couples around. I guess it was the era of “free love”?

At just age 14, Melanie Griffith began dating 22-year-old Don Johnson. They married in 1976 and again in 1989. In what world is it OK for a middle school student to move in with a grown man? Apparently, LA LA Land.

In 1995, 28-year-old R. Kelly married 15-year-old Aaliyah. The marriage was a secret and annulled 7-months later. When the Lifetime movie came out last year viewers including the late Aaliyah’s family were outraged, and not just because the film was a bust, but instead by the romanticizing of the relationship between Kelly and his child-bride. Music critic Jim DeRogatis, who has chronicled R. Kelly’s life extensively, wrote in a blog post that according to court records the relationship was “one of abuse and victimization” not the “puppy love” portrayed in the biopic.

Child star Corey Feldman once quipped in a Nightline interview back in 2011 that one of the biggest problems in Hollywood is pedophilia. In the interview he said, "I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That's the biggest problem for children in this industry. ... It's the big secret."

In 2013 writer and former lawyer Betsy Karasik penned a controversial article where she questioned statutory rape laws and pondered whether they have unintended consequences. Karasik wrote, “throughout high school, college and law school, I knew students who had sexual relations with teachers. To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can’t consent to sex”.

It’s fascinating how our society’s views have evolved or devolved with regard to sex and children. Some find the practice of adults with teenagers repulsive and others like Karasik find no problem with it. For all intended purposes if Kylie were your average 17-year-old she would be in high school while Tyga is knocking on 30s door.

Contrary to what a recent People magazine article said there is nothing “sweet” about a teenage girl (or boy) dating an adult. While the Jenner/Kardashian clan may think Kylie is “grown” because she was born into wealth and privilege, the state of California deems 18 the age of consent.

Sure, they say that girls mature faster than boys—but the same can’t be true for adult men with an entirely different set of exposure and experiences.

When it comes to the blurred lines between young love and statutory rape, I think it’s time we take off the rose-colored glasses and move from LA LA Land back to reality and ask ourselves what kind of society do we want to live in? I for one like my lines nice and clear.

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