Children

Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe That Minors Can Consent to Sex With Adults

In 1997 the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses sent a letter to all elders telling them what to do when a child molester is part of their congregation. This letter clarified a few points about child molestation, including the fact that they believe a minor child can consent to sex with an adult (please note the area highlighted in blue):

Capture consent

Let me first of all say, I am well aware of the fact that minors under the age of 18 know all about sex, and many of them may be sexually active long before they are legally an adult. I don’t live in a fantasy world where I think sex is a big mystery to teenagers. That being said, let’s break this statement down a bit so we can understand the gross obscenity of these words, and how easily it puts children in danger, as well as allows child rapists to freely roam the local Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

How Young Is Too Young?

First note that they talk about a minor “approaching adulthood.” What does that mean? How young exactly, 17? 16? 15? Since an 18-year-old adult would then be a “few years older,” it’s certainly possible.

This may seem like a petty point, but it’s vitally important that non-JWs and rank-and-file members consider its importance. Since the governing body didn’t state specific ages or what was meant by a minor “approaching adulthood,” this gives local bodies of elders great leeway in determining this for themselves. They are then free to decide on their own that a 15-year-old or someone even younger had “consensual” sex with an adult, and a charge of pedophilia or child rape is dismissed in their minds. To them, a 19- or 20-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old is just sex between two consenting parties, not statutory rape.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating this point, note this post, where the situation of a man going into the bedroom of his stepdaughter and fondling her breasts while she slept was referred to as a “minor uncleanness.” The real problem, according to the instructions given in this particular case, was that he touched the breast of a female to whom he was not married, not that he molested a child, and his sleeping stepdaughter at that. Never once are the words “molestation” or “pedophile” used in that case.

Yet again, Jehovah’s Witnesses show that they have no understanding of the horrific nature of child rape and molestation. Their only concern is if two people are married, not if one is a child who has been abused or taken advantage of, which leads to the next point.

Minors Consenting is an Oxymoron

Consider also that a minor cannot consent to sex with an adult, especially an adult who is “a few years older” than them. Again, I understand that teenagers know all about sex, but teenagers are also impressionable, naive, easily coerced, lack understanding of what is best for them, and at times need protection even from themselves and their own impulses. It is imperative that adults understand this, and one who is a “few years older” than that teen is especially culpable.

This is exactly why the law backs me up on this point; even if a minor under the age of consent says that they want sex and seem ready for sex, it is still child rape to engage in sex with them, depending on the circumstances (i.e., age difference, age of consent in that local area, exact age of minor, etc.). A minor is not allowed to make that decision for themselves, not legally or morally, for all the reasons I state above.

child-drivingThe fact that teens are not mentally and emotionally ready for certain responsibilities and activities, even if they seem physically ready, is exactly why we have particular laws in place barring them from those activities. For instance, in the U.S. you need to be 16 to get your driver’s license simply because it takes some maturity to keep yourself safe when behind the wheel. Whether or not you’re tall enough to reach the pedals is not the point; you need to have some seriousness of mind to understand that driving is not just fun, but also dangerous. If an adult gave the keys to their car to someone underage, they would be in trouble legally and no doubt many people would question their judgment and character, no matter how much that child begged and pleaded to take the car. As an adult, it’s his or her responsibility to behave as the adult, and set needed boundaries.

Calling the police on an adult who allows a child to drive, drink alcohol, stay out all night, etc., is a good step to take, and I’m sure people can understand why a person should do that, for the protection of the child. Why then would Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to apply this same thinking to an adult having sex with a minor? This brings me to the next point.

Ignoring the Law as Well as Morals

The morality of just dismissing an adult having sex with a minor as being “consensual” is bad enough, but note that the law doesn’t allow for this reasoning either. If an adult has sex with a minor, it’s called statutory rape; it doesn’t matter if the minor said he or she wanted sex or seemed ready for sex, and it doesn’t matter if the minor is “approaching adulthood,” whatever that means. The law gives very little leeway for a minor who is not yet at the age of consent to have sex with an adult.¹

Despite that, there is no instruction for elders to call the police and report this crime if it’s becomes known to them. As I bring out in the Pedophilia category of this site, JWs see this act as a “sin” and not a crime; it’s “sinful” when the two are not married, but they feel no obligation to involve the law in these matters.

This brings me back to my original point. By not involving law enforcement, Jehovah’s Witnesses may very well be complicit in the crime of statutory rape. I don’t know when the law requires an elder to report this situation, but why would you report an adult having sex with a minor only when legally required? This person committed a very serious crime and, if they face no consequences, what stops them from doing it again and again? Why should they be allowed to get away with breaking the law of the land, especially in such a serious matter?

Determining Consent

Another important and disturbing question is who exactly determines if the minor gave this so-called consent, if there is any question? Would it be the adult who had sex with that minor? Would the elders make this determination?

This too is not a point to gloss over; as I bring out in this post, elders actually have the power to determine if an adult woman who claims to have been raped was actually raped, based on some flimsy instructions regarding her “mental disposition,” the circumstances around the incident, and if she delayed reporting it. If elders believe they can and should sit across from an adult woman and tell her that no, she wasn’t raped but she did actually consent to being sexually violated, what would stop them from sitting across from a teenager and doing the same?

By assuming that minors can consent to sex with an adult, a dangerous atmosphere is created in Kingdom Halls. An adult can easily groom teenagers “approaching adulthood,” have sex with them, and face no other consequences than a meeting with elders who chastise and counsel them about “fornication.” Meanwhile, teens are coerced into relationships and sexual scenarios for which they’re not ready and which may affect them for the rest of their lives. Because of facing counsel and other punishment including shunning for “fornication,” they may also agree to marry someone at their young age, and then they become trapped in a relationship that is not healthy or fulfilling. As with most fundamentalism, high-controlling religions, divorce is not an easy option or way out for them, and of course having children at a young age can also contribute to a young person, man or woman, feeling and being trapped in many ways.

The law does not support this statement made by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and neither do good morals and character. The protection of children and teenagers from any type of sexual exploitation should be of utmost importance to adults in any setting, but this just isn’t the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as this letter proves. It also betrays the statement made by governing body member Stephen Lett on the TV channel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, where he insisted that the organization protects children from pedophiles (see this post). Not only do they fail miserably to do this, but they openly state their beliefs that a minor may very well have “consented” to having sex with an adult. The victims of the sick persons that prey on others in their religion are dismissed and perhaps even blamed for their situation.

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¹Note that laws vary from location to location; some will take into account the age gap between minors and the adult in question, as well as the nature of the sexual activity. If you need specific information about sexual activity with a minor in your area, consult with an attorney or your local law enforcement agency.

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11 replies »

  1. I personally am not bothered about the science part, psychological problems afterwards or what the law of the land says. Even before God gave his law there was “natural laws” of conscience applicable to life (example often used by jw is of Joseph resisting Potiphars wife). I cannot comprehend the reasoning here of these wise men presiding over the wts and their attitude and opinion on this matter. Surely natural law of conscience should make every decent human being feel that this reasoning is just plain wrong and not excusable under any circumstances?? Reading posts on this website actually makes me feel physically sick when I think about what was going on behind the scenes when I was brought up in the so-called truth as a child thinking everything was perfect and right because I was being taught and told something other than actual teachings and thoughts of these men. Talk about being kept in the dark!!

  2. Alex, I’m sorry if this seems too far off the rails in re your original points. But, I do think current science is informing your points very well. The three years difference between an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old is significant neurologically and 18-year-olds “screwing” 15-year-olds stands to harm them significantly biologically speaking, in a host of ways. Elders thinking they are qualified to make judgement calls with the standards proposed in their letters ARE terribly disturbing. Whether we are talking statutory rape laws or giving an 18-year-old a good thump on the nose in a JC for “tapping” a 15-year-old, I think science has some very pertinent points on the issue. It rather floors me that neurology even needs to be consulted to justify or verify things that really just should strike us as good sense. Nevertheless, if you’ll allow it, I’d like to further address some points.

    “I know that the executive center matures only after 20 years old. But such studies do not prove there is a on-the-whole negative effect on teenagers by engaging in sex.”

    REPEAT: There ARE numerous social and psychological (US) demonstrating that teens DO OFTEN experience negative effects from engaging sex. They show numerous lasting negative correlates long into adulthood compared with those who delay onset of sexual activity into adulthood. Neurological studies DO show teen/adolescent sex is damaging to their still developing brains, including the portions that contribute to executive functioning. Executive functioning, by the way, has to do with more than just one part of the brain. Neurological studies ARE showing that sexual activity during teen years is actually interpreted by their bodies as a STRESSOR, despite the fact pleasure can be involved. And, yes, long term negative effects are involved. This applies to GIRLS *and* BOYS. I don’t have time to write a treatise on these things for you. Perhaps you should do some of your own digging. But, briefly, here are a *few* findings concerning problems of adolescent male sex:

    *depressive behaviors into adulthood
    *lower body mass in adulthood
    *smaller reproductive tissues including the seminal vesicles, vas deferens and epididymis in adulthood
    *higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1) in in areas of the brain known not to mature until well into adulthood
    *higher levels of expression of a gene associated with inflammation in brain tissue
    *less complex cellular structures in key signaling areas of the brain
    *signs of potential autoimmune problems (common forms of arthritis are autoimmune disorders, btw).
    *brain cells responding by growing shorter dendrites

    “But then your “can end up as addictive behaviors if engaged compulsively” is a red flag, it’s got nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Anything can end up as compulsive behaviour: computer gaming, internet, social gathering, cleaning, etc.”

    Yes, it does have to do with the discussion you brought to be “at hand”. No red flags here. You stated “you only stand to harm yourself with sex.” You didn’t like the comparison with driving so I gave alcohol. Again, I don’t have time to write a treatise for you. But, in short form, the “addictive” process has been nailed down. For a behavior to end up as a compulsion (addiction), it has to be engaged chronically. Not until then do the levels of a transcription factor called Delta FOSB rise high enough to bind to your genes and switch them into compulsion (addictive) mode. The executive functioning areas of a teen’s brain are not developed enough to appropriately manage self-control, risk analysis, and delayed gratification with sexual (and many other) activities. Sex IS a risky activity, period. If you can’t figure out how people stand to harm both themselves and others with sex, I don’t know what to say. This is a two-way street. Not a one-way street. Teens are at higher risk of slipping into sex as a compulsive (addictive) behavior sans appropriate risk analysis in re a HOST of associated risks. Adults should not be crossing these lines with teens. Doing so stands to contribute to a host of problems that stand to harm teens. Once you’ve had that big “O”, it only stands to reason, that’s kinda something you’d like to have again, huh? If adults are introducing teens to the big “O” and teens brains have not developed enough to appropriately manage self-control, risk analysis and delayed gratification and all of these things contribute to engaging a particular behavior chronically (not necessarily with the same partner; hello “delayed gratification”? So-and-so isn’t available right now, but so-and-so is. No condoms? Oh, well. The list goes on….) Chronic to compulsion (addiction) with a high risk activity (sex)? Their brains and bodies are flooded with hormones at that age. I’m not sure why you aren’t putting two and two together here or why someone has to spell it out for you. When an adult has sex with a teen, they stand to harm that teen with sex in numerous ways. Elders have no business attempting to blur these lines or rationalizing in any way whatsoever that any teen was equipped to give *consent* to an ADULT. Further, I seriously question what head they are thinking with when they do.

    “I’m happy to hear you had a responsible boyfriend. It goes against the typical male stereotype, haha!”

    Just to be clear. You said one can only harm themselves with sex. The example was there to point out that others do understand that you can, in fact, harm someone else with sex. The chemical reactions that occur in the body during sex are BONDING chemicals. He understood HE could hurt ME with sex, if we weren’t both clear on where the relationship was going, because I bonded differently. He understood that HE bore some responsibility towards that clarity too.

    “May I point out that some things you just *have* to experience before knowing how your body responds to it? Just waiting until a predefined age limit is not the holy grail here. I wish for everyone to experience these things in a loving environment. Certainly not in one where someone is taking advantage of you! But again, this distracts from the original point.”

    Repeat: neurologically, by-and-large, most teens are NOT biologically equipped to be qualified to field and negotiate all the things that require fielding and negotiating to properly “consent”. Just because a handful of teens MIGHT be ahead of the curve, I don’t think that is any reason to even entertain the idea that even one of them gave “consent” to have sex. When it comes to determining statutory rape, the responsible party should ALWAYS be the adult that was involved; never the teen. If an adult serves someone under legal age alcohol in the US, the adult is ALWAYS held responsible, no matter how much the teen “consented” to drinking or how capable that individual teen may personally be of actually handling alcohol responsibly. We have a blanket rule in place for that one for good reason. For the same good reason, grey areas in a few cases or not, YES, I believe in what you call a *HOLY GRAIL* age limit for statutory rape. There’s no reason for this to be a burden. You really can keep it in your pants, people. There really will be plenty of folks within your own legal age range to sleep with. That’s what those regulatory centers in the brain help you do once you’re “all grown up”; delay gratification, decide you don’t HAVE to “have it” HERE, with this young person, there ARE more fish in the sea. There may be some information I’ve missed but, if what I’ve read is all there is to know on the subject, Denmark DOES have a hard-line age/rule; even if it is relatively low. You break that rule, you’re off to prison for a few years. We don’t balk about hard-line age rules for other things, even when grey areas exist. In the US 18 = adult. Your parents don’t owe you a roof over your head, food in your mouth or clothes on your back anymore. Grey areas don’t matter. If they boot you out, you are on your own. We have a “holy grail” for that. If you can be “grown up” with this, you can be “grown up” when it comes to with whom you “take your clothes off”.

    There may be some things you have to experience before knowing *FULLY* how your body will respond to them but our *adult* brains are generally well equipped for probability estimation, pattern recognition and introspection when evaluating the world of information around us regarding these matters. An adult, developmentally, can more appropriately evaluate these things, even before a first encounter, than the vast majority of teens. Plus, once your brain is fully developed in these aspects, you stand less chance of lasting damage mentally, emotionally, psychologically and physiologically, even when things do go wrong. I don’t think these things distract from the original point at all. I think they are important factors in evaluating the importance of the original point. Perhaps I missed something but it seems I am only expanding on points you brought up in evaluating the importance of the original point.

    “Also, there is a difference between determining what should be punished and how (what the Society and the law do), versus what is wise, healthy, and responsible. It seems to me you’re primarily arguing for the latter (which is not wrong!), but not really responding to the first.”

    I disagree that there is a great difference at all. The law, at least in the US, has a built in process for being informed by standards of what is wise, healthy and responsible as a society and therefore what should be punished when these standards are violated. Responding to one element of the issue does inform how the other is best handled. I think the field of neurology is at the point of being able to justify good policy on these matters. It worries me when I hear someone arguing for “grey areas” in these matters. It seems to me that, even without the findings of neurology, intuition alone (also an understood neurological mechanism), should have been telling us all along that teens aren’t ready for sex; certainly not with an adult. They aren’t equipped to appreciate well enough what they are “consenting” to in that area. Even when I can concede there may, in a very few instances, be “grey areas”, when I hear arguments for “grey areas”, when it comes to holding adults accountable in these matters, I worry about that person’s own executive functioning and where their priorities really lie. *Sorry*. Hearing someone out, and understanding their position thoroughly is one thing, but I see no place for Devil’s *ADVOCATE* on this one. And, that New York law you cited is DISTURBING. An 18 year old has *NO BUSINESS* screwing a 14-year old in my book. If that had happened with me, (good, bad, right, wrong or indifferent), I have cousins who would have made sure that 18-year-old wasn’t very mobile for a few days. There were at least a handful of people in my family who had good sense when it came to knowing who was grown up enough to “consent” and who wasn’t. Maybe I am wrong, but, It sounds to me as if your argument is that The Watchtower is no sicker than the rest of society, and that is disturbing to me. YES, repeat, I believe there should be what you call a “Holy Grail”, an age limit for statutory rape. And I personally think that bar should be on the higher side; 16 at the very least. Personally, I applaud India’s recent efforts at placing that at 18. Neurology certainly agrees the bar should be a bit high compared to what it traditionally has been. The average age for loss of virginity in many Asian countries, and a few European countries, is 18ish. It sounds to me, like they’ve got their heads screwed on a bit straighter than a lot of other places.

    As Alex pointed out in her examples, this “few years older” and “adult” having sex with “a minor who is approaching adulthood” even if we are talking “three years difference”, as you point out, could include an 18-year-old screwing around with a 15-year-old which, as far as I am concerned, is HIGHLY DISTURBING. Neurologically, there is a significant difference between these two. Yes, neurology is demonstrating that sex alone stands to DAMAGE the brain and body of a 15-year-old, with lasting results. Even if the damage is recoverable and/or manageable in the long term, I see no good reason to take these things lightly. As, you both point out, elders are not law enforcement. And, I agree with Alex. If someone in the congregation (male or female) has broken a statutory rape law, turn their butts over to the police, let the law handle it.

    My apologies for saying anything that gave you reason to take offense in re the JW thing, Gareth. I was just guessing, as I stated. Clearly, I shot off the mark. Somewhere in my head, I thought I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. As far as your feelings about these issues, I’m sorry I stepped on your toes but, your attempt to play “Devil’s advocate” had me wondering where your head was just a bit; and, rather understandably, I think. Cheers, Gareth. Thanks, Alex. That is my two-cents-worth of opinion in five dollars worth of words. I’m done.

    • Again, no need to apologize as we need pertinent information on this subject; this isn’t a minor (no pun intended) matter. I think it also aptly demonstrates the outright evil that is the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that strangers online are willing to do more research into the facts of statutory rape and sex between adults and children than elders or the governing body will do. Their gross ignorance and lack of concern for how these situations really happen may demonstrate why elders have asked child rape victims as young as 5 and 10 if they enjoyed the experience at all (this post). No doubt in their mind, if they can somehow prove that a 5-year-old enjoyed being raped and molested, then it wasn’t really a violation and she shares some responsibility for the “fornication.” There isn’t a horrible child-raping molester in their midst, but just a little hanky-panky between congregants in that case. Sickening and shameful.

      Carry on.

    • Sally, I think it’s weak on your part to not point to any studies performed. This is what I found:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emma-gray/teen-sex-brain-hamsters_b_1133521.html

      Apparently, a study on hamsters was performed which might give clues but is far from definite for humans. Emma’s opinion here: “However, focusing on the science of brain development and the potential “dangers” of teenage sexual encounters misses the mark and I fear might just provide an excuse for pushing abstinence-only education (both at schools and at home) and ignoring the realities of teen lives.”

      The article also mentions a study that says 46 percent of teens have had sex. Certainly you don’t want to argue that 46 percent of people now in their twenties and thirties are traumatized and depressed?

      Another: http://www.livestrong.com/article/1003500-negative-psychological-effects-sex-teens/

      “…of 8,563 teens studied over an 18-month period, researcher Ann Meier found that only 15 percent suffered negative psychological consequences.” …. “Girls who had sex prior to age 15 and boys who had sex prior to age 14 seemed to be more vulnerable to negative psychological effects” …. “Meier also found that the course the relationship took after introducing sex also played a role in a girl’s overall feelings about the encounter.”

      “While researchers have found that most teenagers report no negative psychological effects after their first sexual experience, …”

      So most teenagers either do not experience problems are they are temporary mental ones. Of the others, sentence continues:

      “.. parents should still be mindful of those who do wind up struggling with their decision. Should your teenager express remorse and negative feelings surrounding his first sexual encounter, talk through those feelings with him, and seek the help of a professional if you feel he may need additional assistance.”

      Now that sounds like excellent advice to me.

      You’re twisting my arguments mostly. About the boyfriend, are you sure that he broke it off because he didn’t want to harm you with sex, and for that reason alone? You said he broke it off because he wasn’t ready to commit (friends with benefits stage).

      About compulsive behavior, you can’t just throw some technical term into the discussion (“Delta FOSB”) and expect this to prove your point. It doesn’t work that way. More general: are you arguing that gaming should be disallowed as well? There are many internet/gaming addicts. Are you arguing facebook and the like should be forbidden? Some teens are checking their social status continuously.

      The previous flows into my point about the “holy grail”. You’re saying there is a magic age/date upon which the brain is mature, and from that day on someone is ready to decide whether it’s okay to “engage”. Really?? As the articles above point out, yes, there is an age below which (14 is mentioned) it is definitely *unwise* to engage; and that’s also why there are laws forbidding that. But that doesn’t say anything about above this age.

      You can’t have it both ways! You can’t say “While it’s probably not sound practice to start throwing our minors in jail for toying around with sex when they are under age” and also claim there should be “no great difference” (between punishable and responsible behavior). In effect, that the law should exactly forbid/punish those things which (you) consider irresponsible.

      Furthermore, you like to stress the “adults” vs children point, but you say that full maturity is hit only at 21, while the example is about 18 with 14.5. That’s also twisting the facts. For the record, I frown upon the 18-with-14 too, but it’s also the extreme limit the law (barely) allows (that’s why it’s mentioned as an example on that site I guess; not as a way to say, this is perfectly fine behavior). In this context, you also mention “I have cousins who would have made sure that 18-year-old wasn’t very mobile for a few days.” So it’s okay for your cousins to play judge, but not for the elders? I agree the moral compass of elders has been heavily distorted by all the demeaning of women in the watchtower studies, but taking things into your own hand isn’t sound general advice either.

      • I’m going to allow this one but declare a truce, so no more will get approved after this since we are veering off the subject.

        I’m also going to point out that we’re not talking about sex between two teens or even a 17yo with a 19yo; the whole point of the blog was that an adult can easily groom a young teen, even 15 or younger, and the elders will decide themselves that such a child consented. That is not up to them to do, no matter what arguments you may find about teen sex saying that they aren’t necessarily horrifically traumatized and scarred for life over the incident. It’s a crime, period. It should be reported to the police, period. If an adult having sex with an underage minor wants to argue about consent and their mental state and previous sexual experience and call up studies and show these as their defense, they can do that in a court of law. It’s not up to the elders to decide this, and again, the point of the blog was that it gave them far too much leeway to decide which minor consented and at which age. An impressionable minor can then also face disfellowshipping for being coerced into something for which they weren’t ready and for which they really didn’t consent simply because of their young age and naivety. For the governing body to simply make a blanket statement about “consenting minors” is obscene and many ex-JWs will attest to how these statements only foster the many cases of pedophilia and outright child rape that happen in the Kingdom Halls, and the victim blaming and punishing of the victims that happen afterward.

        Again, these arguments about consent and the mentality of teens might have some small merit in a court of law or a university research group, but not in a Kingdom Hall. It is not up to uneducated, self-righteous, sneering, snarling, misogynistic, angry elders to decide on that, not morally and not legally.

  3. Hi Sally. Wowser! you sure put quite some time into writing a reply. You do realize I’m writing here mostly from a devil’s advocate position right? I’m taking a more extreme point-of-view than my own just to shine light on “the opposite side of the coin”. That said, a couple of points follow.

    I know that the executive center matures only after 20 years old. But such studies do not prove there is a on-the-whole negative effect on teenagers by engaging in sex.

    You say it’s not the teenager giving consent, you’re basically saying a teenager cannot give consent at all. That’s why sex with under-14-year-olds (or 13, depends) is forbidden in any case. But there’s a gray area. I think it’s more or less the definition of abuse that the other part doesn’t consent. And teenagers grow up to adults, so where to draw the line? Black/white at a hard age limit? I definitely agree the Watchtower Society can be (should be!) more sensitive to this issue, but that’s what I put in my first comment as well. As we know, they primarily focus on “what should be punished?” instead of “How can we help the weak/sick/etc?” (Oh no! I may not call it “punishment”, of course it’s “loving counsel from Jehovah!” Grr! *puke*).

    Yes, an analogy with alcohol would have been better. But then your “can end up as addictive behaviors if engaged compulsively” is a red flag, it’s got nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Anything can end up as compulsive behaviour: computer gaming, internet, social gathering, cleaning, etc.

    I’m happy to hear you had a responsible boyfriend. It goes against the typical male stereotype, haha!

    “If, for you, sex is all about poking it in the hole”… I take offense by this insinuation! Nowhere did I claim such, I think it’s about sharing the most intimate that can be shared with the one you love. (With the emphasis on sharing!)

    “If you think they can be eliminated, you are deluding yourself. You seem to have an every man out for himself attitude.” Ditto. May I point out that some things you just *have* to experience before knowing how your body responds to it? Just waiting until a predefined age limit is not the holy grail here. I wish for everyone to experience these things in a loving environment. Certainly not in one where someone is taking advantage of you! But again, this distracts from the original point.

    “‘Few’ means INDETERMINATELY small.” With “few” they will mean 3 years. Remember the other elder’s letter where a ministerial servant or elder confesses a sin that’s more than a “few” years ago, and doesn’t have any consequences? The Society clarified that to be 3 years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the Society’s letter as a whole here, just making this one point.

    For your information, I have been on a JC, so you have got NO right to tell what I think, and certainly not what I feel! Of course I disagree with the way the “fondling” was handled! But the problem is with their approach to JCs, why they perform JCs, their goals, their methods, their motivation. In short, the hypocrisy of it all. Btw, the man who fondled the 14 year old would not be under this exclusion, because (as far as I know) he was much older than 20 (40 or so? Guessing here; was a step dad).

    The Texas’ argument, I wondered whether someone would bring that up haha! That’s not a fair argument; discriminatory even. In any case, I googled “new york statutory rape” and found the following on avvo.com:

    “For example, if a 14-and-a-half-year-old girl agrees to have sex with a boy on his eighteenth birthday, the 18-year-old would have an affirmative defense of being less than four years older than the victim.” http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/New-York-Age-Consent

    I am not an American, but hopefully New York has more authority for you.

    It works both ways btw… as much as the Society often doesn’t protect young ones by keeping abusers in their authority positions, they also traumatize young people who are engaged, have wedding plans, but along the way somewhere had sex (or “inappropriate touching” or whatever). Wedding has to be cancelled, judicials to be started, … what possible good has this? It’s a serious emotional hit to them and their families.

    Also, there is a difference between determining what should be punished and how (what the Society and the law do), versus what is wise, healthy, and responsible. It seems to me you’re primarily arguing for the latter (which is not wrong!), but not really responding to the first. Again, I do agree that the Watchtower makes many more promises than they live up to in practice; this should be exposed. (They are liars. Shepherds being a “hiding place for the wind, a shelter for the storm” and such crap). In short, the problem is much deeper than this one sentence about “consenting minors”, and even if they would remove this sentence from a future letter, that would solve almost nothing. I think we agree there?

    PS: Sorry Alexandra, spamming your website with a much longer reply than I originally planned

    • No need to apologize, healthy discussion on this subject is good. One point I will make however, arguments about statutory rape belong in a court of law. JW elders are not cops or lawyers and have no legal or other types of training or knowledge in order to determine for themselves, “oh they were this age and this age difference, so there was no pedophilia.” If an adult has sex with a underage minor, this should be reported to the police; if the adult has a defense, they should present that to the police and courts. This statement in this letter is a gross overreach on their part and not up to them to determine.

      It also betrays their statements that they protect children from sexual predators in their organization, and as I bring out, it gives elders way too much leeway to decide for themselves that a minor “consented,” just as they may do with an adult rape victim. You can argue semantics about the law all day, but this letter was not presented as a legal treatise about the subject of child rape. It was a set of instructions to elders with a casual statement that reveals their thinking about children and adults having sex.

      While your statements about statutory rape may have some small amount of merit, they are out of place in this context and for the purpose of this column.

  4. Hmmm. You make several good points, but also I disagree with some. I very much agree with you it seems the Watchtower is downplaying the importance, focusing too much on the “outside-of-marriage” aspect of it all. Note hereafter that I’m not trying to argue statutory rape should be legal or so, but please read this as (positive) criticism to your article.

    Your post is very thin on evidence on this contentious (yet important, I agree!) subject. Can you show studies that show teenagers are generally negatively affected by consensual sex? I guess the obvious answer to your question “Who determines whether the minor gave this so-called consent?” is the teenager. Your analogy with the adult letting a younger child drive is not convincing. Some teenagers have sex with each other from age of 13, 14 onwards. Hence, at 15, 16 might not be inexperienced on this subject. Also, driving a car (potentially) endangers others, while engaging in sex endangers yourself. The innocent should be protected, yes; but it doesn’t compare to driving a car.

    Also Watchtower’s comment on the “adult who is a few years older” is not strange. Wikipedia in the “Statutory rape” article includes the following:
    “Some jurisdictions also specify a minimum difference in age in order for the offense to be applicable. Under such terms, if the adult is, for instance, less than three years older than the minor, no crime has been committed or the penalty is far less severe. These are called ‘Romeo and Juliet’ clauses.”

    Apparantly the rules in Texas (mentioned in same article):
    * the accused was not more than 3 years older than the perceived victim
    * the perceived victim was older than 14 years of age at the time of the offense
    …amongst others, almost exactly the example you describe.

    And also: “Historically a man could defend himself against statutory rape charges by proving that his victim was already sexually experienced prior to their encounter (and thus not subject to being corrupted by the defendant).”

    It seems “Statutory rape” is primarily a *legally* defined rule, not per se a moral/ethical guideline. Its history seems to be based on preventing forced-sex problems by disallowing it altogether. Seems to me that has more a “practical” background, than a purely ethical one.

    There are many legal problems for authorities pursuing these kinds of cases and different countries have different opinions on it. All in all, I think your article is too “simple-minded” on this complicated issue.

    • My article would be simple-minded if it were a scholarly treatise on statutory rape, but it’s not. It’s an explanation for why pedophilia is so prevalent in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As you say, things are “thin,” which is part of my point. The Watchtower Society uses one sentence to talk about “consenting minors” having sex with adults, and leaves it at that. The entire point of the article is to demonstrate how ignorant and downright dangerous their statement is, which is aptly demonstrated in the many cases of pedophilia that go on unchecked under their roof. Elders can make up their own minds about who consented or didn’t, as they do even with adult women. Adults can easily groom teens in the congregation to get into sexual situations with them, with little to no interference by others within their cloistered society.

      Thank you for your criticisms but I will stand by my statements, given the context and their purpose.

    • Gareth, in response to your (positive) criticism, I’d like to share a bit of my own. I have to disagree wholeheartedly with many of your statements.

      “Your post is very thin on evidence on this contentious (yet important, I agree!) subject. Can you show studies that show teenagers are generally negatively affected by consensual sex?”

      There, in fact, ARE studies showing high rates of negative effects on teenagers affected by “consensual” sex. “Consensual” is a bit of a slippery word when it comes to how everything got to “yes” in sexual encounters. It’s a neurobiological fact that the interplay of emotions is highly complex WITHIN an individual alone. That interplay between between TWO individuals becomes even more complex. A synthesis of the existing data from studies at the NIH says the executive functioning of the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 21. The executive functioning of the human brain acts as a traffic control system filtering incoming information both from a person’s internal and external environment. This includes regulating a multitude of emotions and assessing what the information in those emotions is telling someone about what is really going on in their internal and external environment when managing both themselves and other people in the complex world of negotiating needs and wants. You can hunt up the studies for yourself concerning “negative effects” of “consensual sex” of teenagers and assess the value of them for yourself. I’m not going to debate that issue or the various sources they come from. They range from liberal to conservative and they all have their biases but they all acknowledge that “consensual” sex can indeed have some negative emotional effects on teenagers that they aren’t prepared to deal with and that when this happens they need support to work through it all.

      “I guess the obvious answer to your question “Who determines whether the minor gave this so-called consent?” is the teenager.”

      Science says this ain’t so. Their executive functioning capacity for such a decision which DOES have consequences to one’s emotions, simply is not fully in place.

      “Your analogy with the adult letting a younger child drive is not convincing. Some teenagers have sex with each other from age of 13, 14 onwards. Hence, at 15, 16 might not be inexperienced on this subject. Also, driving a car (potentially) endangers others, while engaging in sex endangers yourself. The innocent should be protected, yes; but it doesn’t compare to driving a car.”

      Experience in the “mechanisms” of “screwing” are a far cry from experience in handling oneself safely, on an intimate level, emotionally and psychologically in sexual activity and it’s connection to our social systems. There can be and ARE often serious consequences, emotionally, to such activities. If you see this activity as nothing but poking a stick in a hole until if feels good for one or both parties involved perhaps this is why the analogy of letting a child drive a car is beyond you. Maybe drinking alcohol would have worked better for you? Both sex and alcohol, neurologically speaking, can end up as addictive behaviors if engaged compulsively. And, again, neurobiology brings other information to bear on this subject too.

      Sexual activity between two people releases chemicals that stand to regulate two people’s biological systems to one another in various ways. There are people who have the good sense to understand this without having to have a neurologist explain the mechanisms to them. I guess that is called having empathy and perhaps a conscience. For example, I dated a guy for a short period of time who eventually flat out told me that he liked me but had to be up front with me. He was very nice to me. Did a lot of cool and kind things for me. We got along well in many ways but eventually he was straight with me told me that he could tell that the way my motor ran I wouldn’t be able to handle a “friend with benefits”. My body was into deeper bonding. He was into having “friends with benefits” at that point in his life. He didn’t want to bear the emotional responsibility of feeling I was having to manage the disappointment of eventually realizing that him being there every morning just wasn’t going to happen in the end. It was good of him to act responsibly on that one. People aren’t just things to toy with emotionally to get your needs met. We got to know each other well enough to see if things were going to the next level and he was good enough not to toy with me.

      But, again, the human brain hasn’t hit full maturity for regulating all the mechanisms for these things until the age of 21. While it’s probably not sound practice to start throwing our minors in jail for toying around with sex when they are under age, it’s surely unsound practice to think it’s OK for adults, whose brains have hit full maturity for regulating these things, to engage sexual activity with a minor. Clearly, an adult’s brain has more power to regulate their desires and feelings past those of a minor, purely on a developmental level, and science says so. Can their be some variation for a host of reasons? Of course their can. Are there 16 years olds that are clearly more mature in these aspects than some 50 year olds? Absolutely! However, anyone who would use this as some excuse not to draw a line to protect our kids is skating on thin ice and their motives SHOULD be called into question. Yes, we end up fielding some messes because of these variations but, that’s no excuse for NOT drawing sound lines, and making those lines clear and loudly KNOWN when there are good, scientifically grounded reasons for drawing those lines.

      Sex doesn’t just stand to endanger yourself on any level. The emotional I’ve covered. If, for you, sex is all about poking it in the hole, and every man/woman is out for himself in the game, I certainly hope you are upfront about what you feel the rules are in this game when you pick your team mates. Besides the emotional level sex stands to endanger both you and the other as the activity entails many risks that can only be mitigated and never eliminated. If you think they can be eliminated, you are deluding yourself. You seem to have an every man out for himself attitude.

      “Also Watchtower’s comment on the “adult who is a few years older” is not strange.”

      Yes. It is strange. “Few” means INDETERMINATELY small. How indeterminate is indeterminate for the Watchtower? As I’ve already stated a 20 year old’s brain neurologically has far more capacity, according to the synthesis of data in studies at NIH, to regulate their emotional desires and psychological states past those of a 14 year old who, in the end may be entirely confused about what the hell they ever wanted in the first place and then find themselves forced to concede they wanted something their brains weren’t even capable of fully regulating or fielding that kind of interplay of information for. FYI, that’s called abuse and that kind of abuse ends up doing damage to the very mechanisms that are still in development at that age. So, in this example, 6 years is “indeterminately” small on the number line but neurologically speaking, there is a huge difference. Further, what else would be “indeterminately” small in their book? A 16 year old and a 30 year old? On the number line 14 years looks a lot smaller than if the man were some 50 year old, huh? I’m guessing you’ve never actually been steeped in the Jehovah’s Witness religion for any long period of time. The writer knows what she’s seen repeatedly over a period of many years among Jehovah’s Witnesses. And, from what I saw myself, I’m guessing that no doubt includes 50 year-olds seducing and marrying 17-year-olds at times. I’m guessing because of how many times I saw that myself. If you had ever been a part of a Jehovah’s Witness judicial committee, and SEEN the decision making process that they believe is sealed by Jesus himself, you might understand why all of this really is more alarming than you could imagine. The report the writer mentions of the man who fondled the 14-year old and his behavior got passed off as mere uncleanness and not child molestation; that man went on to another congregation with a clean, good recommendation from his old one, and outright molested other children before the law finally caught up with him.

      As far as Romeo and Juliet laws, neurologically speaking, a 3 year difference can make sense depending upon where the two fall on the number line age-wise. Those laws also make exceptions when the two were previously engaged in a sexual relationship before one became of legal age. As far as Texas being an example of anything, well, let’s just say my opinion of Texas Law, as a person who has been trained in an area of law, isn’t high. Texas is one of those states where it’s still legal to screw a horse. For far to many of them, apparently, it really is just about poking and releasing some feel good with whatever gets it for you.

      All the complexities of these issues really aren’t all that complex neurologically and developmentally speaking. Engaging sexual activity IS risky business, in more than just one way; just like drinking alcohol and neurobiology tells us our kids really aren’t all that equipped to manage that business at optimum capacity until they are 20-1 years old, just like booze. If our legal system is having a tough time with this, it doesn’t speak to highly of their own executive functioning development.

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