[Trigger warning.]

Q: What's wrong with this article?

A: If you said, "An adult can't 'have sex with' a child, because a child can't consent," give yourself 1,000 points.

Despite the AP noting right in the article that Kelsey Peterson has been charged with sexual assault, and has already pleaded guilty to other related charges, they nonetheless say that she kidnapped her 13-year-old former student to "have sex with" him, or some variation thereof, four times—and CNN adds two more bulletpoints at the top of the page, as well as the headline: "Ex-teacher gets 6 years for sex with boy, 13."

The photo caption on Peterson's mugshot is even more euphemistic: "Kelsey Peterson was sentenced to six years in federal prison for running off to Mexico with a student."

Running off to Mexico?! Like it was a romantic weekend getaway, instead of a kidnapping and rape.

Now, part of the problem with this report is just the usual aversion to using language that more appropriately describes nonconsensual sexual contact, which is certainly a combination of a general cultural squeamishness about sexual assault and a wariness about using words that have a specific legal meaning (like "rape" and "sexual assault") as well as a lay meaning. So there's that going on, as ever.

But here we also have a gender-reversal, in which the perpetrator is female and the victim is male—so we've also got cultural gender biases at work, too, starting with the double-standard that prescribes 13-year-old girls who are raped by their male teachers to have been victimized* but 13-year-old boys who are raped by their female teachers to have had their wildest fantasies fulfilled.

Despite every other narrative we have contrarily suggesting that girls at that age are more mature and better decision-makers than boys, when it comes to sex, we inexplicably make a huge and unjustified exception: Boys are emotionally and psychologically sophisticated enough at 13 to consent to sex with an adult, despite having not even reached sexual maturity themselves. This alarming incongruence is itself predicated on the stereotype that male sexuality is separate from thought and emotion, but purely a physical act without enduring personal ramifications; thus, if a boy can say he desires sex, he is ready to consent to it.

With girls, we recognize that being desirous of sex does not translate to an a priori intellectual readiness. We acknowledge that the body often becomes capable of things for which the mind is not yet prepared, which is whence the idea of statutory rape comes. And yet boys whose female teachers kidnap them to engage in an activity for which children are not able to fully consent, by nature of their still-developing minds, are said to have been whisked away to Mexico, like it's no big deal.

And if we really want to expose this shocking hypocrisy for what it really is, let us imagine if Kelsey Peterson had been a man. We would not be so cavalier about a male teacher carting off a boy to "have sex with" him, even if the boy quite forcefully asserted he was gay. It's not just about regarding boys as having sexual agency; it's about regarding women's sexuality as so passive that women are not properly regarded as sexual predators even when they are. A man who "has sex with" a 13-year-old girl (or boy) is dangerous; a woman who "has sex with" a 13-year-old boy is sad. Or a minx who's just giving the lads what they want.

Neither characterization does their victims any favors.

[H/T to Shaker Megankay.]


* Except, of course, for the few misogynist dirtbags who always crawl out of the woodwork in such cases to cast the female child as a seductress.

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