Age of consent laws vary

By Stephen Springer - Staff Reporter

Sex is one of humanity's most vital functions. Without it, none of us would be here today. It can be fun, it can bring new life into the world — but being such a powerful part of the human experience — sex can damage lives, especially at a young age.

Recent revelations about alleged sexual improprieties by Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and many more are dominating the political scene.

American society is going through a sustained period of sexual justice. Women are coming out of hiding and accusing those have caused sexual trauma in their lives on a wide scale.

In the case of Moore, the former Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, Moore has admitted to dating teenage girls while he was over the age of 30.

This situation brings up the question of age of consent, and not just in Alabama.

Age-of-consent laws dictate what age is appropriate for a person to consent to sexual acts.

Across the United States, the age of consent ranges from 16 to 18 years old and in certain circumstances, as old as 21 when the two parties.

Washington is one of the many states that has set the age of consent at 16 years old. This means that in a situation similar to what Moore has admitted to, a sexual relationship between a 16-year-old and a 30-year-old wouldn't be considered illegal in Washington.

State law "is limited to a supervisory role such as between a teacher and student or a foster parent and their child," said Che Dawson, a Highline professor of legal studies.

Highline students range in age including minors in the Running Start program under the age of 18 to students who are old enough to have child support payments.

"This is an adult campus and we don't provide the same amount of oversight that students get in high school," said Gloria Koepping, a Highline Counseling Center psychologist. "I would urge all students to know about the age of consent in Washington, and have what I call sexual refusal skills."

However, from Koepping's experience, drinking and drug use is the bigger problem.

"Date rape culture centers a lot around alcohol and usually on campuses," Koepping said. Students should be educated about alcohol use and, if they are going to partake in these activities, they need to be safe and smart about it.

The best resource someone has to protect themselves is to mitigate risk as much as possible, Koepping said. "I wish all students would take a sexuality class in order to learn about the social implications of sex."

One key area students should be aware of is the question of age differences due to what is commonly referred to as the "Romeo and Juliet" law, which defines the maximum age gaps that may exist between sexually active children.

After speaking with James Laukkonen, a criminal defense lawyer based in Olympia regarding this issue, it's clear things get more complicated the younger the person is.

RCW title 9A, chapter 44 states that there are three brackets broken into the ages of less than 12 years of age, 12 and 13 years of age and 14 to 16 years of age, which define rape of a child and are varying degrees of felonies.

Those under the age of 12, are legally allowed to engage in sexual activity with someone no more than 24 months older.

12 and 13-year-olds, there cannot be and age difference more than 36 months.

And for 14 and 15-year-olds, the age gap can be no more than 48 months.

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