Eugene Volokh wonders about statutory rape laws and solicits opinions and arguments for what the cutoff age should be.

So I've been thinking -- purely for academic reasons, I hasten to stress! -- about statutory rape laws. There's broad agreement that sex with people who are too young is wrong, and should be illegal, because children aren't mature enough to consent to sex.

But there's vast disagreement about what the proper cutoff age will be.

Rather than pick a certain age, I propose that everyone be required to take a "maturity test" before being granted the status of a full adult. This test will include physical and mental components that can be evaluated objectively -- not necessarily an easy test to design, but set that aside for a moment. The test should be crafted so that the vast majority (80%+) of 18-year-olds can pass.

Those who pass the maturity test will be allowed to vote, drive, drink, gamble, and have sex with anyone else who has also passed the test -- i.e., they'll be "adults". Those who have not passed the test will be considered children, regardless of their actual chronological age, and will not be allowed to marry, have sex, enter into contractual agreements, or make any of the typical adult decisions for themselves.

What results would this policy have? Society could weed out the bottom 20% (say) of older-people (can't call them "adults" anymore) and restrict their harmful activities. Particularly mature teens could try for adulthood early and take control of their destiny, to the benefit of all society. Why should mature teens be relegated to the holding pen of High School? And why should the eternally immature be given full citizenship just because they've been around a while?

Of course, there are many possible objections to this proposal, not the least of which is actually creating and administering the maturity test. Still, we test for all sorts of things (college, driving, practicing law and medicine), and the paradigm seems to work pretty well. Additionally, none of this addresses the morality of sex as it relates to age; I think extramarital sex is immoral all the time, regardless of age, but shouldn't be illegal.



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