Saturday, January 28, 2006

Kansas ~ (Part 2)

In reference to my previous post, Tammy asked: "So what are your thoughts on that?" The following is what happens when I don't have anything to do on a Saturday evening. ;-)

The state has a legitimate responsibility to protect and improve the general welfare of its citizens; we place special trust in the government (just as we do in doctors, teachers, nurses, and social workers alike) to protect minors and the disabled from abuse and harm at the hands of others.

I feel Kline's interpretation of Kansas law comes from a desire to broaden and expand the state's role in 'protecting' children using the mandate described above. Of course, he also wins political points with his puritanical base by saying sex between 15 year-olds is an out-and-out CRIME and should be REPORTED and PUNISHED.

But whether you think 10th graders are emotionally mature enough to handle intimate relationships or not, the way in which Kline is pursuing this issue, in my opinion, causes more problems than it solves.

Realize, first, that 'young love' will not die overnight, no matter what a "stuffy old attorney" does in Topeka. Kids who want to have sex will keep having sex, pure and simple.

I respect part of Kline's motivation - it's certainly true that some 15 year-olds are entirely unready for the type of relationship he's trying to prevent. But then again, so are a fair number of 23 year-olds. The question I'm left asking is: what makes 15 and 16 year-olds so very different?

I blogged about similar legislation that was pending in Missouri's House last year. I think it's interesting to note that in the Show-Me State, 15 year-olds are assumed to be mature enough to have sexual relationships. This points to the very arbitrariness of the cut-off age in the law which Kline is seeking to expand - I highly doubt it is steeped in much research pertaining to adolescent psychology; more likely, I imagine the statute dates back to a long-dead legislator trying to make it a crime for the neighbor boy to "disrespect" his teenage daughter. (But that's just a guess on my part.)

Getting to the heart of the issue, what Kline is doing, in my opinion, is tantamount to governmental paternalism - "the fatherland knows best." This is my main problem with the way he is approaching the law. He is seeking to replace the professional discretion of doctors, nurses, social workers, and teachers (those people who know these supposed criminals best) with a one-size-fits-all Big Brother solution. Personally, I place more trust in a family physician to do the right thing than I do in a politician, but that's beside the point.

I think it makes sense to require those who work with minors to report suspected physical and sexual abuse to the proper authorities, but forcing these adults to reveal consensual sexual relationships between ALL minors under 16 who are roughly the same age is quite different, in my mind.

As I said before, I think Kline creates more problems than he solves. For one thing, there's the cost to the taxpayers of the state of Kansas. Missouri's initiative (which encompasses only adolescents under the age of fifteen) was estimated by the state's Department of Social Services to cost an additional $269,000 per fiscal year because additional staff would be needed to screen calls to the child abuse hot line.

But there is yet a bigger drawback. By forcing adults to essentially "snitch" on the adolescents who trust them enough to turn to them for advice and counsel, he leaves minors with very few avenues for gaining information about what it means to be sexually active. If I'm a pediatrician, and a fifteen year-old girl asks me about safe sex, what am I supposed to do? I could give her information about the risks and benefits of using condoms and/or going on birth control, but then I guess I'd have to turn around and phone the police - as I could reasonably suspect her of having "sexual contact" before Phill Kline approves.

So what happens then? Sex among adolescents won't stop, but the dialogue about it will (which, perhaps, is exactly what Kline would like most of all).

In a day and age where Republicans seemingly have no objections to sending 18 year-olds off to war, to kill-and-be-killed, it baffles me how uptight they become when all a person wants to do is love... and be loved.


At 11:15 PM, Blogger sarjé said...

While I find it difficult to refer to sexual activity at such a young age as "love," I also can't support closing off discourse between minors and anyone who might be considered an authority figure regarding safe sex. The medical profession is frought with disclosure and privacy acts, and with reason; to ignore them based on, as you say, arbitrary age restrictions is completely asinine.

Kline's interpretation of this law is offensive to the Republican party, in my opinion. His willingness to ignore the accepted privacy restrictions is astounding - a question of which laws are more important to uphold seems to undermine the legal system. Moreover, he seems to be taking the wrong tack: rather than suggest that parents take responsibility for educating their children about sex (and allowing medical professionals to do their jobs in providing information as well), he's ignored the necessity altogether. Is it better to just let minors discover what the results of sex are through practice? This is just far too backwards for my tastes - and for the state and nation.

I think I'm glad I'm "not in Kansas anymore."

At 11:51 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Just to clarify, minors do not have an absolute medical privacy right. Parents/Guardians have a legal right to be involved in healthcare decisions regarding their children. Additionally, healthcare workers are required to report cases of suspected physical or sexual abuse to the proper authorities.

My concern arises from lawmakers qualifying 'consensual sexual contact' between two 15 year-olds as abuse 100% of the time.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger sarjé said...

Ah, thanks; that makes sense. I certainly agree with your concern; qualifying 'consensual sexual contact' as abuse makes little sense to me in any regard, and in that case in particular. Even if minors of such age may not recognize all the possible repercussions of their actions, they are still capable of consent.

Do you know what the legal ramifications of such a case (two 15-year-olds) would be? Just curious.

At 2:34 AM, Blogger Luke said...

Legally, a crime (indecent liberties with a child) is being committed. The chances of a prosecutor pursuing charges against either of the affected parties in the scenario you outlined, however, would be very unlikely.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger Tammy said...

Wow, a lot to add here. I am a social worker that lives in KS and we do have not only have to mandate report as social workers but the agency we work with makes us do the same. That said, the ethics rules do not apply to consensual sex-only if we believe there is sexual abuse, rape, neglect, etc. going on.

I believe the Kline admin is only going after certain aspects of the sexual activity because he is going after abortion clinics in the same way and when the KS legislature confronted them on why only the abortion clinics and not all sexual abuse allegations they replied, they have not done that yet-in their round about political way.

Now, as far as prosecuting a criminal for sexual activity-they have a great person in there prosecuting, thank God it's not actually Kline though. While I agree some cases may not get prosecuted because of unfortunately "lack of evidence" and society does not see that in general a person simply saying no means no...and the majority of sex acts will go without evidence, I do think because it's "campaign" season, you will see Kline doing whatever he can to prosecute cases more-unfortunately for that purpose and not because they need to be.

So, for my opinion, I do not think it's right kids are having sex-but it happens and we need to educate them. WE, not government! If we tell kids not to do something-they will do it more-doesn't anyone get that?

I can't stand to see politicians saying what the physicians, social workers, any health care professionals should be doing in their jobs-we go to school, study, continue education, just so we can be there for those kids and respect confidientiality. Once kids find out the health care professionals and social workers will have to report ANY sexual abuse-you will see more kids pregnant because no-one is going to talk! We need to open the communciation not close it.

Yes-we need laws that protect our children from grown men and women-there are preditors out there. There has to be a line-but I agree what determines that?

Thanks for your thoughts!

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Luke said...

Thanks for your comment! Much agreed!


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