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Debate Guide: Turn of events

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Discovery and disclosure is often a prolonged and complicated process, with personal and cultural factors modifying outcomes for the young person

The process of discovery, disclosure and the social inquisition/criminal investigation itself can significantly alter the thinking of younger participants. Naturally, it is these cases (where privacy has been breached, or a complaint made) that are most often heard about in the courts and in the media, thus influencing public opinion disproportionately.


Based on testimony from anonymous informants (both ex-offenders and young adults who pursued sexual relationships as minors), we can analyze the evolving status of younger participants before, during and after the process discovery, disclosure, or prosecution.

For convenience, we exclude the case of longer-term relations between parents and children, which have their own complex dynamic:

Before discovery/disclosure

But for the rare cases of rape, emotional abuse or coercion, the minor must have rationalized their acquaintance with the adult somehow. To them, the relationship (be it financial, or purely motivated by love or friendship) is an acceptable or at least tolerable part of their life. Within the modern Western context (and despite the absence of trauma at that point) there is invariably a degree of secrecy and risk attached. Those risks relate to possible reporting, social ostracism, harm to the older partner and parental violence. Although the relationship is furtive, the effects of social shame are perhaps less tangible at this point, and the young person has considerable power to bargain with the adult, or complain.

During reporting

The smallest of cues may lead a youth to confess to their parents or police. This can be something as small as as being seen visiting the adult partner's house, or being "grassed up" or outed by a malicious age-peer. Often, drugs are found on a minor, and police pressurize them to locate and testify against a "source" on condition of their own immunity; see Boston-Boise affair and Mitzel's book on that subject. It is worth noting that various factors may ramp up levels of suspicion:

  • Parents with violent, sociopathic tendencies, mental illness and/or drug problems.
  • Homophobia, transphobia, anti-queer prejudice among family, peers, educators.
  • Ageist middle-class parents who participate in/consume too much social media and see their children as personal property and a social liability that must be controlled and negated at any expense.
  • Personal history with age peers, and changing loyalties.
  • Financial relations, or accuser incentives.
  • There are doubtless effects on any other youth who were also alleged to have been involved, with disclosure leading to a possible domino effect and "trawling" by law enforcement and legal professionals. Each resulting layer is potentially implicated in drugs, delinquency and facilitation/perpetuation of abuse, so each will seek to portray themselves as victims lest they be stigmatized and embarrassed as willing or complicit partners.

Younger partners may be acutely aware of these risk-factors after partial discovery, and thus, alter their behavior radically.

After reporting

The status of acts and actors alters for the worse:

  • Disempowered youth are very likely to take the path of least resistance, and this will typically involve cooperating with the authorities and assuming the "victim mentality" as a defense mechanism.
  • Now that the relationship is out in the open, the adult partner goes from being an acceptable part of their life to "bad news"; a bogeyman.
  • The youth will probably be barred from co-operating with the accused during the month to a year or longer between the initial charge and trial, and will in that time have began to regret the fact any such thing ever took place.

In the face of social antisexualism, homophobia and victim-labeling, it is unlikely that a youth of average intellect would defend their adult partner. As antis like to say about the relationships themselves, the minor will "have no choice" in the matter, and adults will "decide for them" what is required to get the desired outcome.

It may even be the case that a young person feels forced into alleging rape, lest they be seen as willing participants. Sometimes, the younger partner will even attest to illegal sexual relations with little knowledge of the implications, only to go back on these allegations after incriminating the adult and possibly other youth involved. At this point, it is often too late to recant.

The process of extracting testimony and assimilating younger partners into the prosecution effort could even be described in terms of predator and prey, with the younger, disempowered party being in the most vulnerable position. In extreme cases, we hear of stories such as police officers threatening to "out" boys as gay or hanging them over the side of a cliff to extract confessions. This somewhat contradicts the "child saver" role made popular in folklore.

Long term effects are equally ominous. Not only will the young person have to come to terms with the "evil and depraved" nature of what they took part in, the probing hands of investigators and their permanent status as "victims" or "survivors", but the consequences for others around them. Often (and especially for boys in youth-youth relationships) therapy will be literally forced upon them.[1] One journal compiled by a firm of defense lawyers in the 1990s documented hypnosis, fabrication of charges and blatant cognitive restructuring of "victims" who showed no typical symptoms until railroaded into therapy.[2]

See also

What awaits the participants

Flawed perceptions and theory

About secondary harms