Orville Taylor | How underage sex fuels murder
Last Wednesday, a middle-age-to-senior citizen-sounding man called me on radio and was up in arms with the Government and the police over the focus on the recent hoopla regarding ‘rusty-back’ men having sex with children, when in his view, the gaze should be on murderers. I invited the caller to access the rest of his brain that he was resting for later usage, because even if he closed his eyes, he would clearly see the deep connections between premature sexual activity and a range of social pathologies.
For him and apparently a significant number of persons who I suspect are men, the forced early sexual involvement of a child is a much lesser offence than the taking of a life. Let me state unequivocally here that sex with a minor is forced sex, because the child does not legally and, in my view and that of thousands of other behavioural scientists, psychologically have the capacity to make that decision. Sex is ‘big people thing’, and children must not be allowed to engage in it, especially with adults.
Follow this analogy. We, as a conscientious society, recognise that a car is a deadly weapon, and in the hands of a child, however skilful on a closed track, it is likely to be catastrophic if we allow him or her to take the farm tractor and go on the public highway. Similarly, a firearm is doubtless a tool that should not only be in the hands of responsible adults but, most important, never ever in the hands of a child. Of course, there is supervised usage, such as on a range or in a rifle or gun club setting. However, only the dumbest of persons would think that it acceptable for a child to tote a gun.
Legislators are not as stupid as they behave sometimes, and there is deep, hidden logic behind the need for society to police sexual activity. The debate about consensual male-male homosexual sex is for another time. However, the laws about incest are there because, apart from being utterly disgusting, intra-family sex will produce offspring, which are biologically unviable. Ultimately, this will lead to the destruction of a species.
Outside the context of incest, underage mothers’ immature wombs and body on the whole are more likely to produce children that are premature, underweight and with underdeveloped inefficient immune systems. Yet, the production of an offspring that has biological pathologies is the least of our problems.
Multiple other bits of research have demonstrated that teen mothers are significantly more likely to produce offspring that have fewer life chances. A 1983 Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS) and a follow-up in 2001 looked at more than 2,000 participants in the four-to-16-year-old category. The results indicated, “Being born to a teen mother (versus a non-teen mother) is associated with poorer educational achievement, life satisfaction, and personal income.” Is there anyone who thinks that none of these variables affect the likelihood of young men and women getting into a career of violent crime?
A 20-year longitudinal study by Jaffee, Caspi and others clearly pointed out that “the young adult offspring of teen mothers are at risk for a range of adverse outcomes, including early school leaving, unemployment, early parenthood, and violent offending.” This is also true for Jamaica, although I will quickly caution and note that the majority of children born to teenage parents are well-adjusted youth who perform quite normally. Nevertheless, this is also true for the majority of persons overall, who do not typically commit major crimes. Remember, though, only a small minority of youth at risk actually become murderers, rapists and other violent offenders. Yet, all you need is a dozen and we have a crime wave.
One might also want to foolishly argue that not all the cases of underage sex result in pregnancy, and, of course, there are times when the victim is a boy and the offender is a woman. Again, it must be noted that victims of violent sexual initiation and violence on the whole have a statistical proclivity towards violence themselves.
Simply put, the cycle of abusive behaviour continues because, as my colleague Herbert Gayle and many others have discovered in their research on the antecedents of violence in Jamaica, abused and ‘tortured’ children oftentimes become abusers themselves. This is the case even when the actual onset of childbirth occurs after they have reached their 20s. Indeed, a remarkable percentage of murderers and violent offenders are the offspring of abused parents and, notably, teenage parents have a greater chance of themselves being abusers and torturers of their children. Go figure!
We might, in defence of ‘consensual’, ‘force-ripe’ sexually precocious children, argue that there is no element of abuse when the 14- or 15-year-old child is ‘up to it’. After all, imagine the pride felt by a 14-year-old boy who beds a 21-year-old woman having scored such a prize. Yet, even in such cases, these young men and women develop a warped view of the world.
Ihongbe and Cha, in a very recent publication this year, found that there was a very direct relationship between early sexual initiation and violence towards one’s partner. For them, “Evidence supports the belief that early sexual debut is associated with higher odds of (physical dating violence) PDV victimisation.” What is interesting and alarming is that this is the case for both males and females.
So, for all of the persons who feel that sexual victimisation of a child is a minor crime and less than murder, just remember that once dead, the murdered victim’s suffering has ended. However, sexually abused children die over and over during their entire lifetime. Worse, their behaviour spills over into the next generation as well as towards their partners, and it will affect you, as innocent as you might be.
Murderers are not born in a vacuum.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.