In the national discourse over Roy Moore, we must not forget that sexual contact without consent is sexual assault, and adults must be held accountable for their positions of trust and authority with young people.
In the last few days, we saw people take to social media and the airwaves in defense of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, following reports he sexually abused minor girls while in his 30s. In response, people have begun posting photos of themselves as young teens, gathering in solidarity under the Twitter hashtag #MeAt14.
The cases brought forward here reflect the lived experience many survivors of sexual assault share.
We applaud those participating in #MeAt14 to rally around survivors, and stand up to those who excuse sexual abuse of children and teenagers. While many posts tilt to the lighter side, focusing on surviving freshman year in high school, and not “dating” 32-year-old men, there are some heartbreaking posts from people who were by age 14 victims of sexual assault.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center fields calls from survivors of childhood sexual abuse every single day. For every life regained through trauma-informed therapy or legal advocacy, another survivor calls our 24-hour resource line.
For those who think this is muddy water, or that some 14-year-olds are “mature for their age,” or believe an adult and a young teenager can have a dating relationship, let’s be crystal clear: 14-year-olds are too young to give consent for sexual contact with adults. Period.
As a society and as a state, we believe that the inherent power difference between teens and adults prevents young people from being able to freely give consent. The age of consent in Washington is 16. However, even at this age, power dynamics are often at play between a teen and older adult. The law recognizes this power dynamic — it is illegal for a person in a position of authority to have a sexual relationship with any youth they engage with or supervise. These adults may be counselors, teachers, doctors or attorneys.
Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.
This is not simply a headline from another part of the country. This is something happening in our own communities. Of all the victims that KCSARC assisted in 2016, 972 were between the ages of 11 and 17. Of those, almost 600 were between 14 and 17.
Sadly, our numbers for 2017 are on track to be even higher.
What can we do?
First and foremost, we can hold adults accountable for the positions of trust and authority they have with young people, and make it clear that sexual contact is not acceptable.
We can also ensure all organizations that work with youth have safe youth policies in place, including background checks. KCSARC is currently developing a tool kit to assist nonprofit and faith-based organizations in creating these policies.
And finally, we can help young people understand consent and boundaries, and how to respond if those things are violated. In our work with young people throughout King County, we bring tools for these vital conversations into schools and communities, and help them increase supportive responses to young survivors of violence. 100 Conversations is an online resource developed by KCSARC to support adults in having these more difficult discussions with the young people in their lives. This resource is available at 100conversations.org.
#MeAt14, like #MeToo, deserves our serious response, which is sadly missing from the current national conversation about Roy Moore. Let’s work together to change that conversation and make sure effective policies and resources are in place to help stop sexual abusers.