Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Foster Care & Statutory Rape

I recently spoke with a former foster child, who is now a college-educated young woman. She revealed to me that, when she was 16 years old, her foster father raped her. He made a bet with her, and when she won, he "rewarded" her with alcohol.

I asked her if charges had been filed. She responded that her social worker knew that sex had taken place, but assumed that it was consensual. That was how the incident was documented in her case files.

I pressed on, "But it can't be considered consensual. That's impossible. You were sixteen and he was an adult. Legally, you were a child and unable to consent to this act with him."

In my opinion, that social worker should be held accountable for her severe lapse in judgement. I offered to help to legally pursue this matter. However, this young woman has not had enough time to heal. She is not now, and does not know if she will ever be emotionally ready to prosecute.

I told her that I would respect her decision, but remain available if she ever needed my support. Having had a similar experience at the same age, I found myself wanting to protect and defend her. But -- to tell the truth, I never pressed charges, either.

Statutory Rape
Rape is a charge that can be difficult to prove. If there were witnesses present, in most cases, the rape would not take place. Proving rape can be even more difficult if the victim is a foster child (remember the labels and stigmas discussed in my previous blog entry).

Laws vary widely in their definition of statutory rape and the legal age of consent. In Virginia, for example, carnal knowledge of a 13-14 year old is a Class 4 felony, while carnal knowledge of a 15-17 year old is a class 1 misdemeanor. (Strange distinction).

The rationale behind a statutory rape charge is that a young person, while biologically mature enough to desire intercourse, is not mature enough to make wise sexual decisions. This makes the young person vulnerable to an adult who tries to manipulate, deceive or coerce them.

It's also important to realize that minors are legally, economically and socially unequal to adults. They lack full legal rights. Typically, they are economically dependent wards of their legal guardians. Think of the implications for a young person in foster care.

Promiscuity Defense
The most common defense against a charge of statutory rape is the 'promiscuity defense,' demontrating that the girl has had other sexual partners.

Why would this make a difference?
As Michelle Oberman explains, "At its core, the promiscuity defense reflects a belief that, by virtue of multiple sexual partners, girls become less vulnerable to coercion, and in essence gain the capacity to consent to sex... (as if) there is no longer any compelling need for protective measures for the sexually experienced child."

In contrast, Oberman believes such promiscuity signals a history of vulnerability, rather than worldliness. She argues that, if it were true that girls were powerless until they lost their virginity, society would encourage them to have sex at a younger age.

The promiscuity defense also seems to state that, if a girl is not a virgin, any man alive has the right to have carnal knowledge of her. If she has willingly consented in the past, is she now denied the legal right to say no?

Coming of Age As A Young Woman
Michelle Oberman has asserted that, while both boys and girls share the crisis of adolescence, they experience it in different ways. Young men might seek pleasure and experimentation, while young women might be more motivated by a desire for emotional closeness and attention.

For young women, the physical changes of adolescences often represent a loss of control:
-Their body is changing before their eyes.
-Men around them begin to express desire.
-They begin to see themselves through the eyes of others.
-They measure themselves against impossible ideals.

To experience the physical changes of puberty within the instability of foster care is challenging for a young woman. It makes her vulnerable... emotionally, physically and sexually.

Sadly, there are older men in this world who take advantage of that kind of vulnerability.

Oberman, Michlle. Turning girls into women: Re-evaluating modern statutory rape law. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 85 (1994).

Virginia Department of Health website: http://www.vahealth.org/civp/sexualviolence/varapelaws/laws_rape.asp

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I don't know if you know, but I have gone through what's called "Life Coaching". I don't know if you have ever heard of life coaching... it's not counseling or therapy, it's a more positive approach, and it deals more with life goals and where you want to go with them. The life coach coaches you with methods to help you sort out what your goals are, where your life is going wrt career, business, relationships and life in general.
I was thinking today, how great it would be if there was a life coach who specialized in people age 16-22. Then, I thought, would be nice for youth aging out of the system to have life coaching, too...
Maybe it's something for me to consider once I get this stupid degree...
I think that sounds fabulous.

Whatever you end up doing, Danielle, my sense is that you are the type of person who is going to make a positive impact regarding foster care.

Gayle, whom I partner with in Ohio, has matched foster teens up with mentors (kind of like Big Brother, Big Sister).

A life coach would definitely have helped me when I aged out of foster care. I didn't know how to cook, budget or drive.

I was 16 years old, and initially making very poor life decisions (good to enter college, bad choice of a roommate).

Mark Kroner, co-founder of Lighthouse Youth Services has commented that life skills training before youth age out of care is like drivers ed without the car.

I think teens need preparation before leaving care, but also coaching after they are emancipated. So many teens from "normal" families struggle with adjusting to the adult world.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rats... that link didn't go directly where I wanted it to...

Go to "2005" and choose "Parental Exit Exam."

Mark Stivers has generously allowed me to use this comic in presentations re: foster teens aging out of care.

I am always careful to credit him.
Lisa, thanks for the compliments. I hope I do make a big impact, on *any* children.
I do have to tell you, though, that even though I grew up with both parents in an "upper middle class" family, my coming-of-age experience wasn't too much different than yours. My mom resented being a mom from the time that I was about 4 months old. It was very difficult being raised by her... she was always emotionally abusive to me, and sometimes physically abusive. I spent my teen years with the worst self esteem imaginable. My father was just oblivious. I don't know what his prob was.
Teaching me valuable life skills? Forget it! It would have been a blessing for her to just go one day without making fun of me.
I made some bad choices as well. I had some bad roommates, too! Hee hee hee. The first one was a neat freak and demanded we scrub everything with a toothbrush. If she thought something was dirty or messy, she'd yell at ME! I think she was psychotic. I lived with her for three months, and then moved into a trailor home with three other women, two of them were single moms. The two single moms were total loosers, and I cared for their children a LOT. The one who didn't have kids, I shared a room with, and she always had different guys over, so I'd end up sleeping on a mattress next to the kids in their room so I wouldn't have to hear it. Oy. I job hopped for about a year. Some of those jobs, I just stopped going. One thing I can say for myself is that I never made stupid choices with money. All the threats from my mom and other adults that I was destined for this life of poverty forced me to kind of choose poverty, work excruciatingly hard, and be over zealous with making wise money decisions. I was the only 18 year old girl who washed ziplock baggies. This has proven well for me. The over zealousness in my first few years on my own have put me in a great position now.

Thank God those years are over!!!
At FCAA, the point was made that some of the best allies of foster alumni grew up in dysfunctional homes themselves.

You have just inspired my next blog entry!
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