Overlooked in the Gloucester teen pregnancy story is most were rape and a bill in the Legislature would make it okay if the age difference between perpetrator and victim is less than 10 years.
At least 17 Gloucester high school girls recently became pregnant, about half of them after reportedly making a pact to have babies together. Many were under the age of consent, which means some of the pregnancies are also felonies.
Pundits bemoaned the lack of stable families and a culture that encourages young girls to be sexual. The Mayor of Gloucester claimed educators couldn’t stop the girls because they were too busy trying to comply with an underfunded “No Child Left Behind” law. Huh?
I have sympathy, but not so much that I’d give them all free Pampers and daycare down the hall from algebra class – which appears to be the plan for the little mommies.
I’d make them all go to different schools and suffer just enough to ensure that they, and all the girls watching, get the message that having a baby in high school is a profoundly stupid thing to do.
Lawmakers should help, too, and find a way to make teen pregnancy a very unpleasant event. But in this state where talking about punishment gets you kicked off Nut Island, there’s little hope anything meaningful will come out of the State House.
In fact, there’s a bill pending that’s sure to make things worse.
State Rep. and criminal attorney Eugene O’Flaherty of Chelsea proposed a bill to impose mandatory prison time for one particular type of child rape. But it only ramps up the punishment for victims between ages 12 and 15 if the offender is at least 10 years older. Which means it wouldn’t apply if a 12 year-old was raped by a 21 year-old, and it wouldn’t cover any of the Gloucester cases – including the one where a 15 year-old was reportedly impregnated by a 24 year-old homeless man.
Then there’s the cost of raising a child – which is barely manageable for working-class adults. Uneducated, unmarried kids have almost no chance of paying the bills.
If the point weren’t so painfully obvious, I’d continue with a plethora of statistics that demonstrate how psychologically overwhelming life becomes when a child raises a child. The human desire to feel hopeful about the future gets lost in the endless responsibilities that come home from the hospital with a deceptively cute baby.
That we glamorize parenthood is part of the problem. I continue to be overwhelmed by the challenges of raising my children. The nurses taught me how to breastfeed but they didn’t warn me about teenager-hood.
That we don’t try very hard to deter underage sex makes the battle more difficult. And now lawmakers want to push us further in the wrong direction with a 10-year age gap in child rape laws.
No other state has such an absurd statute, yet politicians and prosecutors say they are delighted. No real surprise. They can’t win without a hug-a-thug philosophy because Massachusetts doesn’t have a democracy, it has a DeMasi-ocracy. The most powerful politician in Massachusetts, Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, is a defense attorney – which means when it comes to criminal justice policy, sycophants get what they want because they keep King Sal’s castle afloat.
I have a better idea. How about lawmakers take off their Birkenstocks and declare that kids don’t need the freedom to have sex with adults. They need to know we care about them enough to deal harshly with issues that threaten to ruin their lives.
Now the bill’s in the Senate where Sen. Steven Baddour and Senate President Therese Murray can fix things, but they won’t – unless the public starts screaming and yelling about how the belly show in Gloucester is powerful proof that it’s the wrong time to encourage even more underage sex.
If we don’t get outraged, the proposal will soon become law, which means not only more teen pregnancies, but newly energized child predators and pornographers who have been champing at the bit for years to lower the age of consent to 12. The age-gap provision cracks open that dangerous door for the first time in Massachusetts.
And people wonder why young families are leaving this state in droves?
Wendy Murphy is a leading victims’ rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England School of Law and radio talk show host. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.