Underage dating debate

An underage girl did not have to physically struggle and resist to the limit of her capacity in order to convince a court of her lack of consent to a sexual act, as older females did; in other words, the age of consent made it easier to prosecute a man who sexually assaulted an underage girl.However, since the age of consent applied in all circumstances, not just in physical assaults, the law also made it impossible for an underage female to consent to sexual activity.There was one exception: a man's acts with his wife, to which rape law, and hence the age of consent, did not apply.In trials, juries were often unwilling to simply enforce the law.Jurist Sir Matthew Hale argued that the age of consent applied to 10- and 11-year-old girls, but most of England's North American colonies adopted the younger age.A small group of Italian and German states that introduced an age of consent in the 16th century also employed 12 years.

This module traces the shifting ways that the law has been defined, debated and deployed worldwide and from the Middle Ages to the present.Moreover, they argued, by late adolescence girls possessed sufficient understanding about how to use the law to blackmail unwary men.Historians have argued that increasing the age of consent also gave the law a more pronounced regulatory dimension.In practice, these laws were often used to control the behavior of the working-class girls.Yet reformers at the time saw no distinction between protection and regulation: in making it a crime for girls to decide to have sexual intercourse outside marriage, the law protected them from themselves and from the immature understanding that led them to behaviors reformers considered immoral.

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