I'm currently poking around at missing children, including up to the age of 21 in some cases, sometimes reported missing, sometimes not, sometimes from the home of their family, sometimes from various state/foster/group etc. homes. I'm trying to get a better understanding of how and why children become separated from their designated guardians/adult supervision/parents, and what kinds of things happen next.
What I am finding is that, once again, deeply held values influence how people perceive children. Even when we aren't arguing about how _we_ should be treating children (what kind of supervision is required and what we should do when it is apparently absent, or when the supervision being delivered looks like abuse, etc.), it turns out we often _are_ arguing about when a child is ... not a child.
I remember being a girl in some detail. I remember believing that I could do a whole lot of things adults could do, maybe even better than some of them. I believed that girls matured sooner than boys. And there was a brief period of time when I was about 11 or 12 when I aspired to marry younger than my mother at at 19 (I got over it). But I also remember really dreading the responsibility associated with driving a car, and I really _loathed_ the responsibility of carrying for an infant (after one or two go-rounds of that as a 12 year old, give or take, I flat out refused to watch kids younger than 2. And my experience with infants as a child myself contributed to a very long-standing uncertainty about whether I ever wanted to have kids of my own, which is a risk associated with expecting children to care for children that is underappreciated.). The adults _handing_ me these responsibilities (I didn't actually ask for most of them, and I tried to fight off the learn-to-drive one but lost) were practically gleeful that I felt these fears. They thought that meant I'd do a good job.
Most of my experiences around children fit well within my memory of being a child: a huge, confusing mix of wanting to make decisions and not wanting responsibility. Wanting to do the things I wanted, but feel safe and protected. There are some edge cases that I have really wondered about, including sexual activity, and that's a whole, complex mess involving same sex sibling incest that happened when I was really young, and then no sex until I was 22. For a good chunk of my adult life, I've been firmly of the opinion that if kids want to have sex with each other, they should be Real Clear on condoms to reduce disease transmission, and birth control pills/shots/wtf because belt-and-suspenders is how I live my life, and open communications so if there is a failure, you can get Plan B or, if it's too late for that, the very earliest next option because those are cheaper, less risky and much more widely available than if you wait longer.
I love that we got _away_ from blanket age-of-consent and instituted Romeo-and-Juliet laws. No, you idiot mid-to-late 20s loser, you do _not_ get to shop the middle school/high school for a low-self-esteem girl. But if that same girl wants to get it on with some guy she met in shop class, nobody has to go to jail. I am _especially_ happy to see developments in Venice (CA) recently, because it looks like we're finally pursuing egregious consent violations in a school context. Obvs, I would have been happier if there weren't a bunch of predatory boys running around, but I'll take enforcement.
Also, recently, I read this (every trigger imaginable): http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/a-seven-year-search-for-justice/2015/03/12/b1cccb30-abe9-11e4-abe8-e1ef60ca26de_story.html
and large chunks of this:
The problems here seem similar. A _girl_ (not a woman, a female child) is unambiguously the victim of violent, sexual crime. But because of what the _girl_ says (or refuses to say) and does (or refuses to do) when interacting with investigators and social workers and so forth, the focus of enforcement moves from the violent, sexual criminal(s), who are _clearly_ (once you think of it in these terms) working in a concerted way, and therefore probably creating more than one victim _if anyone can be bothered to look_. The focus of enforcement centers on the _child_ _victim_.
I realize that this is complicated, but I feel like there is a pretty simple ideal that we could all agree on. If someone shows up with unambiguous evidence of violent sexual assault, they shouldn't become the target of prosecution for anything associated with that assault (if they robbed a bank the month before, feel free! But not for false or non-reporting or obstructing or whatever the fuck.). And if they are utterly crazy (in the actually having psychotic breaks sense), that should not be a reason to _not_ go after the responsible person(s) who violently sexually assaulted them. I also feel like if we take off the table the possibility of prosecuting the victim, maybe we'll focus on getting all those rape kits that are sitting around unprocessed moved through the system. As that happens, it is becoming very clear that there are a bunch of violent, repeat, sexual offenders who are raping women who police then dismiss as lying or making it up or whatever. Which is a ridiculous state of affairs and completely fixable, if we just focus on the physical evidence and quit expecting the victim to comport with our ludicrous notions of How Victims Should Behave.
I believe that we have legislation to this effect going in Congress at the moment that is currently hung up on the Hyde Amendment and I really hope that amendment can be removed because this is legislation we really need.
Finally, I feel like we are having a really weird parenting policy moment. At exactly the moment in time when we should be focusing on higher levels of supervision/surveillance on older children (and younger adults, potentially) to make sure they make it to full adulthood and development of executive function without landing in jail (where there is a high level of surveillance and a very low level of independence) or dying, we've got a loud fraction of white parents trying to dismantle this entire apparatus.
But you know, maybe it's not that weird. I mean, if you solve a problem thoroughly enough that you don't know anyone who has that problem, you might forget why you put all those procedures and protocols and safeguards in place and think it was okay to get rid of them. And we've been seeing _that_ kind of thinking about one thing (banking regulation) or another (vaccination) for a long while now.