Most US states have legal frameworks that pave the way for men to exploit teenage girls, new research from The Washington Post has found.
It comes amid accusations against Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who’s said to be facing an investigation by the US Department of Justice for allegedly having a sexual relationship with and trafficking a 17-year-old girl, in addition to accusations of paying for sex, using illegal drugs and showing other House members nude photos of women.
Now, the publication has looked at legislation across America and how certain loopholes endanger the lives of young women.
The Washington Post first noted the key issue with the age of consent: it’s set by states, not the federal government. For example, while it’s 18 in Florida, it’s 16 in many other states and there are a number of additional conditions with regards to people’s difference in age and what exactly they’ve done.
Of the 50 states, 46 allow child marriage, with only Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota and Pennsylvania setting the age requirement at 18 with no exceptions. According to Equality Now, 20 states don’t require any minimum age for marriage, simply needing a parental or judicial waiver.
It’s estimated 248,000 children married in the US between 2000 and 2010, with most of them being young women wed to older men. This also introduces an issue with regards to statutory rape: via marriage, adult men can often bypass these charges.
There’s also research that indicates underage married children go on to experience a greater extent of physical and sexual abuse than adults, with severe impacts on mental and physical health. Also, despite being permitted to wed, they’re often not considered an adult until the age of 18 and therefore can’t access the state’s legal system.
Following the actions of the four states since 2018, it’s hoped others will listen to child marriage advocacy groups issuing desperate appeals.
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