Why isn't a 14 year old girl old enough to consent to sex?

After all, we think a 14 year old should be in control of her body enough to decide on her own to have an abortion, so why isn't she old enough to consent to sex?

I'm thinking about this because of a case that's in the news today:

Kaitlyn Hunt, or “Kate,” has just refused a plea deal in a case that has focused the nation on discriminatory prosecutions and ways in which LGBT people are treated differently by some prosecutors. Kate Hunt, a high school senior who began a consensual relationship with a classmate three years her junior, when she was 17, was arrested when she turned 18 after her girlfriend’s parents demanded her arrest and expulsion from school.

The Florida prosecutor, Brian Workman, offered her a deal vastly different from those generally offered to teens in her situation engaged in opposite-sex consensual relationships. Instead of offering her a misdemeanor charge Hunt is being charged with two felonies. Her plea deal would include her being forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life, no possibility of her case being overturned or records sealed, and forced to serve two years’ house arrest.

“Hunt will appear in court June 20, and could face 15 years in prison if convicted... (source)

I'm curious what your thoughts are on the question in the subject line as well as on this case.

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I am in no way an expert on this, but I think at 14 people's brains, and therefore critical reasoning abilities, are not yet fully developed.  Of course I don't think that anything magical happens to anyone's brain when he or she turns 18, but there is a huge difference in executive functioning between a 14 year old and, say, a 25 year old.  I don't have sources for this but it is what I remember from human development, neurology, and neurological rehabilitation aspects of my education as an occupational therapist.  

Now I work with elderly folks, and this comes into play a lot when people have dementia.  There is a theory that relates to cognition called retrogenesis.  It holds that as dementia progresses, in general, people's cognitive and physical abilities proceed in reverse order from the way they developed in youth.  The practical result of this is that at a certain point in the dementia process, which correlates to early teenage years, people become less able to care for themselves independently.  Their capacity for judgment, insight, safety awareness, organization, abstract thinking, and problem solving is diminished.  They begin to have difficult with higher-level everyday tasks such as money management, medication management, response to emergency situations, etc.,, and need more assistance to live on their own.  

Of course many folks, as much as 14 year olds, don't recognize this is going on.  The irony is they lack the insight necessary to understand their decreased insight, and think that they don't need any help at all.   

So, a 14 year old has something analogous to dementia which they will eventually grow out of?

In that case why do we (many of us) argue that a 14 year old should be allowed to get an abortion without the permission of her guardians, who are expected to protect her?

I don't know.  Probably for the same reasons 18 year olds are allowed to fight and die for their country but can't be trusted to have a beer.  It does seem a bit arbitrary and contradictory.

I'm afraid I need to call out a flaw in this argument. I believe you realize it already; the argument of the 14 year-old brain not being as developed as a 25 year old is accurately binding the range from which we become emotionally volatile (roughly 11-14) to the age we finally understand consequence, long-term planning, permanency, and regulating intense emotions (20-25).

It would seem that you have bypassed acknowledging that an 18 year-old would be in the same position mentally as the 14 year-old. Why is the 14 year-old being tended as the victim but not the 18 year-old? If anything, the 18 year-old is now subject to more mental turmoil due to the social and legal singling out and stigmatization of her actions and behaviors that are neurologically just as awkward, intense, genuine, and passionate as the 14 year-old. 

To further punctuate this, the 18 year-old can possibly be just as 'victimized' by a 25 year-old as a 14 year-old would since the frontal lobe is the last to develop into adulthood.and standardly after 20 years of age. The 18 year-old being closer to that occurring is still not "has occurred".

The law stipulates that an 18 year old can make their own decisions, not so when it comes to 14 year olds. This is how the 18 year old can be viewed as a sexual predator, by being thought to be legally competent to make sexual choices.

Yet, we have the glaring exception that in many a jurisdiction a 14 year old is allowed to get an abortion on her own without consultation with and permission from her parents. That's an important decision, just like deciding to have sex. Why say one is okay but the other isn't, and what are the premises of the argument that supports that distinction?

Sometimes parents won't want their 14 year old to be having sex. Is this no longer a parent's business. 

I'm sorry abuse occurs, but are we now assuming that that's the case to such an extent that we no longer want more details but just say "Okay, go get an abortion if that's what you want?" 

Does that end the abuse? What is the purpose, then?

I'm pointing out that the ability to have an abortion is giving the woman control over her body. 

So is letting her decide when and with whom to have sex. And if she isn't ready to have control over her body for sex, then perhaps she's simply not ready to have control over her body for anything.

Thanks Belle, that's a really good link

We don't even require adults to be capable of determining the consequences of their own actions. We just prosecute them when they fuck up.

Anyway, there's no question of allowing 14 year olds to have sex. It's not like they're going to ask permission. 

Your link makes a good case for regarding people as, basically, mental children until age 25. Is that your position?

By the standards suggested by that link humans shouldn't be making decisions at all until they are 25 years old!

But the development of basic personal boundaries and values is finished long before that age - this is the basis of consent, not an understanding of future consequence. No human being can accurately project consequences. They might be able to do it better as they age but it is never perfected.  "But they might not be able to live with the consequences". The vast majority of human beings that survive into adulthood seem to be pretty adept at this; given that the world population is in the many billions and growing it's a pretty sure bet that a great number of us manage to do that. Will 14-year olds get into abusive relationships? Yep. Will adults 25 years old and older get into abusive relationships? Definitely. Prevention is difficult or impossible but recovery is not - give people a clear path of escape and the encouragement to do so and you have a better solution. Additionally support them afterwards. Otherwise? Leave them alone to make their own lives and relationships. The fact that you want to protect them is an admirable human trait but you have to respect their ability to choose or you are just trading one form of abuse for another.

I think, Richard, that it may be safe to say that most people don't recognize a mistake until after they've made it.

I agree completely. Having sex exposes her to the hazard of pregnancy (and STDs), when she is much too young to assume the burden, risk, and responsibility of bearing a child.  But having an abortion returns her to a condition similar to her pre-sex status.  Instead of plunging her into great, unfamiliar responsibilities, it relieves her of an agonizing dilemma and removes the danger of confessing to her parents, who may punish her severely or forbid an abortion.


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