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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ruwart's Pubescence Standard Is Incoherent

Nobody here made Ruwart an anarchist, or a radical on children's rights.  She either defends her positions, or she doesn't.  If politicians got to cherry-pick the issues for their campaigns, we'd already live in Libertopia, right?
Remember, what Ruwart never repudiated was this: "Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it's distasteful to us personally. Some children will make poor choices just as some adults do in smoking and drinking to excess; this is part of life."
Yes, boorish people both inside and outside the LP are viciously making unfair inferences from her statement, and it's lucky for us we have such paragons of charitable-reading virtue as Brian Miller to help set them straight.
However, Ruwart is in fact being given a free pass on a crucial piece of context in her book.  In the "short answer" immediately after talking about "the incentives for parents to use children against their will", the only limit she identified to any child's rights is this:
"In practice, children's rights are limited by their inability to take responsibility for their actions. For example, a child who wishes to work, but can't convince his or her parents to provide the necessary transportation, will be unable to exercise that right." 
One wonders what recourse Ruwart would give to a parent if a pimp for 12-year-old prostitutes offered a ride-sharing service.  The very next "tough question" indeed asks generally "Would parents decide?"  The answer:
"In practice, you would decide if a child is old enough to enter into a contract with you. Is the child willing and able to provide the contracted service to you?  If so, what kind of recourse would you expect from the courts if the child if the child refuses to provide the contracted service.  The age of majority for marriage, work, etc. is most often established by custom of the society and will vary with the individual's circumstances rather than being dictated by law." 
So if you're a parent with a 12-year-old, you better hope you are more persuasive than the local pimps and pornographers and pedophiles -- or that none of them have cars.  If Ruwart does in fact say that parents and guardians have more legal standing than the neighborhood pimps and pornographers to guide their 12-year-old's choice about whether to engage in the sex trade, then I'd love for any of her supporters to quote her saying so.  I've looked for it, and haven't found it.  Now, watch me get criticized without such a quote being offered.

Mr. Westmiller, Ruwart's "pubescence" standard is not just vague -- I'm OK with vague -- it's theoretically incoherent.  When she wrote last week that "courts were likely to consider that pre-pubescent children had been coerced, since desire would be absent", she blatantly assumed that the only reason children might legitimately want to engage in a sexual act is out of sexual desire.  But even a mild-mannered grandmother like Dr. Ruwart must know that prostitutes and porn stars don't always act out of sexual desire -- I suspect they very rarely do.  A near-pubescent 10-year-old might desperately but sincerely want to earn some money or to earn approval from an authority figure or just satisfy curiosity.   What libertarian theorist would claim that the only "gains from trade" (to use the technical economic term) in a sex act must be satisfaction of sexual desire?
This is not just a hypothetical issue.   Here in my county we have a perennial LP candidate who served time after pleading no contest in 1990 to two charges of attempted child pandering -- i.e. "offer[ing] to give, transport, provide, or make available to another person, a child under the age of 16 for the purpose of any lewd or lascivious act as defined in Section 288".  To defend himself from what he calls "entrapment" for talking about organizing a sexual encounters between an undercover female cop and his 14-year-old son (and allegedly the 10-year-old boy living with him), he explains:
JW) Why I am a Politically Incorrect Parent: I had my first pleasant sexual experience at the age of five -- a kind of group orgy/sexual-discovery/fondle get together of about four or five kids of various ages and both sexes. I had long since decided that if at all possible that I would like to arrange a similar pleasant sexual experience for my own children.  [...]
The details of three incidents where some could claim that I had been inappropriately affectionate with a child: a minor incident in 1969 (it was inappropriate since the child was not my own and I didn't have the parents okay), and two in 1982 with my own daughter. All incidents were intended by me as affection, and most importantly were received as affection by the child. (JW
In 2004 we had to run a normaltarian against this guy in a state senate primary and we kept him off the general ballot only by two votes.  Unlike this guy's conviction, I don't think Ruwart's position on sexual commerce by children disqualifies her from being an LP candidate.  I just don't think that these and other extremist positions of Ruwart should be in the Platform.