Leiden Law Blog

Criminal Law and Teenage Sexuality

The social relevance of my research has to do with criminal law setting limits to sexual contact in the private lives of youngsters. From a legal point of view sex with minors can be qualified as lewd and this can be done without the extra requirements of assault and rape. How is this legal notion understood and applied by criminal justice authorities? By zooming in on the more ambiguous cases of sex with youngsters the tension between effective protection and unwanted interference can be further examined and checked against the underlying principles of criminalization. It might be consequently possible to find a better balance, which can be instructive for the criminal justice authorities protecting youngsters against harmful sexual behavior but also respecting the sexual autonomy of youngsters.

Criminal law is a means to pass on norms and values in contemporary society and as such it is an important part of the overall social reaction. The criminal justice response comes down to setting a limit or no limit to sex with youngsters with the goal of acting to protect sexual integrity or not acting to enable sexual experimentation. For the purpose of understanding cases of lewd conduct other social reactions offering a broader context have also been studied. These reactions are produced by opinion makers such as politicians, journalists and researchers. My study is primarily focused on the question: What do the criminal justice and media responses to sex with youngsters reveal about the interpretation of underage sex within our society and how does this interpretation inform the aforementioned responses?

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