Age gap matters when teens are dating

Casey Anderson, Opinion Editor

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Those who are 18 years old or older who date freshman and sophomores in high school contribute to rape culture. It is not right for someone who is an adult to be in a romantic relationship with someone that is younger than them during this stage of life.

Whenever I share my opinion that I think that this age gap is wrong, they most often bring up the fact that their parents are ten years apart, or that no one questions when a 24-year-old is dating a 30 year old.

With this, I have to agree. It is different when two perfectly legal ages of consent adults decide to be in relationship. The age gap is not relevant in those relationships because both members of it are at or above the legal age of consent. In Wisconsin, the legal age of consent is eighteen years old. The average age of a high school senior is seventeen or eighteen. Picture this: you have a high school senior whose birthday might have fallen in a way that puts them in school a little bit later, making them 18 or 19. You then have a freshman, who is around fourteen or 15, and the pair starts dating.

There is no way that this is OK. There is no justification that makes this a morally right thing to do. Imagine this relationship continues into the following years. You now have a college freshman maintaining a romantic relationship with a child who is unable to consent. One is taking classes to be better prepared for their career path, the other is in pre-algebra.

It is predatory. When I say this, I usually get met with “it is different because they started dating when they were in high school” or “they went to school together” or “they are my friend, who I am to be involved with their relationship?” There will not be change if people are afraid to discuss the predatory nature of this type of relationship. Change does not happen by making sure everyone is comfortable.

At my high school, the seniors would vote for categories like best hair, best smile, most likely to be late to class, just to name a few, for the yearbook. One that bothered me most was the most likely to date a freshman.

When I saw it on the ballot I was disgusted. Why is it okay for us to glorify and laugh at what can be constituted as statutory rape? Why are we showing high schoolers that it’s permissible, and even OK to be in these kinds of relationships? There is no good outcome of this. It can lead to adults preying on underage high school students well into their college years.

Whether intentional or not, there is a power imbalance in this sort of relationship. Being in such a strong position of power can take away the younger party’s voice. In high school, there is a certain level of clout around dating someone who is older than you. Because of this, the younger party can be afraid to end the relationship, even if it is not healthy, for fear of damaging their social position.

We live in a time where sexual assault and the culture around it is beginning to be called out more than in the past. For change to be effective, we must become comfortable with making people uncomfortable. It is not okay to be OK with habits that contribute to rape culture.