Cyberspace anonymity has reshaped human interaction by loosening inhibitions, minimizing perceived authority, and making way for solipsistic introjection. Couple that with exposure to media simmered in vague age casting, the post-Lana Del Rey lolita resurgence, and the rise of alter-kink accounts, teens today are living with less boundaries and a sense of (hypersexual) maturity which makes them vulnerable to predators on the prowl.
There’s a tweet from a teenager boasting about her relationship with a much older guy that went viral this month. It has since been deleted, not because it stirred much controversy, but rather to protect the identity of the boyfriend who she was told could possibly face jail time. This month also got the internet talking about celebrity relationships between Twice’s Momo and Super Junior’s Heechul and between Florence Pugh and Zach Braff. Half of the internet just wants everyone to be happy for the couples, claiming that they’re all consenting adults anyway, while the other half finds it skeevy that the 34-year-old entertainer and the 44-year-old actor are dating girls in their early 20s. Leonardo DiCaprio has become a meme for apparently not dating anyone older than 25. Is the positive perception of relationships with big age gaps something to be reconsidered, especially when a teen is involved?
Personal grooming for good boys and girls
In the critically acclaimed movie Parasite, Park Seo-joon’s Min entrusts his tutoring job to Choi Woo-shik’s Ki-woo because he had plans to court high-schooler Da-hye when she enters college — only to have Ki-woo trade kisses with her and fantasize about marrying into her family. Grooming takes on different forms, but it’s essentially befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a minor, and sometimes family, to lower their inhibition and prepare them for sexual activity.
When I was a teenager, looking to date an adult was a half-meant punchline among broke students or just a passing thought while bored on the internet. When you’re young, you feel like you know what you’re getting yourself into and feel like you’re putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations for character building instead of admitting that you’re being taken advantage of. As an adult, I now think it’s degrading and exploitative for teenagers to go into romantic (and almost always sexual) relationships with adults because they’re looking for (financial) stability, guidance, or maturity from a partner.
And for some it’s not even a choice. I realized how truly horrific it is for an adult to explicitly share sexual experiences and show sexual objects to minors when I was able to put the harsh realities of child trafficking and child pornography into perspective.
The number line and placed value
I have spoken to and read the stories of people who were in relationships with adults when they were teens and there seemed to be a general consensus on age not being just a number but a dictating factor in the dynamic of a relationship which they regret.
Some felt that they were equals with their partners at first. The feeling of getting chosen by someone who could have dated someone older brought an intoxicating false sense of accomplishment and a sense of self-worth tied to someone else — both of which did not last. Some were constantly reminded by their partners of their inferiority. It’s hard to hold a conversation with someone when sharing how your day went highlights your differences and your partner is always trying to teach you “life lessons” or mansplaining just about everything.
Starting to share their partner’s habits wasn’t the best thing when their ex was trying to either reclaim their youth or sense of responsibility by dating someone significantly younger. There are those that cut off their friends and family for being critical of their relationship or were forced by their partners to do so, which led to further isolation and alienation. Plenty bore the trauma of being hypersexualized at a young age, viewed as nothing more than a sexual object and fantasy.
Crime, punishment, and the culture of abuse
Trauma is like a perpetual wound, better prevented rather than cured. It might be overbearing for me to say this, but we could connect the private and the public to understand the gravity of upholding constitutionally guaranteed protection for young people. We have to put a stop to pedophiles preying on our friends the same way we have to put a stop to child prostitution because both cultivate a culture of abuse.
According to PH law, an adult committing sexual intercourse with children below 12 is tantamount to statutory rape and punished by reclusion perpetua or death. An adult committing sexual activity with a person below 18 may face reclusion perpetua for child abuse and exploitation. The law on seduction can punish an adult committed in a sexual relationship with a female over 12 but under 18 with up to 6 years in prison.
In addition to these, the Anti-Child Pornography Act criminalizes and defines “grooming” as the act of preparing a child or someone who the offender believes to be a child for sexual activity or sexual relationship by communicating any form of child pornography or enticement through any other means. “Luring” is also a crime and defined as the act of communicating, by means of a computer system, with a child or someone who the offender believes to be a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of sexual activity or production of any form of child pornography.
It is important to be informed of the laws but it is equally important to educate — not just young people, but everyone else — on forming a healthy relationship with yourself and surrounding yourself with the type of people that will help you flourish.
One woman I spoke with said that teenagers should come into things like their sexuality, preferences, and beliefs, on their own terms and not have an adult selfishly manipulating these choices. Don’t be afraid to figure things out with friends or family too. Another tip I was told was never commit to a serious relationship for the sake of it. If you want to explore emotional and physical intimacy, do it with someone that you trust and is on the same ground as you. If you’re not ready to do that with someone else, don’t force yourself. You can learn at your desired pace and on your own. And if you are in a relationship where you feel unsafe, used, or mistreated: you’re probably better off feeling lonely for a little while than being truly alone.