Friday, September 02, 2011

Woman and teen boy investigated over online relationship

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LOLcat: Giraffe peering into airplane window: “OH, HAI!”
This is a giraffe looking through an airplane window. From outside.
… Yeah, I got nothin’.

Via 4chan’s /v/ board comes this interesting story concerning the legality and ethics of romantic relationships between adults and minors. Here’s the Google translation of the original French article [edited for legibility]:

Can a 33-year-old woman and a 15-year-old teenager become virtual lovers? This is the question that must answer the judges of the Criminal Court of Nevers (Nièvre) who examined Tuesday a never-before-seen case of “corruption of minor”. A report that has dates back to 2008 with the MSN messenger of one of the most famous of videogames, Call of Duty.
     A war game normally not conducive to feeling, which saw Céline, 33, start a platonic but terribly invasive relationship with Thomas*, 15. The latter’s parents filed a complaint and justice must now decide.

Late 2008, Thomas is a teenager like many others. Located in the south of France, he spends much of his free time on his computer. He joined a group of players on a Call of Duty network. Soberly called Team, this group only contains major players and not “pajamas”, minors in videogame jargon.

But Thomas made himself a place. In addition to the game’s military missions, he converses over MSN with Shoot, the pseudonym of Céline, who lives several hundred kilometers away, in the Nièvre. The latter makes no secret of her mature age. In a few weeks, Thomas and Céline exchange more and more texts, phone calls and messages, sometimes in the middle of the night. But in spring of 2009, while Thomas and Céline live a romance by correspondence, the teen’s parents file a complaint because they worry about the scale of the story. Police officers first examine the hundreds of calls and messages. There are also letters and even photos exchanged. On one of the images, Céline is topless. Quickly, they identify the computer and the phone from which these messages come from and arrive at Céline, a divorced housewife and recently a young grandmother.

Heard on the facts in spring of 2009 by the officers in the Nièvre, Céline acknowledges the facts and takes responsibility this curious long-distance love story. She has never seen Thomas other than in photos, he’s almost as old as her eldest daughter, but she is convinced she loves him. For his part, the young boy saw his grades dip, but he too affirms before officers that he’s in love with Céline despite the age difference. He’s only awaiting his legal adulthood to live with her.

During the investigation, Céline and Thomas both underwent psychological examinations that demonstrate that they have a certain “fragility” in common. Thomas’s is linked, according to the expert, to the usual problems of adolescence.

If nothing for now seems to hold back the feelings between one and the other, Thomas having even written to the court in defense of Céline, will the judges sanction Céline? At the Tuesday hearing in Nevers, the prosecutor requested the “release” of the housewife. If he found the facts “morally reprehensible”, the case is not in his view a “corruption of minor” under the law. Contacted, Mr. Antoine Savignat, lawyer for the teenager’s parents, on his part thinks that people need to “break away from the virtuality of the facts”. “There are very real consequences for him and his family,” continues the lawyer, who concludes: “If a 35-year-old man had done the same thing with a girl of 15, I don’t think we would have asked this many questions.” The court will render its decision on September 27.

This is another one of those clear-cut stories that society in general would sooner get in a huff over rather than pause to consider the actual facts. As it is, the ideal solution is simple: Clear Céline of all charges and let her and the obviously consenting (if not eager) Thomas resume their relationship until he reaches that aleatory age whereby the law decides he is then suddenly capable of making his own decisions regarding his future. This simply isn’t a case where the question of age difference applies; both individuals are mature enough to recognize what is happening and how they want it to develop further. Ideally, they meet up and continue their romance happily. Worst-case scenario: Thomas goes to meet Céline, their “chemistry” just isn’t quite right, and they’re disappointed for a while until they both eventually move on. End of story.

I’ve argued this before and I’ll do it again: Age, insofar as it is commonly limited to the mathematical difference between present and date of birth, does not matter. I understand why we use age as an easy and simple rule of thumb for judging a person’s expected physical and psychological attributes; after all, most people, by definition, follow along the rules of averages. But there is always a margin, a grey zone. A person who happens to attain maturity faster than the rest should not be held back until they meet society’s fickle (and incessantly varying) standards. Of course, I am not arguing that we should let adults and minors hook up willy-nilly. My point is simply twofold: A) Cases need to be examined and judged individually and not subjected to any universal rule of thumb; and B) if someone is undeniably physically and psychologically ready to embark in a fully consensual relationship with someone, be it platonic or not, then why not let them?

In the end, it all boils down to this: If it’s consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone, then – quite literally – where’s the harm?