But I’m not sixteen anymore (thank god), so I’m able to look back on my situation with a lot of clarity I wish I’d had at the time, or that I was able to will into my teenage brain in retrospect. An adult is never interested in a child because the child is special, no matter how desperately that child wants to believe it; they’re interested because they, as the adult, are special. Special in that they aren’t able to muster an interest in people their own age. Special in that they’re aroused by innocence or naivety. Special in that they flout the law to engage in the kind of high-risk behavior they look for in their victims. Special in that they want something from someone who doesn’t know any better than to give it away. Special in that they don’t mind taking it.
I don’t care if Jasmine was in love with Paul or how long they were together, or any of that, because he took something from her by beginning a relationship while she was underage. At sixteen, you are legally still defined as a child, and at thirty-three, you are legally defined as an adult. I don’t care how mature you are for your age, or what the goddamn age of consent law is in your state (eighteen in California, as I’ve been informed), or how many times your parents have signed off on it and why — there is an inequality of experience and literal brain function between a child and an adult that makes a relationship unacceptable.
To this day, I’m still not comfortable with ‘sexual predator’ as a label for the man I was involved with, but by definition, that’s what he was, and that’s what any man is who pursues a relationship with a minor. I felt at the time of my own experience that I was in control of both myself and the situation and that I had enough information and wisdom to proceed, but that was incorrect. The things I thought and felt at the time caused me to take an extremely active role in my own mistakes, and while I can take responsibility for my own choices, I won’t take responsibility for his.
If he approached me now, I’d be able to write him off as what he was — an unemployed dude living at home while he struggled to get through his sixth year of community college, borrowing his friend’s condo to have sex with a high schooler in the middle of the day in between offering her bong rips and glasses of cheap wine and who would go on to have a physical relationship with her off-and-on for almost two years. (Still my longest ‘relationship’, which I’m sure would say something if I cared to read into it.) But I didn’t have that perspective on him at the time, or any perspective, because nobody does. Nobody can be objective about what’s happening while it’s still happening, least of all teenagers.
I was a member of a demographic that’s notoriously shaky on the decision-making front, and he took advantage of that. Preyed on it, even. Prey — as in predator, and what happened between us was statutory rape as defined by in the law in my state. I never pursued it because I hold myself accountable for my actions and because I was encouraged by multiple adults close to me not to get him in trouble, and even to lie about it when asked by a school counselor who heard rumors of what had happened. I acted that way because I had (and maybe still have) poor judgement, and because I was convinced that it wasn’t a big deal.
But I know now that it was a big deal, and just because something feels okay doesn’t mean it is. I should’ve known better, and that’s on me. He definitely did know better, and that’s on him. Shit happens. I made mistakes. I get it. But as unacceptable as that guy’s behavior was, he was nine whole years younger than Paul Walker was when he did the same thing. Just something to think about.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the younger party acts on it, or the older, or neither — it’s about knowing better. At sixteen, I thought I knew better than the people around me who were suspicious of this guy’s attention. At twenty-six, I know that I didn’t, and wish that I hadn’t gone for it anyway. But I also wish that the adult I was involved with had acted like one, because it would’ve rendered my bad decisions a whole lot less devastating.