Roy Moore is running for the Alabama Senate and some politicians are encouraging him to drop out of the race in the face of sexual misconduct allegations. It is said that he had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, and pursued romantic relationships with three other teenagers.
A former colleague of Moore’s said that it was “common knowledge” that the Alabama Republican dated high school girls while he was the assistant district attorney for Etowah County. He worked in the district attorney’s office from 1977 until 1982. According to Teresa Jones, former deputy district attorney and his co-workers, they found it strange that he regularly dated high school girls. No one confronted him about the behavior, which included preying on young girls at high school gatherings, at the time, she said. “We wondered why someone his age would hang out at high school football games and the mall…but you really wouldn’t say anything to someone like that,” she said.
What is an acceptable age difference? One rule thumb is to divide your age by half and add seven to find the minimum age of someone you should date. For example, Roy Moore at age 32 should not date anyone younger than 23.
Moore denies the allegations. But when asked if he had ever dated girls who were 16, 17 or 18 years of age, he answered “not generally no.” And, “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” Let’s be clear on this point. If you need to get consent of a parent, then they are too young to date. They are unable to provide consent to sexual contact.
So what is meant by sexual misconduct in this case? Many people correctly define Moore’s behavior as child sexual abuse. Others are calling him a pedophile. And others want to give him a pass by viewing it as unusual but not improper actions of an older man seeking a relationship with someone much younger than himself.
If the allegations are true, then the events as described constitute sex abuse. Moore met Leigh Corfman, the woman alleging sex abuse, at the age of 14 when Moore was an assistant district attorney in Alabama. Her mother attended a custody hearing and Moore suggested that Leigh “shouldn’t hear all that” and offered to watch her. Her mother thought it was nice of him to take care her little girl. Moore and Leigh met again days later at which time he took her home and removed her clothes, touching her over her underwear and placing her hand on his underwear clad genitals. He also gave her alcohol. She was uncomfortable with it and asked to be taken home.
This description of Moore’s behavior is an example of “grooming” for the purposes of child sexual molestation typical of pedophilia. Pedophiles target a victim, gain their trust, or their parent’s trust, isolate the child and engage in sexual contact. The word pedophile is commonly applied to anyone who sexually abuses a child, but child sexual abuse offenders are not pedophiles unless they have a strong sexual interest in prepubescent children. There is insufficient evidence of pedophilia in Moore’s case.
If Leigh Corfman had filed legal charges against Moore at the time of the offense, he would have been subject to incarceration. The legal age of consent in Alabama, then and now is 16. Someone who is at least 19 years old who has sexual contact with a 14 year old has committed sexual abuse, punishable by up to one year in jail. Enticing a child younger than 16 to enter a home with the purpose of intercourse or fondling of genital parts is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Why is it improper for an older person to seek a relationship with someone much younger? As illustrated in Moore’s case, an adolescent or child is not able to give consent. They are vulnerable to manipulation because the power dynamic is skewed. Age of consent laws draw a clear line between people who are too young to date. Young people are by definition, not mature or experienced. It is not only improper to cross these lines, it is illegal. Roy Moore, as an attorney at the time of the offense, knew better. He purposefully crossed the line and should be held accountable for it.