older adults and people with disabilities deserve better than this

From Sexual Intelligence

Apparently, Massachusetts state representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein seems to think that adults over 60 and the disabled aren’t able to consent to pose nude or appear in a sexually explicit movie, regardless of their mental capacity. She’s introduced a bill that will make it illegal to take sexually explicit photos of elders, without taking into account that many of them are fully able to consent.

I get that part of the motivation for this is the increase in sexual assault of the elderly and the disabled. I think it’s a great idea for society to care for people who aren’t able to protect themselves. But when we take all seniors and lump them together into a single category, we forget that lots of them are absolutely able to make informed decisions about their actions. The elderly and the disabled already deal with enough attempts to infantilize them without adding this to the mix.

By the legal definition, minors aren’t able to consent. OK, I get that, even though I know some 16-year-olds who are much more self-aware and able to make decisions than some 30-year-olds I know. But to say that all people over 60 or all disabled folks are similarly unable to consent does then a serious injustice. And that’s just what the bill does.

According to the Massachusetts governement website, the proposal is to insert the phrase “an elder or a person with a disability” and similar language throughout the law that regulates child porn. So there you have it. If you’re over 60, you’re automatically included in the category of children and people with disabilities, regardless of your mental capacity. Further, it equates all people with disabilities into a single group, even though lots of people with disabilities are fully able to give or withhold consent. It depends on exactly what their disability is.

Not only is that just patently ridiculous, it also seems like the first step down a slippery slope. After all, if you can’t consent to having a nude photo taken of yourself, then how can you consent to owning a house, holding a job, driving a car, going grocery shopping or anything else that plenty of elders and people with disabilities do.

If we want to protect people who can’t care for themselves (and I think that’s an important thing to do), then all we need to do is make sure that laws like this reference whatever each state’s definition for “sound mind” is. And whatever laws exist to protect people who are of sound mind who are filmed against their will would apply to elders and the disabled, too.

But then, that would require lawmakers to understand the complexities of sex, consent, and other issues. I won’t say that it’s never happened, but it certainly seems to be uncommon.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Kuono says:

    Charlie, I was just about to post about this very topic!

    I could barely believe my eyes when I read a (pretty terribly biased) article in the Boston Herald about the proposed law, which is obviously against the constitution. (And besides, coercion is illegal for any individual in pornography — the protection of all of us regardless of age or ability is included in the many protections surrounding the production and distribution of porn.)

    So, thanks for eloquently stating your thoughts, and just a shout out to some pretty awesome and validating things Good Vibrations carries that celebrates and educates about the sex live of those of us who are over the age of 60 including:

    Joan Price has a wonderful book entitled: Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty

    Joani Blank has the book: Still Doing It: Men and Women Over 60 Write About Their Sexuality

    And the beautiful pornographic documentary by Comstock Films:
    Bill and Desiree: Love is Timeless

  2. Anna says:

    With regards to the disabilities component, I’m not sure Ms. Reinstein knows how many people live with disabilities, or what a disability is from a legal stand point. So many people only think of developmental disabilities and wheelchair users when they think of disabilities. I think her change would be much farther reaching than she imagines. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act the “term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual… a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;… a record of such an impairment; or… being regarded as having such an impairment”. It doesn’t have to be permanent, either. That means disability is not only the kind of cognitive impairment seen in those with severe developmental problems, which is undoubtedly what Ms. Reinstein hopes to address. It could also mean having ADHD, depression, a broken leg, or severe allergies, o
    r being a member of the deaf community or pregnant, etc, etc. Does having a broken leg make one unable to rightly assess the risks and benefits of having a nude picture taken? What about being deaf or pregnant?

    Moreover, as disability and age often aren’t easily apparent, how would one enforce the law?

    It makes me angry, when people, especially people with influence like Ms. Reinstein, make such ignorant assumptions. I hope her fellow Massechusans set her right.

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