Trigger Warning: This article contains references to homophobia, suicide, and pedophilia.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
I started watching Broadchurch because of David Tennant. The show is gorgeously shot, the scripts deep and dark, the performances solid…and yet, by the end, I was appalled at the characters’ responses to various reveals. Particularly, I was appalled at the way characters responded to the three romantic relationships involving children. A discussion of pedophilia, homophobia, and the Age of Consent follows.
We’ve all come to some sort of agreement that children are not capable of giving informed, enthusiastic consent. They do not have enough life experience and can often be overpowered and abused in these situations. Most of us would agree that this is a black and white issue.
However, there are people who react differently to finding out the gender of both parties. In Broadchurch, the three relationships involving children are between a seventeen-year-old male and a fifteen-year-old girl (the Age of Consent is 16 in the UK); a forty-year-old male and a teenage female, and an adult male and an eleven-year-old male. Two of these are sexual, and one is not, but the (one-sided) romantic relationship is the one that people react most strongly to, in part, I believe, because of an underlying homophobia.Put orientation and gender to the side, for a moment. While a seventeen-year-old and a fifteen-year-old are close in age, there are still laws that make this relationship illegal. Once the fifteen-year-old turns sixteen, the relationship would be legal, and the age difference would be deemed appropriate, although quite young. A sexual relationship at this age is no longer shocking but would perhaps not be the wisest decision, as neither party has reached full maturity.
The twenty-odd years betwixt the forty-year-old and the teenager is also illegal since the teenager is under the Age of Consent. Even upon entering the Age of Consent, there’s a lot of life experience to be overcome, plus the dubious intent of the adult. Can people twenty years apart really have a healthy intimate relationship, as the younger person may not have the experience to really give informed consent?
The last relationship, a romantic one between an adult and a child, has no sexual aspect. Of course, it is illegal (as are the others) because the child is under the Age of Consent, but what if they weren’t? What if they were of age and could give informed consent when asked about entering a romantic relationship?
There’s a lot of language to be overcome in this discussion. “Teenager” brings to mind sex, drugs, drinking, and other activities deemed wild and reckless. “Child”, however, brings to mind an innocence, and a wish to protect.
The thing is, these younger people are all children. They are under the Age of Consent. Any romantic or sexual relationship between them and adults is illegal, regardless of gender or orientation. Sadly, however, this distinction is lost when orientation and gender get pulled into the mix.
When parents discovered their daughter (the fifteen-year-old) and her boyfriend (the seventeen-year-old) were having sex, they were merely concerned about his age, and once they found he was just over the Age of Consent, they were fine with the situation. Similarly, when it was revealed that the forty-year-old had entered a sexual relationship with a teenager, the village’s first concern was gender, but once it was discovered that the forty-year-old male had been having intercourse with (and then married) the teenage female, he was treated less harshly, although in the end the first overreaction at a possible homosexual relationship ended in the tragedy of suicide.However, as soon as the romantic relationship between the adult male and the young boy became public, death was not deemed enough of a punishment. Even though, in reality, by the law, all three of these relationships were inappropriate and illegal.
The hypocrisy of Broadchurch (which I do not think is the hypocrisy of the writer or the actors, but rather a look at the hypocrisy of homophobia in relation to how we view inappropriate romantic and sexual relationships) is that no one considers why they feel the way they do about these relationships. All are damning when it comes to the homoromantic relationship. This is due in part because of the same-gender connotation.
It’s difficult to realize that people still have these homophobic reactions. It isn’t fair to the many same-sex couples who are age appropriate and have abided by the law. If we have a law, it must be followed by all, regardless of feelings or beliefs. The letter of the law must be upheld. The spirit of the law is a tricky thing, and while at times useful and used appropriately, should not come into play when such things as intimate relationships are concerned.
Relationships with children are wrong, regardless of how close they are to the Age of Consent. Broadchurch has shown that while people will grudgingly accept a sexual relationship between males and females, sometimes regardless of age, people do not often give the same acceptance to those relationships that are between people of the same gender, regardless of the fact that many, if not most, are over the Age of Consent.
You can see this in many places: the dismissal of male children as victims (young males who enter a sexual relationship with their female teachers, for example) and the jokes made about how “lucky” they are, the eagerness of older males to engage in sexual encounters with underage females (or females who have just entered the Age of Consent and are therefore to be preyed upon), and the disgust with which same-sex relationships (regardless of age) are met.
Perhaps, instead of just abiding by law, we ought also to add in discussion and education about giving informed and enthusiastic consent, the difference between romantic and sexual orientations, sexual education, and how healthy relationships are created and maintained, striving to move away from selfish desire and into a mutual, caring union, when both parties are of an age to give informed and enthusiastic consent.
It is always wrong to enter a relationship with a child, regardless of how close they are to the Age of Consent. It is also wrong, however, to treat these relationships differently based upon gender and orientation.
Image Credits: BBC America