Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

Young Adults and Sexual Ethics

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Current headlines are telling a story of young people gone wild. When it comes to teen sex, who's responsible?


Every now and again when I have something on my mind, I like to talk about in a commentary. And today, I want to talk about sex. And now that I have your attention, it's not sex, exactly. It's actually about two tragic new stories where sex or sexual behavior by young people are at the core of the issue.

The first is a story some of you may feel you've heard too much about already - the infamous Duke lacrosse case. By now, I'm sure we all know that the rape charges leveled against three members of the Duke lacrosse team by an exotic dancer turned out not to be true. Lawsuits have been settled, and the prosecutor has been disbarred for lack of professional ethics. So I think we're on very safe ground saying that these young men did not rape that woman.

Can I just tell you - I'd like to talk a minute about what they did do. According to accounts, which have not been disputed, they paid two women to strip and have pretend sex, and when they weren't please with their performance and apparently their race, hurled the N-word at them, threatened to use a broomstick as a sex toy - in other words, they acted like jerks.

I think we can all agree that they paid a high price for this behavior. I assume the lawsuit Duke settled with their families will ease some of the financial hit they've suffered paying legal fees, but I know it cannot be easy to live with the weight of criminal charges hanging over your head.

But there's a lesson in all this that I hope somebody learned, and I think it's this - everything legal ain't right, and a prosecutor who lost his law license and very likely his career is not the only one who could stand to think about ethics. How about the ethics of playing out your racial and sexual fantasies with people who don't have your education, advantages and social standing?

Here's an easy test. How would you feel if it were your sister standing up there shaking her booty for money? And please don't talk to me about being sex positive and all that, how these women are empowered and are in control when they take their clothes off. Oh, please. Who's the last stripper who got elected to Congress?

The other story with sex at the center is that of Genarlow Wilson. You heard from his mother on this program earlier. Wilson is now serving a 10-year prison term for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17. Due to a quirk in the law that's since been changed, he was sentenced much more severely than he would have been had he had intercourse with the girl. But the whole situation also bears more discussion. He was in a hotel room with a group of other boys having sex with various girls, as they all got drunk and high.

Wilson's case has attracted supporters. They argue very simply that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. The courts are still sorting that out, but here's something I think we can all agree on. A 17-year-old, indeed, a 15-year-old is not too young to understand that other people are not just pieces of meat, that doing right by other people isn't always doing what they say they want because freedom - as Genarlow's mother talked about, as he and the others in that hotel room and the Duke players found out too late - freedom isn't free.

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Can I Just Tell You?

Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You?

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