By: Jasmin Prasad
QAnon, a baseless far right conspiracy theory, is back with their continuous spread of blatant propaganda. Most recently, Senate Bill 145, which was signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom on September 11, 2020, has been subject to an unsettling amount of misinformation by far right new sources; such misinformation has undoubtedly made its way onto social media where perhaps the most impressionable people have yet again been misinformed.
In order to understand what the law actually does, it is critical to understand the text so the public truly comprehends that SB-145 does not legalize pedophilia. To believe that it does completely disregards a law that has been in place for more than half a decade. Engaging in false discourse about the bill will only further ostracize the LGBTQ+ community. Falsely maintaining that pedophilia is legal by SB-145’s doing only perpetuates an influx in such disgusting behavior.
One of the largest misconceptions of this bill is that it created the act where judges are granted discretion on cases of vaginal intercourse with a 14 year old when the age difference isn’t more than 10 years. To believe that SB-145 is the law that created the aforementioned provision is undeniably wrong and perhaps a history refresher is needed.
The law, which has been in place since 1944, mandates the limit to be 10 years. This law allowed judges to decide who is placed on a sex offender registry if individuals between the ages of 14–17 engaged in voluntary intercourse with another individual who was no more than 10 years older. SB-145 did not establish this provision. Anyone engaging in false discourse about the 10 year policy is not credible — this is an extrapolation that has been used by many far right wing sources to falsely inform that pedophilia is becoming legal. However, irony exists in the fact that this policy is a problem with those on the far right just after the SB-145 bill was passed that grants discretion to the LGBTQ+ community. To repeat, vaginal intercourse between minors and individuals up to 10 years older has been legal since 1944.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Jessica Levinson, a professor from Loyola Law School, states that the affirmation that the bill somehow allows for pedophilia to be legal is not true. The AP reports a fact checking analysis of the far right conservative claim and clarifies that the new bill “would expand on existing California law involving statutory rape with vaginal sex to cover anal and oral sex too.” The key word here is “existing”. Prior to this, “voluntary sex between a teenager age 14 to 17 and adult within 10 years of their age is treated differently depending of the sex act … in cases of vaginal sex, the law allows a judge to decide whether or not the adult should have to register as a sex offender,” reports the AP. Previously, those who engaged in oral and anal sex were given no discretion and (if adults) and would have to register as a sex offender. Consequently, this disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ population.
The implications of the additions to the bill are best described by the drafter of the bill, District Attorney Jackie Lacey. In a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Lacey affirms that the bill “allows judges and prosecutors to evaluate cases involving consensual sex acts between young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, on an individual basis.” Or in layman’s terms, justice is applied equally regardless of sexual orientation. As California state Senator Scott Wiener told the “AP,” “[he] is grateful that [his] colleagues saw through [QAnon’s] lies and understood that LGBTQ young people are having their lives destroyed simply for having consensual sex.”
It is clear that attempts to engage in the spread of propaganda of this bill is just another attempt to ostracize those in the LGBTQ+ community (which is sadly something that they are not foreign to). Claims that SB-145 “made pedophilia legal” is quite literally historically inaccurate. However, QAnon has had no problem engaging in the outright spread of misinformation and has made their stance on whether or not they feel those in the LGBTQ+ community should be treated equally quite obvious. According to the Sacramento Bee, QAnon distorted the issue, spreading the hashtag “#SaveTheChildren” and spreading made up conspiracy theories on child sex trafficking.
That’s not to say that an individual could hold the position that intercourse with a minor should always be a strict liability crime with no discretion in sentencing. However, this isn’t the argument that QAnon is making. But the topic of discretion and the judicial history of strict liability is its own discussion and clearly not the focus of this discussion.
Even if an individual were to not care about discretion being granted to those in the LQBTQ+ community, spreading the word that “pedophilia is now legal” is extremely harmful. True cases of pedophilia would only increase if this message is spread to those who are actual pedophiles. And I say this with utmost certainty, the spread of pedophilia is something that the left and the right certainly do not support.
It is crucial to not let hateful propaganda, such as QAnon, misinform citizens on issues such as the Senate Bill 145. They are clearly misinformed on their history and are only working to perpetuate the ostracization of the LGBTQ+ community. This is just one example how extremist propaganda works to get people to abandon the truth and embrace dangerous ideas.