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Dershowitz Responds After 1997 ‘Statutory Rape Is an Outdated Concept’ Op-Ed Resurfaces


Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who was criticized for the better part of Monday due to the resurfacing of a 1997 op-ed he wrote (“Statutory Rape Is an Outdated Concept”), has offered a response on Twitter to former George W. Bush chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter: “I stand by the constitutional (not moral) argument I offered in my controversial oped.”

Before we get to what Painter said, let’s delve into the context. It was a New Yorker profile that first drew renewed attention to this 1997 op-ed. Connie Bruck, in “Alan Dershowitz, Devil’s Advocate,” wrote the following about the op-ed, in which Dershowitz made a case for lowering the age of consent to 15:

Dershowitz has not shied away from provocative ideas about sex and the law. In a 1997 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, he argued against statutory-rape laws, writing, “There must be criminal sanctions against sex with very young children, but it is doubtful whether such sanctions should apply to teenagers above the age of puberty, since voluntary sex is so common in their age group.” He suggested that fifteen was a reasonable age of consent, no matter how old the partner was. He has also argued against punishing men who hire prostitutes. In a 1985 article, in the Gainesville Sun, Dershowitz proposed that a john “who occasionally seeks to taste the forbidden fruit of sex for hire” should not be arrested. The nonprofit executive recalled his discussing the idea in class: “He said, ‘Prostitutes know what they’re doing—they should be prosecuted. But you shouldn’t ruin the john’s life over that.’ If I had raised my hand to challenge that, I would have been singling myself out as—God forbid—a feminist.”

To no one’s surprise, this profile made waves; Painter was one of many to make note of it.

“Why is @AlanDersh trying to lower the age of consent in this op-ed? 15? Really?” he asked. Painter then quoted Dershowitz’s words (“Reasonable people can disagree about whether [the age of consent] should be as low as 14”) before intentionally quipping as follows: “ls @AlanDersh kidding (pun intended)? Does he really think that?”

“‘Moreover puberty is arriving earlier,'” Painter quoted Dershowitz again. “So therefore the age of consent should be lowered? @AlanDersh was off the deep end when he wrote this 20 years ago.”

In each tweet, Painter @-ed Dershowitz. It is clear Dershowitz noticed because he quote-tweeted Painter to respond.

“If a 16 year old has the constitutional right to have an abortion without state or parental interference, how could she not have the constitutional right to engage in consensual sex?” Dershowitz asked, after saying that he stood by the “constitutional (not moral) argument” he made in his admittedly “controversial” op-ed.

“I challenge my readers to distinguish the cases, as a matter of constitutional law. I did not suggest that it is moral to have sex with a 16 year old, but rather that the issue presents a constitutional conundrum worthy of discussion,” he said. “I also pointed out that, statutory rape laws are applied quite selectively and often against young teenagers. That’s why I also say there are Romeo and Juliet exceptions. Lets debate not name call.”

The 1997 op-ed garnered attention at a time Dershowitz’s representation of multi-millionaire sex offender and accused sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein is under the microscope — along with the allegations made by Virginia (Roberts) Giuffre that Dershowitz knew about and participated in Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s alleged child sex-trafficking operation. Dershowitz was on the team of all-star lawyers who were able to secure an extraordinary non-prosecution agreement for Esptein in Florida more than a decade ago. Giuffre also claimed that Dershowitz had sex with her while she was a minor and working for Epstein. Dershowitz has repeatedly and emphatically denied this, saying he’s never met Giuffre.

“I will be able to prove conclusively that she committed perjury,” Dershowitz has said. “She made up a story out of whole cloth.”

Dershowitz has also told Law&Crime in the past that he was “pleased” with the appellate court’s recent ruling to unseal the summary judgment record of Giuffre’s lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s alleged madam. He promised that “smoking gun” emails would prove that he was “framed” over money.

“I’m pleased that the truth will finally come out when these sealed documents are released. These ‘smoking gun’ emails and unpublished book manuscript will prove that I was deliberately framed for financial reasons and that my false accuser effectively admitted in writing that she never had sex with me,” he said.

As Law&Crime has reported before, Dershowitz even called out Giuffre’s lawyer, David Boies, claiming Boies was “trying to destroy me and destroy my reputation, destroy my economic situation, destroy everything.” In one line, Dershowitz said that he would put his “sexual probity up against David Boies’s any day of the week.”

Boies responded that it was “absurd” and “disproved” that “[f]or some unknown and unknowable reason, I’ve decided to go after [Dershowitz].”

Dershowitz, it has been noted, once admitted to getting a massage at an Epstein residence, but said the woman was an “old, old Russian” and that he kept his underwear on. He also said he did not see young women/young girls there.

[Image via YouTube screengrab/The View]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.