In the wake of Bowie’s death, there has been a fair amount of internet discussion about the fact that he had sex with groupie Lori Lightning when she was 13 and he was around 26. Much of the internet has quite understandably been quick to frame this as sexual assault, and Bowie as an abuser. Certainly it is statutory rape, and there are a whole host of ways in which it is possible to say that what Bowie did was wrong. But to tell Lori Lightning that her that age at the time means that she didn’t consent, even though everything she says indicates she did, is exactly the sort of gaslighting that abusers do.
This demonstrates the problem with messages about how “kids can’t consent”; while it acknowledges that free and informed consent to certain acts from children is highly unlikely, it denies the agency of children in ways that are harmful when it comes to children’s non-sexual life. This kind of message is used to justify things like hitting your child because they don’t know what’s good for them, and gives license to not listen to children because they have not been acknowledged as fully-formed human beings. It also shows that Western culture has no frameworks to deal with child sexuality; where to acknowledge that child sexuality exists is seen as giving carte blanche for adults—particularly men—to do what they like with children.