Fact Check: No, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Did Not Say the Age of Consent Should Be Lowered to 12
The internet is riddled with misinformation. Here's the truth behind a disturbing myth circulating on social media.
As the country mourns the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died due to complications of metastatic pancreas cancer last week, Americans are also reflecting on the justice's legacy. Now, conservatives and extreme, right-wing conspiracy theorists have resurfaced a decades-old, false claim that Ginsburg advocated lowering the age of consent.
Memes and social media posts falsely attribute the following quotes to late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: "The age of consent for sexual acts must be lowered to age (sic) 12 years old" and "Pedophilia is good for the children."
But these quotes are fake and based on false interpretations. Here's a fact-check of the fabricated assertion.
The History of the False Claim
The misguided claim stems from a 1977 report by the USCCR called “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code,” which was prepared by Ginsburg and attorney Brenda Feigen-Fasteau, according to the Associated Press.. The report included a discussion of sex-based language in U.S. law to provide resources for lawmakers who wanted to eliminate such references. It pointed to the language of a proposed 1973 Senate bill as an example of a gender-neutral definition of rape:
"A person is guilty of an offense if he engages in a sexual act with another person, not his spouse, and (1) compels the other person to participate: (A) by force or (B) by threatening or placing the other person in fear that any person will imminently be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping; (2) has substantially impaired the other person’s power to appraise or control the conduct by administering or employing a drug or intoxicant without the knowledge or against the will of such other person, or by other means; or (3) the other person is, in fact, less than 12 years old."
The USCCR report didn't suggest implementing the bill, which never became law. It was a simply an example of how rape could be defined without sex-based references.
The argument popped up again in Ginsburg and Feigen-Fasteau's 1974 report titled “The Legal Status of Women Under Federal Law.”
In 1993, when the Senate vetted Ginsburg before she took her seat on the Supreme Court, the false claim was brought up in official testimony by Thomas L. Jipping, a conservative activist, and Susan Hirschmann, executive director of the conservative think tank the Eagle Forum.
Then, in 2005, when John Roberts was nominated by George W. Bush, FOX host Sean Hannity and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham brought it up in an effort to question Ginsburg's morals.
Now, the claim has been shared by Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with QAnon, a conspiracy theory that centers on President Donald Trump fighting off satanic pedophiles and other enemies in the so-called deep state, according to the AP.
The reality of the matter is clear: Ginsburg never advocated for lowering the age of consent to 12, and in fact, her argument was centered on eliminating an outdated definition that assumed only females could be targets of sexual assault.
That said, this lesson for parents is a case for teaching kids to be educated, critical consumers of news and social media. The circulation of this shamefully false claim serves as a reminder that it has never been more imperative to teach the next generation the right way to consume news, differentiating between what's real and what's fake.