11 July 2012

When Research Goes Wrong

So I’ve been mulling over a good amount of blog ideas lately to try to be more consistent in my posting (yeah…sorry about that), and was actually planning on writing about something else today. However, I stumbled across something this morning that outraged me so much that I just had to rant about it.

In my years of writing strictly fantasy stories, I never had to do much research. I had created entire worlds and facts were never really that important. Now that I’m writing realistic fiction, I find myself constantly fact checking. Maybe my readers aren’t really going to care that I described a key lime pie as being green when usually it’s yellow, but I want to make sure I get every insignificant detail right. So if I’m not sure of something, I look it up. Over the course of writing my book, I’ve gathered dozens of random facts, from how to make fresh pasta to age of consent laws.

My book takes place in New York where the age of consent is 17. I researched this fact well over a year ago so I certainly wasn’t looking for a vital piece of information when I went on Google this morning. I guess curiosity (or watching too many episodes of Law & Order: SVU) got the better of me and I just wanted to find out if there was a statute of limitations on statutory rape, and if so, how long it was. I don’t even need to know this for my book; like I said, I was just curious.

Surprisingly, it was difficult to find this information. Once I had scrolled past all of the Yahoo Answers results (no, just…no), it was hard to find any web page that was more recent than 2009. By changing my search criteria a few times, I managed to stumble upon law.com, which had an entire dictionary of legal terms. I figured with a domain name like that, this must be a credible website. But when I looked up the definition for statutory rape (a rather short paragraph), there were several things about it that bothered me.

The first sentence defined it as: “sexual intercourse with a female below the legal age of consent but above the age of a child, even if the female gave her consent, did not resist and/or mutually participated.” Now hold on a second. Statutory rape can only happen to a girl? Well, I guess I’d better stop writing my book because there’s no conflict there; boys can’t be victims of statutory rape (oh, Jordan just told me he’s going to have me fall down a flight of stairs for referring to him as a “victim,” and also that you should know this). Seriously, though, what the hell is this? Are we living in that episode of South Park where Ike has sex with his teacher and all anybody can say is, “Nice?” There have been famous cases where an older woman has had a sexual relationship with a minor, and guess what,  it was still illegal.

The inaccuracy of this definition didn’t end at the first sentence, either. The following sentence read, “In all but three states the age of consent is 18.” I had to do a double take with this one, because this is just flat out false. Even Wikipedia knows better. Age of consent in the U.S. ranges from 16 to 18, with the majority of states (29 and the District of Columbia) setting it at 16. In fact, only 12 states have 18 set as the age of consent. I wanted to shake my computer at this website’s stupidity.

I started looking at other definitions at ended up facepalming so many times I’m surprised I didn’t bruise myself. Sure enough, the definition for rape only referred to women. The definition for sodomy, I kid you not, states, “Homosexual (male to male) sodomy between consenting adults has also been found a felony but increasingly is either decriminalized or seldom prosecuted.” Any remaining sodomy laws in the U.S were eliminated in 2003. Yes, that’s right, nine years ago. And when I clicked on the definition for age of consent? It was blank.

You want to know the worst part? The copyright for this website, right at the bottom of the page, states 2012. They update it regularly, and yet their information is horribly inaccurate.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you not to trust everything you read on the internet. Just be sure when you’re doing important research for your book that the source you use is a credible one. That way you won’t have people laughing at your book like I was laughing at this website.