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Alan Dershowitz defends op-ed suggesting that age of consent for sex should be lowered

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School emeritus professor, at an appearance on Martha’s Vineyard last summer.
Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School emeritus professor, at an appearance on Martha’s Vineyard last summer.Steve Haines for The Boston Globe

Alan Dershowitz, the outspoken, controversial Harvard Law School emeritus professor, is defending himself on Twitter after an op-ed resurfaced in which he suggested that the age of consent for statutory rape cases should be lowered.

Dershowitz made the suggestion in a 1997 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, suggesting that 15 was a reasonable age of consent, no matter how old the other partner was.

The op-ed drew new attention after it was mentioned in a lengthy New Yorker story posted online Monday that took a deep dive into Dershowitz’s life and his connections, both personal and professional, to Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy convicted sex offender who has been charged with sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of minor girls.

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On Monday afternoon, Richard W. Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer who is now a law professor at the University of Minnesota, wondered on Twitter in a series of tweets why Dershowitz had written the op-ed.

In a third tweet, Painter cited a line from the op-ed, “ ‘Moreover puberty is arriving earlier’ so therefore the age of consent should be lowered? @Alan Dersh was off the deep end when he wrote this 20 years ago.”

Dershowitz replied to Painter that he stood by the argument in the op-ed piece. He said his argument was “constitutional (not moral).” He said he had not suggested it was moral to have sex with a 16-year-old but “rather that the issue presents a constitutional conundrum worthy of discussion.”

The New Yorker article, “Alan Dershowitz, Devil’s Advocate,” also included interviews with two women who have alleged that Epstein arranged for them to have sex with his friends, including Dershowitz. And it raised questions about travel record evidence he says proves his innocence, which New Yorker staff writer Connie Bruck was able to examine for a few hours but not copy.

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Dershowitz has vehemently denied the allegations and wrote a lengthy response to The New Yorker piece in advance, which was published on the conservative website newsmax.com. In it, he called The New Yorker article a “hit piece calculated to silence my voice on President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel. . . . You must know there is no actual evidence that I engaged in sexual misconduct or even met my false accusers — because I did not.”

Virginia Giuffre, who says she had sex with Dershowitz at Epstein’s behest, filed a defamation suit against Dershowitz in April, saying he was falsely accusing her of lying.

“He’s been challenging me for years — ‘Come say it in public, come say it in public.’ And I said, ‘You know what? Challenge accepted,’ ” Giuffre told Bruck. “I know he’s going to put up a good fight. But, at the end of it, I know we’re gonna win. We’ve got the truth on our side.”

Dershowitz told Bruck, “I will proclaim my absolute innocence until the day I die.”