The question of age of consent has gained growing national attention in recent weeks as sexual harassment and assault accusations — some of them decades old — emerge against high-profile and powerful men in politics and entertainment.

Most recently, at least eight women have accused U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, R-Alabama, of sexual harassment or assault, when most of them were teenagers and he was an attorney in his 30s and 40s. One of Moore’s accusers, Leigh Corfman, was 14 in 1979, the year in which she says the then-32-year-old assistant district attorney assaulted her.

Locally, a Carroll police officer resigned in July amid a Daily Times Herald investigation about his relationships with teenage girls. One was 17 and a high school senior when she began living with him.

The laws that govern at what age teenagers can consent to sex vary widely from state to state. Iowa is among the majority of states that say it’s OK for a 16-year-old to have sex with someone 18 or older.

Nine states put the age of consent at 17. Eleven set it at 18 years old.

States also vary in how they treat sex among younger teens. Some shield teens from prosecution if they are close in age. In Iowa, a 14-year-old can consent to sex with someone who is up to four years older.

Iowa also forbids people in certain professions — such as teachers, counselors and pastors — from having sex with anyone under 18 they oversee. Police officers face no such prohibitions in Iowa.

Some states don’t specifically restrict people in those occupations but use a more general category such as “authority figure,” a “safety officer” or a person in a “position of trust.”

Indiana, for example, bars military recruiters from having sex with teen recruits.

When it comes to changing the age of consent in Iowa for all cases, though, Carroll County Attorney John Werden isn’t on board.

“Societal attitudes and behaviors are worrisome,” Werden told the Daily Times Herald. “However, I think such a change would cause more problems than it solves as people incorrectly look to the legal system as a cure. ... Do we really want to create a legal issue out of a personal responsibility situation?”

He does, however, believe state lawmakers should re-examine laws that govern obscene material that is increasingly disseminated among teens and, sometimes, adults they are dating.

A couple of examples:

— Two juveniles who have a legal sexual relationship are barred from exchanging nude photos via cellphone under Iowa’s child pornography laws.

— An adult who has a legal sexual relationship with someone who is 16 or 17 cannot send nude photos to the teen under the state’s obscenity laws.

Among politicians and advocates, opinions on a mandated increase of the age of consent are mixed.

Patricia Ritchie of Westside, a victim advocate for the Family Crisis Centers, which serves Carroll and other area counties, says the age of consent should be raised.

“I truly believe the age of consent should be 18,” she said. “Age and maturity has a lot to do with development and the brain.”

A mother of two daughters, Ritchie said the current consent threshold of 16 is a vestige of a earlier era and stems from male-dominated corridors of power.

“I don’t believe they were properly educated on connecting underage children and violent crimes,” she said.

Three Democratic candidates for governor in Iowa, in separate interviews with this newspaper, have called for review of the state’s age-of-consent laws.

“It takes public events like have just happened to force you to re-examine, but it certainly makes sense to re-examine it,” said John Norris of Des Moines. “My instinct is 18. Like I said, we haven’t had an action-forcing event until now.”

Norris said people at 16 are too vulnerable to predators.

“Sixteen-year-olds can be victimized pretty easily,” he said.

Fred Hubbell of Des Moines said there is an overall failure of leadership in Iowa to address issues of sexual harassment.

“I think that is good subject to discuss,” he said. “I would want to have more input from the medical profession as well as families and counselors about that.”

Hubbell said there are bigger issues involving sexual power in society than the age of consent.

“Culturally, we need to make clear that any kind of sexual harassment or assault on women at any age is not acceptable,” Hubbell said. “We need to make that very clear. After we’ve successfully addressed that issue, and tried to address the whole topic, because it’s not just 16-year-olds, or 17-year-olds or 15-year-olds, it’s a lot of older women, too, after we’ve addressed that, then maybe we should be taking a look at what the proper age is.”

Dr. Andy McGuire, a Des Moines physician and mother of seven, said she was not aware the age of consent is 16 in Iowa until the Daily Times Herald asked her about it.

“Do we need to revisit it? Absolutely,” she said. “I think the present problems nationally have brought that to light.”

Sexual power dynamic problems come into play when teenagers and older adults have a sexual relationship, she said.

“My personal view is it should be 18,” she said.

Many Iowans likely mistakenly assume the age of consent already is 18, not 16.

“Honestly, until you brought it to my attention, I was not aware of it,” McGuire said. “I did not know this.”

McGuire said she would tell her kids never to have serious relationship until they are at least 18.

“Frankly, I would even suggest to them that they might figure out who they are first before they have a serious relationship,” she said. “But that’s my own parenting skill. I think as a law, you gotta worry about that kid who maybe doesn’t have that kind of focus at home or that kind of support at home.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office did not return a phone call with questions on the state’s age of consent.

At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who has worked tirelessly on preventing sexual assault in the military, said the age of consent should remain a state issue. She doesn’t support a national age of consent.

“Senator Ernst has said there is no room for sexual assault or harassment of any kind in our society and has helped lead efforts to combat these heinous acts in schools, gyms and elsewhere,” said Brook Ramlet, Ernst’s communications director. “As a firm believer in states’ rights, she believes Iowans elected women and men to serve in our state government to lead and determine state law.”

Iowa House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chip Baltimore, a Boone Republican whose district includes Greene County, said he has never had a constituent complain about the age of consent in his seven years in the Legislature.

“I’m not aware of situations around here where a lot of people are worked up because their 17-year-old son or 17-year-old daughter is having sex with someone who is 25,” he said.

Baltimore said he would “absolutely” consider changing the law should the public demand reconsideration.

But good legislators shouldn’t chase social media comments in crafting public policy, he said.

“I don’t just surf the internet and look at what’s going on with Hollywood and big-name politicians,” Baltimore said.

He added that power dynamics — not age — are the primary concern with sexual misconduct.

“What 16-year-old girl in her right mind would be attracted to a 40-year-old man instead of an 18-year-old boy?” he said.

Baltimore said raising the age of consent, with the intent of criminalizing older adult interaction with teenagers, could ensnare people who are involved in romantic relationships that he personally disagrees with but believes shouldn’t be legislated or criminalized.

Take for instance, he said, a 16-year-old boy who drops out of high school, gets a good job and, for all intents and purposes, is engaging with the world as taxpaying adult who wants to date older women.

“That kid can’t have sex with a 24-year-old woman?” Baltimore asked.

He added that changing the age of consent in Iowa would be forcing an issue locally in response to national headlines.

“I don’t have enough time in the day to go around chasing every story about this Hollywood actor or producer,” he said.