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In Our Mrs. Reynolds Mal is purportedly married to Saffron. The Shepherd tells Mal:

If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

While she certainly seems innocent and frightened to some degree, and I would agree that taking advantage of that situation would be immoral, I don't see why he would be so sure she was underage (i.e. a child).

I'm not sure when the episode was actually shot, but if we assume it wasn't shot more than one year before it aired, that leaves us at 2001, meaning Christina Hendricks was about 26. Again, the con artist (whose name we never learn) who played Saffron did a tremendous job (and so did Christina in playing her) in fooling the crew, but she certainly didn't look like a child.

So, how did the Shepherd figure she was? Is there maybe even a source that states the age of the character? Does it differ largely from the age of the actress?

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    The age of the actress doesn't necessarily match the age of the character – HorusKol May 21 '12 at 22:41
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    Well no, but it doesn't help viewers if they're wildly different – user8416 Dec 17 '12 at 15:12
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    Maybe space age of consent is 0x16? – Colonel Panic Jul 16 '13 at 0:04
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    The special part of hell is reserved for terribly immoral deeds which INCLUDE child molestation and people who talk in the theater. It's an off the cuff jokey remark with a serious undertone: Taking advantage of this girl would be extremely immoral. – Django Reinhardt Sep 26 '14 at 13:01
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    This is however an example of people's tendencies to judge a culture by one's own standards. For the community that Saffron (purportedly) grew up in, she was considered of marriageable age and by all indications, it is natural in that community that women are obedient to their husbands (not much different to real world society just a bit over a hundred years ago and still practiced in some parts). With Book's comment and Mal's not taking sexual advantage of his legitimate wife, they disrespected her culture and imposed their own as superior (more righteous, more legitimate, etc...) to hers. – user43341 Mar 21 '15 at 5:19
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The full quote taken from IMDB is actually:

If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

From this quote we can tell that Shepard doesn't think that she is underage, but simply that the act of taking sexual advantage of her is on par with the immorality of child molestation, and talking in the theater. As you say she didn't look like a child, and other than that quote there is no indication that anyone on the ship thought that she was. It was just an immoral thing to do, that Shepard wanted to indicate.

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    Well, I thought he meant that "taking sexual advantage of her" would make him a child molester. Otherwise, why would he end up in that special level, that is reserved for these kind of people? – bitmask May 21 '12 at 0:29
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    Due to her cultural upbringing, and the fact that Mal obviously does not share these beliefs, he would be stooping to the low of molestation. Saffron is socially and emotionally a child and does not understand that she has a choice beyond submitting sexually to her husband. Or she wouldn't, if she were not in fact an assassin. – Adele C May 21 '12 at 0:48
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    I think it was more that taking advantage of her would be morally equivalent to a child molester. Book was merely indicating the level of moral depravity it would involve. He could have said "Reserved for child molestors..... and space captains who take advantage of accidental wives". – Schroedingers Cat May 21 '12 at 10:48
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    @bitmask, by that logic (from your first comment), taking sexual advantage of her could also (or instead) imply that Mal is someone who talks at the theatre... – hairboat Oct 22 '12 at 0:58
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    @bitmask: it's just an example of arson, murder, and jaywalking (warning, black hole, ahem, sorry, TVTropes link). – Martha Dec 5 '12 at 20:16
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You assume Shepard made the assumption that Saffron was underage. There is really nothing to indicate that Shepard or anyone else thought she was underage. The whole speech of

"If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater."

does not even state that Shepard thinks Saffron is underage, only Shepard's view point about taking sexual advantage of Saffron.

The inference of Shepard making the reserved for Child molesters, is an incorrect inference; this is supported with the addition of

"And talk in the theater".

That last qualifier goes to show that "the special level of hell" is not just for child molesters. Shepard was making more of a comment about moral values of taking advantage of what was an innocent, naive and trusting person for one's own pleasure and gain.

Often in culture - at least in most cultures that are "normal" cultures - innocence and naivety is always associated with being child-like. ...

That statement about: "an example of people's tendencies to judge a culture by one's own standards." is with in itself a judgement value based upon an inferred assumption. Shepard was not judging Saffron, he was making a statement to Mel, who he knew had very similar cultural values and came from very similar situations as he, the Shepard, did.

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Saffron was picked up in a community that appeared to be led by a religious leader and where arranged marriages seemed common, or so we're lead to believe. Shepherd Book doesn't mention her age, but the situation that was mentioned by Saffron would point to her being somewhat innocent and sheltered, regardless of age. Taking advantage of that innocence for personal gain is what would have gotten Mal the "special hell", but we found out that Saffron wasn't who she said.

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