Age of consent: Too high? Too low? Just right?

UK law criminalises more than half of all young people

London, UK – 8 November 2016


Is it time to review the age of consent? Set at 16 for heterosexual relations in the late 19th century and equalised for gay and bisexual men in 2001, the consent laws are increasingly out of step with the lives and loves of young people in Britain.

Surveys of teenagers – straight and LGBT – say the current age of consent of 16 is unrealistic and too high. They want it reviewed. We support their call.

Sexual rights are human rights and they should apply to the under 16s.

Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, was interviewed on this issue by Lucy Beresford on LBC’s sex and relationships show.

Peter Tatchell added:

“Whether we like it or not, half of all teenagers have their first sexual experience at around the age of 14. In nearly all cases, it is with mutual consent and with people of similar ages.

“But according to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, they are all criminals and liable to five years detention and placement on the sex offenders register, alongside rapists and child abusers. That is not right. Criminalisation is the wrong approach.

“It is true that fairly small numbers of teens are prosecuted or cautioned for consensual under-16 sex. But even only a couple of hundred is a couple of hundred too many. It can be devastating for those arrested.

“Ideally, of course, young people should not have sex at an early age. It is best if they wait. Early sex is not a good idea. But if young people do have consensual sex and they are below the age of 16 they shouldn’t be treated as criminals.

“Perhaps we should keep the age of consent at 16 but decriminalise sex involving a person under 16, providing there is informed consent, no one is harmed and there is no more than two years difference in the partner’s ages – similar to the laws in Germany, Switzerland and Israel. In other words, consenting sex between a 14 and a 15 year old would be lawful but not sex between a 14 and 40 year old,” said Mr Tatchell.

You can read this extended essay on the age of consent issue by Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.