Furore over sex abuse & consent at 13

Reform the prosecution of child abuse allegations?

 London – 9 May 2103

“Barrister Barbara Hewson has proposed reducing the age of consent to 13 and reforming the way child sex abuse allegations are prosecuted. Her proposals are problematic but they merit debate. The age of consent, sex abuse and prosecuting policy are important human rights issues. Child protection must always be the priority,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

He was commenting on Hewson’s article in Spiked online, which seemed to play down the seriousness of some child sex abuse and which advocated legal reform with regard to the prosecution of under-age sex.
Read her article: http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13604/

“She is mistaken to make light of what she regards as trivial sexual touching. Although I agree that the age of consent of 16 is too high and needlessly criminalises most young people, I think 13 is a bit too low – especially given the poor quality of sex education, which fails to adequately prepare most teenagers for sexual and emotional relationships,” added Mr Tatchell.

“However, Hewson should not be demonised for proposing reforms in the way child sex abuse allegations are prosecuted. Even if we disagree with what she is saying, there should be a calm, serious public debate about her proposals to remove complainant anonymity; introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions; and reduce the age of consent to 13.

“If there is credible evidence of sexual assaults – even if they happened many years ago – abusers should be prosecuted. We must not, however, allow a legitimate concern for victims to spill over into a generalised witch-hunt of innocent people, based on mere gossip, hearsay and flimsy evidence.

“According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, 14 is now the average age of first sexual experience for both gay and straight young people. Two 15 year olds are currently criminalised under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 if they have consenting sex. They can be put on the Sex Offenders Register, alongside rapists. That’s wrong.

“I would support a reduction in the age of consent to 14 but only if it was accompanied by earlier, better quality sex education in schools – to encourage wiser, safer, more responsible and respectful sexual relationships – as I outlined at the Sex and the Law conference in Sheffield. This education should include assertiveness training to encourage young people to say no to unwanted sexual advances and to report abusers. I do not support adults having sex with children.

Read Peter Tatchell’s speech to the Sheffield conference:

“Alternatively, we could keep the age of consent at 16 but institute a policy of not prosecuting sex involving young people under 16, providing there is no more than two years difference in their ages. This would make it legal for two young people aged 14 and 16 to agree to sex, but not for a 55 year old to have sex with person aged 14. It would reduce the criminalisation of consenting teenagers, while protecting them against predatory paedophiles,” said Mr Tatchell