Under-age sex: Statement of clarification

London – 28 February 2017

As a human rights campaigner, I would never advocate or condone child sex abuse. I have never advocated the abolition of the age of consent or endorsed adults having sex with children. I deplore that.

In fact, I have for many years campaigned against sex abuse, with positive, effective proposals to combat it:

My dozens of articles and interviews have urged the partial decriminalisation of consenting, victimless behaviour involving young people of similar ages. For example:

and here:

I apologise if some of my statements were poorly expressed and open to misinterpretation. It has never been my intention to in any way condone or excuse the sexual abuse of children – or adults. That is vile and totally wrong. I condemn and oppose all such abuse.

Not one of my roughly 100,000 posts on social media utter a word of support for paedophilia. Nor do any of my circa 20,000 news releases and press statements. The allegations against me relate to a mere six disputed letters / articles / video, all but one of them from three and four decades ago.

My critics have selectively quoted from what I’ve written and quoted me out of context, to give an entirely false and distorted impression. They ignore my many articles, speeches and interviews that contradict their claims – including my proposals to protect young people against sex abuse and my ethical framework for all sexual relations: mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. These principles do not permit or countenance adults having sex with children.

I am against criminalising young people under 16 who have consenting, victimless sex with other teens of similar ages, where no one is harmed or complains. But the Sexual Offences Act 2003 treats these young people as criminals. That is wrong. They need counselling, not prosecution. Even though the numbers prosecuted is low, where teens are of similar ages, even one prosecution is one too many. More get cautioned (rather than prosecuted) and some of these still get put on the Sex Offenders Register, which ruins their life chances.

The point is that half the teenage population are having various forms of sex before their 16th birthday. According to the law, they are engaging in criminal activities and have the legal status of “unapprehended criminals.” I think this is wrong if the sex is genuinely consensual and there is no more than a small age gap.

Below is a lengthy detailed explanation of what I believe and why. You will see that it is very different from what my critics claim.

An example of my actual views was voiced in a speech to the Sex and the Law conference in Sheffield in 2010, where I addressed youth welfare and sex education professionals. See the text of my speech here:

This speech was well received as a reasoned, thoughtful contribution to the public debate about the law and sexual expression / protection involving young people. No one present there suggested that I was condoning adult-child sex.

The campaign to portray me as a paedophile, or paedophile advocate, was initiated by far right BNP members in revenge for my ambush of their leader Nick Griffin in 2010, where I shamed him in front of the media over his party’s record of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and hostility to Muslims. See here:

The BNP smear campaign included faked photos of me holding a Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) placard. The photoshopped image of me was based on a photo of me from 2010 but PIE ceased to exist three decades before then. I never supported PIE in any way. It is abhorrent.

The smear campaign began by BNP members, has since been amplified by members of the EDL, QAnon and other far right and conspiracy theorists, plus right-wing Catholics, Islamists and anti-trans campaigners. They can’t defeat me politically, so they resort to these smears in a bid to discredit my campaigns and human rights work.


Guardian letter about the Dares to Speak book – 1997

My 1997 Guardian letter about the book, Dares to Speak, gives the wrong impression. It was not what I asked to be published. The printed version omitted four key points that I made:

  1. I oppose adults having sex with children. 2. I empathise with the victims of child sex abuse. 3. I agree that for the vast majority of children, sex with adults is neither wanted nor joyful and 4. I believe that an academic discussion of these issues, based on research and evidence by respected professionals, is legitimate and should not be misinterpreted as support for any form of child sex abuse

Some verbatim examples of the not published paragraphs are below.

The idea that I advocate paedophilia is laughable, sick, untrue and defamatory.

Unlike many Catholic clergy, I have never abused anyone. Unlike Pope Benedict, I have never failed to report abusers or covered up their crimes. I do not support sex with children. Full stop.

Dares to Speak was an academic book published in 1997, authored by professors, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, a Dutch senator and a former editor of a Catholic newspaper. It discussed the age of sexual consent and whether all sex between young people and adults is necessarily unwanted and harmful; some of it was based on what it said was objective research with young people.

The book does not endorse or excuse sexual relationships with young people that involve coercion, manipulation, exploitation or damage.

The authors queried, among other things, the balance between giving young people sexual rights and protecting them against abuse. These are entirely legitimate issues to discuss, even if we disagree with them.

I do not condone adults having sex with children. My Guardian letter about this book was in defence of free speech and for open debate about the issue, in opposition to those who said that the book and the debate are not worthwhile or legitimate – and who said that any further discussion should be closed down. I was against the call for censorship. In a free society, the book’s authors have a right to be published and heard, even though I disagree with much of what they said.

My Guardian letter cited examples of youths in Papuan tribes and some of my friends who, when they were under 16, had sex with adults (18+), but who do not feel they were harmed.

As an example, the film-maker Derek Jarman told me that he had sex with an adult, at his initiative, from the age of nine. He said he did not feel abused or damaged by the experience. You and I may understandably find this appalling. A nine year bold cannot consent. But if that was Derek’s view, who are you or I to dispute and reject it? We can disagree with it but still accept that it was Derek’s sincerely held view.

I was not endorsing his viewpoint or that of others who likewise has under-age sex. I was merely stating that they had a different perspective from the mainstream opinion about sex at an early age with others much older. They have every right for their perspective to be heard. Hence the mention in my letter.

Now mature adults, these people look back on their under-age sexual relations with older people and do not feel that they were abused. If this is their considered view, we should respect their evaluation (while also recognising that many people are harmed by early sexual experiences).

My Guardian letter did say clearly that paedophilia is “impossible” to condone – meaning that I don’t condone it. It is true that I said paeodphilia “may” be impossible to condone but I used “may” in the sense that I concurred with that view. To avoid doubt, I should have said “is” impossible to condone. My apologies for that inadvertent error.

The paragraphs edited out of my Guardian letter include:

“Based on the principle of free speech, I oppose calls to close down discussion on this issue, even though it is disagreeable. An academic discussion of these issues, based on research and evidence is valid, without countenancing the conclusions. It should not be interpreted as support for adults having sex with children, which I oppose.”

“Several of my friends – gay and straight, male and female – had sex with adults from the ages of 9 to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.  That is their view, not mine. For the vast majority of children, sex with adults is neither wanted nor joyful. It is abhorrent. I condemn it.”

“Sex involving the pressure, manipulation, exploitation and abuse of young people is always wrong. I empathise with, and support, the victims of child sex abuse in their quest for justice.”


Betrayal of Youth book – 1982

The critics also cite the book, Betrayal of Youth, to which I contributed a chapter. I had no idea that it was involved in paedophilia advocacy when I was asked to write my essay. The book was published in about 1985-87 – three decades ago.

When I was invited to write a chapter in 1982, I was told it was a book about children’s welfare and rights. I was asked if I could write about the age of majority and age of consent. I was told that the other contributors were Ken Livingstone and child psychologists and child welfare professionals. It seemed an innocent and reasonable request at the time. But I was clearly tricked.

My chapter in the book did not endorse child sex. It merely questioned whether 16 was the appropriate legal age of majority and consent. Different people mature at different ages. There are many countries that have diverse ages of consent, some higher and some lower than 16. I did not advocate the abolition of the age of consent or specify at what age sex should become lawful.

I was not aware of who the other authors were or what they wrote until I was sent a copy of the book in late 1987, several years after I wrote my short chapter. I would not have agreed to be in the book if I had known the truth. I cannot be held responsible for what others wrote. It is wrong to tar me with their opinions. There is nothing in my contribution that even remotely condones child sex abuse.

Moreover, two paragraphs in my chapter about young people as active citizens with voting rights and other legal rights and responsibilities were not published (giving it a stronger focus towards the age of consent issue than I had written). The footnotes to my chapter were added by the book’s publishers – not by me.


Review of Betrayal of Youth book – 1987

This review in my name was published in 7 Days newspaper on 13 June 1997. A friend was outraged by calls to ‘no platform’ the book. Through him, 7 Days asked me to write a review. But the promised copy of the book never arrived. Indeed, I did not see the book until some months after my review had been published. My friend offered me a summary of the book that he’d been sent. It made no mention of the book endorsing paedophilia or having any links to PIE (which I deplore and condemn). I was too busy to write a review, so asked him to draft it for me to tweak. I made some amendments to the draft.

My review mentions the attempts to suppress the book but does not mention any support for adults to have sex with children, which I reject and denounce. It does refer to Warren Middleton as the editor but at that time I had no knowledge that he was, or had been, involved with PIE.

My review refers to “intergenerational relationships” for a good reason. I had been a relationship with a person much older than me. I never meant to suggest that I approved of intergenerational relationships where the younger person was a child. That is absolutely unacceptable.

After I submitted my review, and almost two weeks before it was published, I re-read it and was concerned that the phrasing about intergenerational relations could be interpreted by people with bad intentions to suggest that I was justifying or endorsing adult sex with children. I wrote to 7 Days requesting the addition of the sentence: “This should not, of course, include adults having sex with children.” I understand that because of staff absences my letter was mistakenly not actioned and the extra wording was not included in my review.

After receiving a copy of the book, some months after writing the review, in late October 1997, I was horrified. It was only then that I realised it was advocating for paedophilia and that some of the authors had been previously associated with PIE. I greatly regret and apologise for my careless review wording, which was open to misunderstanding. I am sorry for putting my name to that review. Nevertheless, my chapter stands out as the only one that does not mention, excuse or condone adult-child sexual relations.


Video – International School of Geneva – 2015

During a lecture series at the International School of Geneva, in 2015, I was asked to do an interview about the age of consent, at the request of the pupils. The interview was over 20 minutes long. The published version was more than 11 minutes. Short edited versions, one just over one minute long, have been posted by my critics on social media to maliciously mispresent what I said. The main focus of the interview was my call to end the criminalisation of consenting sex involving young people of similar ages. But the edited versions remove my clear condemnation of sex with children, my references to sex involving young people of similar ages, my advice that it is best if young people wait and do not have sex at an early age, and my emphasis that young people have a right to say no to sex.

In the 11 minute 43 second version:

At 2.18 minutes I say it is “impossible to condone paedophilia.”

At 2.24 I add that I am “not condoning sex with children in any way.”

6.25 minutes: “My own personal view is that it is best for young people to delay their first sexual experience until they are older and more mature.”

6.31 minutes: “I do not encourage or condone early sex at an early age.”

6.43 minutes: I stress that I am taking about sex “between young people of similar ages.”

8.45 minutes: I talk about action to prevent young people “being exploited, manipulated or abused by those much older.”


Thud interview with Lee – 1997

My critics cite an interview I did with 14-year-old Lee, published on 15 August 1997 in Thud magazine, where he said that he had sex with older people when he was a young person and that he does not feel that he was abused.

I was not endorsing his opinion. This was a journalistic piece designed to let him have his say and, through him, to give a glimpse into what many young people think about the current age of consent and its failings. I believe in free speech. My critics seem to believe that young people’s opinions should not be heard if they disagree with their moral perspectives. I call that censorship.

In the interview with Lee, I nevertheless challenged his view in various ways, including making these points:

“How can a young child understand sex and give meaningful consent?

“Perhaps your friends were particularly mature for their age. Most young people are not so sophisticated about sex.

“Many people worry that the power imbalance in a relationship between a youth and an adult means the younger person can be easily manipulated and exploited.

“Many people fear that making sex easier for under-age teenagers will expose them to dangers like HIV. Isn’t that a legitimate worry?

After the interview, I urged Lee to go to the police about the rape he mentioned, reminded him that being under 16 and having sex was unlawful and advised him to seek out young people his own age via LGBT+ youth groups like Metro. He reassured me that he was liaising with his social workers about these issues.


Ian Dunn obituary – 1998

I wrote an obituary for the acclaimed Scottish LGBT+ rights campaigner Ian Dunn in The Independent on 21 March 1998:

At the time, I was unaware that he had any connection with PIE or had made any remarks that were sympathetic to paedophiles. I was not alone. Many public figures attended his funeral and were also ignorant of these things. Clearly, I would not have written the obituary, or written it and criticised his child sex stance, if I had known.


Age of consent issue – an overview

I have never supported the abolition of the age of consent. It is correct that I have in the past supported reducing the legal consent age to 14 in order to decriminalise consenting sex involving young people of similar ages. But only if it is backed up by earlier, better quality sex and relationship education to encourage wise, responsible sexual behaviour; including education about consent and abuse, saying no to unwanted sex and reporting abusers.

An age of consent of 14 or 15 exists in a dozen other European countries. There is no evidence that this leads to more child sex abuse. I would not support any change if I thought it did.

I subsequently proposed keeping the age of consent at 16 but not prosecuting consenting sex involving young people under 16, providing there is no more than two or three years difference in their ages – similar to the German, Israeli and Swiss legislation. I support these reforms solely in order to end the criminalisation of the many young people who have sexual contact with each other below the age of 16.

More than half of all British teenagers have their first sexual experience (not necessarily full intercourse) by the age of 14, according to National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, they are currently treated as criminals, even if their partners are of similar ages; with a maximum sentence of five years youth custody for mutually consenting sexual contact, including even mere sexual touching, kissing and fondling.

I do not advocate young people having sex at an early age. It is best if they wait. But I don’t agree that consenting under-16s should be dragged to court and threatened with incarceration and listing on the Sex Offenders Register (which is what the current law states). I certainly do not endorse adults having sex with young people under 16. I never have and there is no evidence that I have.

My critics may disagree with me on the age of consent, but I have advocated a clear ethical stance and moral framework, which stresses sex with mutual consent, respect and fulfilment. My arguments and articles are not about abusing young people but protecting them. That’s my motive.

Here’s an example of what I wrote in the Irish Independent in 2008:

“The time has come for a calm, rational debate about the age of consent. It should be premised on four aims. First, protecting young people against sex abuse. Second, empowering them to make wise, responsible sexual choices. Third, removing the legal obstacles to earlier, more effective sex education. Fourth, ensuring better contraception and condom provision to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions an.d to cut the spread of sexual infections like HIV.”


You can see that I made protecting young people against sex abuse my first priority. I have said similar things in many other articles and interviews. None of these speeches and articles advocate or excuse child sex abuse.

I hope this clarifies and reassures everyone. Thank you.

Best wishes, Peter Tatchell2017