As many comments as possible on this please just to see how much (or how little)politicians are in touch with the general mood of the country.
I make no apologies for posting in full:::::::
The child's sex trap
The sexual offences bill seeks to protect children, but it is in danger of criminalising them
Monday June 9, 2003
Last week's paedophile case in which a 36-year-old man seduced two 13-year-olds over the internet will add rocket fuel to the passage of the sexual offences bill through parliament. But good law is not made under this kind of pressure, and in our understandable concern about sexual crime we are about to victimise the very people the law is meant to protect.
The combination of labelling all non-consensual sexual touching illegal while at the same time leaving in place the laws relating to the age of consent means that we will effectively be criminalising not only the predatory paedophile but at the same time the innocent kissing and cuddling of a couple of perfectly normal 15-year-olds.
This change comes via a bill which sets out to modernise the law, putting choice and consent at its heart: what is given freely will be legal; what is taken (and that includes a grope behind the photocopier) will not. Sentences will be tough and they will send out the message that you do not mess with another person's body under any circumstances without their permission.
It is a welcome change unless you are under 16, in which case you will not be deemed capable of freely consenting to any kind of sexual activity at all, even with someone of your own age, however ardently you might choose it. What is more, those who aid and abet a criminal act, perhaps by allowing a bunch of 15-year-olds to have a party in their house, could also be breaking the law.
The government has, on reflection, agreed to exempt people who provide contraceptive advice and services from any threat of prosecution for "communicating with a child" about sex. So family planners can continue to help those young people who are dealing with the consequences of normal adolescent behaviour that they are not deemed old enough to consent to. But those who provide emotional advice will not be protected: that alarms Childline and all the agony aunts, and it could spell the end of teen magazine features such as "101 kissing tips". Telling young people that sex might be fun will definitely be a no-no.
The bill has been drafted by legislators whose major concern is sexual abuse. They wanted a law which would make it easier to prosecute those who develop close relationships with the people they subsequently abuse. However, if one is concerned with the healthy, happy sexual development of young people, the bill flies in the face of common sense. How can it be useful to describe behaviour which is a normal part of growing up as unlawful?
The government assures us that it won't actually use the law to prosecute "mutually agreed" relationships between young people, but there is a fear that "pro-family" organisations could use it to push their agenda, as Victoria Gillick did 20 years ago. While they might not get a prosecution to stick, they could create a climate of disapproval, making it hard for the kind of open discussion about sexual responsibility which, most research indicates, is associated with lowering rates of teenage pregnancy.
The existence of a legal age of consent for sexual intercourse has had a useful part to play. Young people say that they feel comfortable with it, even though they are equally happy to ignore it when their bodies tell them that the time is right. This sort of legal fudge works fine with a law which, though it no longer quite fits its social purpose, has yet to be amended. It is hard to see how it will work equally well when it is extended.
How do we explain to children that it is illegal to kiss and hold hands until you are 16, and it's also illegal to have sexual intercourse until you are 16 but, whereas it's fine to ignore the law relating to kissing, you really ought to obey the law when it comes to intercourse? Unless, of course, you feel compelled to ignore all of it, at which point you should seek contraceptive advice. And yes, it is legal to get contraceptive advice when you are under 16. Even though it isn't legal to have sex... And we don't want our children to grow up feeling confused about sex?
The intention of the bill is to clarify the distinction between behaviour which we, as a society, believe is acceptable and that which we consider beyond the pale. Those who take advantage of close relationships (be they sibling, parental, friend or carer) to sexually exploit vulnerable people are rightly considered beyond the pale. But it cannot be right to allow our fear of such abuse to dictate the way in which we frame laws for the vast majority whose behaviour is by and large acceptable. Even if we do sometimes wish they would wait a bit, the sexual behaviour of our children is surely a matter for parents, teachers and young people themselves - not the police.
The brave policy would be to get rid of the age barrier as it is currently defined and make the discussion of what is meant by consent the central plank of our sex education. We could then make sure that children understand, from a very early age, that sexual love is something that is always given - never taken. That it is always wrong to touch people without their consent and that the penalties for taking what hasn't been offered freely are severe.
It would then be up to the law to define consent. The bill already includes a list of circumstances when consent would be "presumed to be absent". For example, when threats have been used, and when the subject was unconscious or physically disabled. The same goes for relationships in which one person has power over another by virtue of their position, or when one party doesn't understand what is happening. Sexual relationships within the family continue to be specifically ruled out and the definition of family will be extended to cover step-families.
A significant difference in age (when one partner is under 16) could be added to the list. This would provide protection from predatory adults without affecting same-age relationships, and would give those concerned with child abuse a weapon against paedophiles without restricting genuinely consensual relationships.
One might expect that organisations concerned with young people would be campaigning for just such a law. They are certainly not happy with the bill as it stands, describing it as "deeply skewed and illogical" and "an appalling intrusion into privacy". However, so afraid are they of the wrath of the moral minority that, on the question of abolishing the age of consent, they are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut.
It is surely not beyond the wit of legislators to draft laws which would protect young people without criminalising them, but they won't have the courage to do so without public pressure. And while the children's lobby is sitting on its hands for fear of being thought immoral, who will dare to challenge this ill-conceived bill?
· Angela Phillips is the author of The Trouble With Boys and Our Bodies Ourselves
Have I read the above wrong?
Or am I getting even more cynical of politicians
And all that was left was hope